Furry Lewis

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Furry Lewis
Lewis c. 1927
Background information
Birth name Walter E. Lewis
Born (1899-03-06)March 6, 1899
Greenwood, Mississippi, United States
Died September 14, 1981(1981-09-14) (aged 82)
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Genres Delta blues, country blues
Occupation(s) Singer, guitarist, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active Late 1920s–1970s
Labels Vocalion, Victor, Barclay, Lucky Seven, Universal

Walter E. "Furry" Lewis (March 6, 1899 – September 14, 1981)[1] was an American country blues guitarist and songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee. Lewis was one of the first of the blues musicians active in the 1920s to be brought out of retirement and given new opportunities to record during the folk blues revival of the 1960s.

Life and career[edit]

Walter E. Lewis was born in Greenwood, Mississippi. His family moved to Memphis when he was aged seven.[1] He acquired the nickname "Furry" from childhood playmates.[2] By 1908, he was playing solo at parties, in taverns, and on the street. He was also invited to play several dates with W. C. Handy's Orchestra.[2]

In his travels as a musician, he was exposed him to a wide variety of performers, including Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Alger "Texas" Alexander. Like his contemporary Frank Stokes, he grew tired of traveling and took a permanent job in 1922. His position as a street sweeper for the city of Memphis, a job he held until his retirement in 1966, allowed him to remain active musically in Memphis.[2]

Lewis made his first recordings for Vocalion Records in Chicago in 1927.[3] A year later he recorded for Victor Records at the Memphis Auditorium, in a session with the Memphis Jug Band, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, and others. He again recorded for Vocalion in Memphis in 1929.[2] The tracks were mostly blues but included two-part versions of "Casey Jones" and "John Henry". He sometimes fingerpicked and sometimes played with a slide.[4] He recorded many successful records in the late 1920s, including "Kassie Jones", "Billy Lyons & Stack-O-Lee" and "Judge Harsh Blues" (later called "Good Morning Judge").

In 1969, the record producer Terry Manning recorded Lewis in his Fourth Street apartment near Beale Street. These recordings were released in Europe at the time by Barclay Records and again in the early 1990s by Lucky Seven Records in the United States and in 2006 by Universal Records. Joni Mitchell's song "Furry Sings the Blues" (on her album Hejira), is about her visit to Lewis's apartment and a mostly ruined Beale Street on February 5, 1976. Lewis despised the Mitchell song and demanded she pay him royalties.[5]

In 1972 he was the featured performer in the Memphis Blues Caravan, which included Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes, Clarence Nelson, Hammie Nixon, Memphis Piano Red, Sam Chatmon, and Mose Vinson.[citation needed]

He opened twice for the Rolling Stones, performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, had a part in a Burt Reynolds movie (W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, 1975), and was profiled in Playboy magazine.[1][4]

Lewis began to lose his eyesight because of cataracts in his final years. He contracted pneumonia in 1981, which led to his death from heart failure in Memphis on September 14 of that year, at the age of 88.[6] He is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery, in South Memphis, where his grave bears two headstones, the second purchased by fans.[5]


  • Furry Lewis, 1959
  • Back on My Feet Again, 1961
  • Done Changed My Mind 1962
  • Fourth & Beale, 1969
  • Live at the Gaslight at the Au Go Go, 1971


  1. ^ a b c Eder, Bruce (1981). "Furry Lewis | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved August 30, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Furry Lewis Biography". Musicianguide.com. 1981-09-14. Retrieved 2015-08-30. 
  3. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 12. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  4. ^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. pp. 134–35. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  5. ^ a b [1] Archived January 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.‹The template Wayback is being considered for merging.› 
  6. ^ Doc Rock. "The 1980s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-08-30. 

External links[edit]