Louisiana Red, speaking his mind...
'A Permanent Spring of Pure Blues'
March 23, 1936-February 25, 2012
Iverson Minter, professionally known as Louisiana Red, an award winning blues guitarist, harmonica player, songwriter and singer who recorded more than 50 albums, died on February 25 in Hanover, Germany, after suffering a stroke and lapsing into a coma brought on by a thyroid imbalance.
Louisiana Red's last two CD releases, on Ruf Records, were Back to the Black Bayou, in 2009, and Memphis Mojo, released September, 2011. Both CDs showcased Louisiana Red in a classic blues atmosphere, backed by producer Little Victor's hand picked band, along with such special guests as Kim Wilson and Bob Corritore on harmonica and Dave Maxwell on piano. Memphis Mojo was recorded in Memphis right after Red was awarded for his achievements as "Acoustic Artist of the Year" and Acoustic Album of the Year (You Got To Move) at the Blues Music Awards in May, 2010. In 1983 he won a W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Blues Male Artist.
"I am very sad about my friend Red leaving us," said Ruf Records president Tom Ruf in a statement. "He was the very first blues artist I got to meet in person and the first blues concert I ever promoted when I was 19. Louisiana Red was one of the last giants in blues that constantly and spontaneously spoke his mind with a new line, a new melody every day. On stage, as well as off stage, he was a permanent spring of pure blues and a very generous man. My thoughts are with his lovely wife Dora, who kept him together the last 30 years, as well as his children and family. If you are a lucky person who owns a record of this blues giant, this is a good time to play it and appreciate the man we just lost."
Louisiana Red, live at the N9 Club, Eeklo, Belgium, April 23, 2010
"In a profession well stocked with the footloose and itinerant, he stood out as the most adventurous of blues travelers, taking his music to almost every country in Europe and many beyond, playing with local musicians in several of them," noted Tony Russell in the February 27 edition of The Guardian. "Possibly his most exotic encounter was in Greece, where he blended strains of blues and rembetika (types of folk music) in collaboration with the singer and bouzouki player Stelios Vamvakaris. His discography includes albums cut in Czechoslovakia and Iceland, and his output over 50 years makes an eloquent case for the blues as an international language."
On March 23, 1936, Louisiana Red, birth name Iverson Minter, was born. Exactly where he was born is in dispute, as some reports indicate Bessemer, Alabama, as being his birthplace, but other accounts differ. His mother died from pneumonia seven days after his birth, and he was orphaned at age five, after his father was lynched by the KKK. A New Orleans orphanage was his home for part of his childhood, until an aunt and uncle brought him to live with them in Canonsburg, PA. In the late 1940s he moved to Pittsburgh to live with his grandmother, who bought him his first guitar, a $12 Kay model.
John Lee Hooker’s ‘Down Child’ (1953) with accompaniment by Louisiana Red, who shouts ‘Lord, have mercy!’ at the 2:13 mark.
One day in Pittsburgh Red heard blues guitarist Crit Walters playing on his porch. Walters (also known as Boy B) serenaded passersby every day with down home blues. Red asked Walters to teach him the blues. Red also studied with another Pittsburgh bluesman known as Mr. Cash. After learning the basics from Walters and Cash, Red and his friend Orville Whitney formed a three-piece band comprised of a washboard player, a washtub bass player, and himself on bottleneck guitar. They performed on the streets of Pittsburgh for pennies. On a good night they earned five dollars. Remembering those days in song, Red wrote "Pittsburgh Blues" for his 1995 release, Sittin Here Wonderin'.
In the late '40s, still in his teens, Red hung around with John Lee Hooker and Eddie Burns in Detroit, where, working with local producer Joe Von Battle, he made some highly Hookeresque recordings under the pseudonym Rocky Fuller. His other early sides were similarly flagrant but immensely spirited imitations of Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters. From those sessions came a single, "Soon One Morning"/"Come On Baby Now," released on Checker, the Chess Records subsidiary. (Three of his early Chess Record recordings were released on the compilation Detroit Ghetto Blues in 1976.) He also accompanied Hooker on the song "Down Child" (he's heard shouting "Lord, have mercy!" about three-quarters of the way the number), released by Modern Records.
