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Walter "Furry" Lewis
(1893 - September 14, 1981)
Walter Lewis was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and quickly moved to Memphis, where he became enthralled in music thanks to neighborhood musicians. Inspired, he built himself a Diddley Bow out of a cigar box, a piece of wood and string from his screen porch. As he played harmonica and guitar around Memphis, he took on several appearances with the father of the Blues himself, W.C. Handy, as a backup musician in his band. It was here that Handy gave Furry his first "real" guitar.
Like most Delta Blues men, Furry jumped from town to town, hoboing on freight trains as he looked for another venue to play his music. Though in the 19-teens he suffered a severed leg when he was run over by a train. Work was hard to find for crippled black man with no education, and Furry ended back up in Memphis, where he began playing at the emerging Beale Street, collaborating with many of the other early greats and soon-to-be greats that frequented Memphis at the time.
The attention got him a recording session with Vocalion in 1927, where he recorded "Jelly Roll", and a version of "Stack O lee", among others. Furry was adept at slide guitar, and used to play with a bottleneck or pocketknife. After this and several other minor recording sessions, Furry vanished into obscurity for nearly 30 years.
The 1960s folk revival brought Furry Lewis back to the limelight, where he was popular in Blues concerts and the coffee shop circuit, and cut several records. In the 70s, he was included in the Memphis Blues Caravan, a travelling group of original Delta musicians that included Bukka White, who became Lewis's long time friend and collaborator, and Sleepy John Estes. Around this time, he opened for The Rolling Stones and even landed a cameo role in a Burt Reynolds movie! After an illustrious late-life career, Furry passed away in 1981.
Notable albums by Furry Lewis
Party! At Home with Bukka White and Furry Lewis
Notable books that reference Furry Lewis
Looking Up At Down: The Emergence of Blues Culture by William Barlow
The Big Book of Blues by Robert Santelli
Notable movies with Furry Lewis
W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings