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Memphis Minnie with Little Joe & His Band

Memphis Minnie took guff from no one. Easily the most important female country blues artist of the pre-war era, she was a brilliant guitarist and earthy singer as well as an early Chicago convert to electric guitar. This June 11, 1952 outing for Checker hails from her next to last session, and she still sounds commanding.

Born June 3, 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana, Lizzie Douglas and her family moved to Walls, Mississippi, in 1904, the close proximity to Memphis and Beale Street ensuring her blues-belting future. 'Kid' Douglas received her first guitar the next year as a Christmas present, and she got good on it. She teamed up with fellow guitarist 'Kansas' Joe McCoy in the '20s, busking on Memphis thoroughfares until a Columbia talent scout heard them duetting in a barber shop on Beale in 1929. The pair made their debut sides in New York that June; among the classics laid down that day were When The Levee Breaks and Bumble Bee

The couple was married the same year and relocated to Chicago during the early '30s. They recorded prolifically, mostly for Vocalion, before going their separate ways in 1935. Tobacco-chewing Minnie kept right on recording without McCoy under Lester Melrose's supervision, urbanizing her approach with larger backing ensembles as she cut for Bluebird, Vocalion, and OKeh. In 1939, Minnie acquired herself a new guitar-picking partner, Ernest Lawlars, who billed himself as Little Son Joe. The two wed that year, and from there on he usually played on Minnie's recordings. 

In May of 1941, Minnie cut her original version of Me And My Chauffeur Blues for OKeh. She and Son Joe made the rounds of Chicago nightspots, the 708 Club being one homebase, and continued to record for Columbia after the war, though her sides weren't selling the way they once had. Minnie tried to update her sound at a '49 session for Regal with Sunnyland Slim on the 88s, and Little Walter's modern harp wails on the remade Me And My Chauffeur for Checker certainly pointed strongly to the future. But Minnie was just about out of gas; a '53 date for J.O.B. rounded out her discography.

Minnie and Son Joe returned to Memphis in 1958. Before long, a serious stroke confined her to a wheelchair (Lawlars died in 1961). Memphis Minnie lived her last years out impoverished and in a nursing home, passing away August 6, 1973.

Bill Dahl
Chicago, Illinois


Electric Blues 1939-2005. - The Definitive Collection!


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