Red was drafted into the military during the Korean War and performed at PX clubs during his tour of duty. After being discharged in 1957 he settled in New York, where he recorded the single "I Done Woke Up"/"I Had A Feeling" for Atlas Records and for the first time was billed Louisiana Red, a nickname given to him as a child by his grandfather owing to Red's fondness for "Louisiana Red" hot sauce.
Louisiana Red, 'Red's Dream,' an update of Big Bill Broonzy's 'Just a Dream' recorded for the Roulette label
By 1962 he had found his way to New York, where he recorded for the producer Bobby Robinson. In his Roulette recording "Red's Dream," updating Big Bill Broonzy's 1939 composition "Just a Dream," he imagined himself in the White House, giving advice to President John F Kennedy. The album The Lowdown Backporch Blues (1963) and the single "I'm Too Poor to Die," which had minor chart success in 1964, drew further attention to the articulate young bluesman. After the album's release in Britain, he regularly visited Europe, alternating in his club performances between ominous slow blues, often with slashing slide guitar, and driving up-tempo numbers in one-man-band mode, his guitar supplemented by a harmonica held on a neck-rack.
Louisiana Red, ‘I’m Too Poor to Die’ (1964)
An evening at the 100 Club in London in the late 1970s with another blues émigré, the harmonica-player Sugar Blue, furnished the material for Red, Funk and Blue, the first album on the London-based JSP label. Red also recorded for L+R in Germany; back in the U.S. he made two gripping solo acoustic albums, Sweet Blood Call and Dead Stray Dog, and accompanied older musicians such as Johnny Shines and Roosevelt Sykes.
During the late 1960s and 1970s Red released records on a variety of labels, including Atco (Louisiana Red Sings the Blues), Carnival, Fat Possum, Blue Labor, Wounded Bird, Black Panthersc and others. In his Chicago Blues Guide obituary of Red, Bob Corritore says Red was "the cornerstone of the Blue Labor label, cutting two excellent solo acoustic albums: Sweet Blood Call and Dead Stray Dog and also appearing on that label as a featured sideman on albums by Johnny Shines, Roosevelt Sykes, Brownie McGhee and Peg Leg Sam."
In the early '80s Red lived in Chicago and worked at the Delta Fish Market; in '81 he moved to Phoenix, where he lived and played with Bob Corritore for nearly a year. On a European tour in late '82, in Germany, he met Dora, the love of his life, married her, adopted her two sons and settled in the town of Hanover for the rest of his life. She survives him.
Work in Europe was so plentiful that Red rarely came to the States. During the 1980s through the end of his career he recorded on several European labels and collaborated with European musicians blending ethnic folk music with blues on the recordings Last Mohican of the Blues in Poland (1992) and Blues Meets Rembetika, recorded with Greek musicians in 1994.
In 1994 Louisiana Red teamed up with a group of Greek musicians for the album Blues Meets Rembetika. ‘Standing At My Door’ is from that album.
Red began touring the U.S. again in 1997 to promote a new association with Earwig Records, which was founded by Pittsburgh native Michael Frank. His acclaimed 1995 Earwig release, Sittin' Here Wondering, had been recorded with Bob Corritore in 1985 but shelved until Frank rescued it. After recording for High Tone and Severn, Red teamed up with producer/harmonica master Little Victor, who produced Red's Back To the Black Bayou CD. Initially released on the Bluestown label, the album was picked up by Ruf Records and honored with awards nominations in the States and overseas. His 2010 album with pianist David Maxwell, You Got To Move, earned Red five nominations at the Blues Music Awards.
Few knew Red better than Bob Corritore, and it fell to Corritore to sum up what was special about the bluesman. "Louisiana Red was a powerful downhome blues artist who could channel his teachers into his own heartfelt musical conversation, delivered with such moving passion and honesty that it would leave his audiences indelibly touched," Corritore wrote in an appreciation of Red posted online at the Chicago Blues Guide obit. "He was a fine singer with a distinctive voice, and an amazing guitarist who could play all of the traditional blues styles and excelled as one of the world's greatest slide guitarists. He could create moods and textures, both musically and spiritually, and had the ability of falling so deep into his own songs that he would go to tears, making his audience cry with him. That was the gift of this great artist."
Louisiana Red’s Memphis Mojo is available at www.amazon.com