Fred McDowell was a notable blues singer and guitarist born in Rossville, Tennessee in 1906. After his parents, who were farmers, died when he was a child, he got obsessed with music and wanted to get away from working in the fields.
By 1926, he decided to move to Memphis to try his luck playing music. He took jobs wherever he could, playing for change on the streets and in bars. When he realized he wasn’t making enough money as a musician to sustain himself, McDowell relocated to Mississippi to become a cotton farmer again.
However, he never stopped playing music. He would play slide guitar with a knife, delighting audience members at parties, dances, and other locations.
By the 1950’s Americans were searching for folk and blues music again and artists like McDowell were sought after. In fact, McDowell was considered to be a Hill Country Blues player. It varies from other forms by utilizing few chord changes and “emphasizing the groove and percussion.” Although during this time, many people were infatuated by Delta blues, McDowell kept playing his style of Country blues, often getting placed in the same genre as the other musicians.
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