Fred McDowell

© Gary Tennant 2017

(Jackson, MS) Clarion Ledger
Aug 6, 1993. 
The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund dedicated the tall, granite headstone for Fred McDowell at the Hammond Hill Baptist Church cemetery in Como, Mississippi, in pouring rain on the afternoon of August 6th, 1993.  The finance's for the memorial were arranged with the help of noted blues photographer Dick Waterman, who contacted Bonnie Raitt and Chris Strachwitz, of Arhoolie Records, each of whom contributed a third of the costs. 

Mt. Zion Memorial Fund attorney Robert Arentson, who also contributed to the project, almost lost his life that day. While attempting to stop and turn into the church parking lot, his vehicle hydroplaned and slid down the road for a ways, nearly careening down a steep embankment. He managed to regain control, however, and pulled safely into the parking lot. He was white as a ghost upon exiting his vehicle.

Waterman eulogized McDowell in front of a small crowd, including a number of the musician's surviving relatives who were assembled at the church. In this case the memorial stone was a replacement for a smaller, damaged and inaccurate marker. The original head stone was subsequently donated by McDowell’s family to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

The More You Play the Bluer You Get
By F. Berkeley Hudson – April 5, 1971

Mississippi Fred McDowell lives in a pecan orchard in Como, Mississippi, and he’;s been around a long time. But too few people in this state have heard him or learned to respect and love his music—the blues.

Using a bottleneck of a gin bottle on the end of his finger to play the guitar, McDowell plays the blues with a distinct sound. Fred McDowell knows what it is like to be poor, black, and live in Mississippi. And the sounds he produces lets you know he's lived the blues.

“My name is Fred McDowell. They call me Mississippi McDowell. But it don't make any difference.  It sounds good to me, and I seem I like I’m home there when I’m in Mississippi. 

And I don’t play no rock and roll y’all. I just play straight and natchel blue,” McDowell said on one of his albums.

Strangely enough, it is only recently that blues has become popular. Even though McDowell and his contemporaries have been singing the blues many years, music promoters didn't begin to exploit the blues sounds until the 1960s. The sounds of many American and English groups all were borrow from the blues. 

McDowell, Furry Lewis, Bukka White, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Albert King. Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker, and Howling Wolf were all singing the blues for years. But then someone saw a profit in the blues and “rediscovered” some of these artists.

"McDowell was making albums 30 years ago and nobody gave a damn," John Davis, one of the organizers of the ASB sponsored concert exclaimed, “If you consider truth as much a relative thing as value, then McDowell is priceless…he really is.”

There are many things that make McDowell priceless. The best in his music at times can reach out and touch a listener. When he plays his guitar, each note and sound speaks. They speak of the blues.

“The more you play…the bluer you get, until you get to it," McDowell said.
"Don't make no difference how nice you are to somebody. Somebody gonna try to do you wrong." he said.

McDowell will not be the only bluesman performing in the concert. Oxford's Sam Longhorn will play. "I can walk the moon when that guy (Longhorn) plays…He can do it,” a black worker with the Ole Miss Physical Plant said.

At the concert there will be a variety of groups performing, ranging from a sitar player to the music of Noncannah, a rock group. to folk singer Les Moore.

All the groups performing should be good. But the main attraction has to be Mississippi Fred McDowell. We need to recognize his talent and genius as a musician.

Heroes are continually made out of athletes in Mississippi And this has its advantages. But we also need to give credit to a group of Mississippians, who have more than paid their dues to this state—the bluesmen. Many of the bluesmen are gone now.  But Fred McDowell as still around singing the blues.  And on April 17 in the Grove, he's going to tell us what the blues are all about.

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