About Blues Music: Mississippi Fred McDowell

About Blues Music: Mississippi Fred McDowell (Jan. 12, 1906 – July 3, 1972)


The Rossville, Tennessee born bluesman and Blues Hall of Famer, Mississippi Fred McDowell was a vibrant local entertainer during the 1960s blues revival. McDowell mixed his local sound with North Mississippi hills and his spiritual and Delta influence. He set the groundwork for hill country blues musicians such as R.L. Burnside. Using his ring finger, McDowell played slide guitar with a pocketknife, a beef rib bone and glass—the latter for a clearer sound. Folklorist Alan Lomax called him the musical “granddaddy” of Son House and Muddy Waters.


What is blues music about according to Fred McDowell: The “I Do Not Play no Rock n Roll” bluesman plays in a way to make his guitar “repeat” the same words that he speaks through his emotions, making his guitar do the singing.


How to gear up like Fred McDowell: To play like McDowell, start with an acoustic Hofner or a dual pickup Gibson ES-335 or Gibson Trini Lopez Standard. Use Black Diamond Electric strings. Utilize open A and E tuning on occasion.
Essential Blues music tracks from Fred McDowell:

“Shake em on Down.”

“Goin Down the River”

“John Henry”

“61 Highway Blues”
Famous for playing with: guitarist Eli Green, harmonica player Johnny Woods


Well known covers: “You Got to Move” covered by Rolling Stones in 1971


Listen to clips: “Shake em on Down” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64T6ugyWXAA

“Goin Down to the River”