By Monica Land
GREENWOOD – The 150th Mississippi Blues Trail marker was unveiled Tuesday, Feb. 21, in Greenwood. The marker is located at the intersection of Lamar Street and Carrollton Avenue and honors blues great Furry Lewis.
Lewis was an American country blues guitarist and songwriter and one of the first of the old-time blues musicians of the 1920s to be brought out of retirement, and given a new lease of recording life during the folk blues revival of the 1960s.
Born Walter E. Lewis in Greenwood in 1899, Lewis lived on Lamar Street until his family moved to Memphis when he was 7-years-old.
Lewis acquired the nickname “Furry” from childhood friends and by 1908, he was playing for parties, in taverns, and on the street. He was also invited to play several dates with W.C. Handy’s Orchestra.
Lewis’ travels exposed him to a wide variety of performers including Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Alger “Texas” Alexander.
Like his contemporary Frank Stokes, Lewis tired of the road and took a permanent job in 1922. His position as a street sweeper for the City of Memphis – a job he would hold until his retirement in 1966 – allowed him to remain active on the Memphis music scene.
In 1927, Lewis cut his first records in Chicago, and a year later, recorded at the Memphis Auditorium in a session with the Memphis Jug Band, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes and others.
Lewis recorded many successful records in the late 1920s including “Kassie Jones”, “Billy Lyons & Stack-O-Lee“ and “Judge Harsh Blues” (later called “Good Morning Judge”).
In 1969, Lewis was recorded by record producer, Terry Manning, at home in Lewis’ Beale Street apartment. These recordings were released in Europe and later in the United States.
Lewis influenced many artists during his lifetime including Joni Mitchell, who sang about Lewis in “Furry Sings The Blues.” Lewis, however, reportedly was not impressed and demanded Mitchell pay him royalties.
During the 1970s, Lewis was a featured performer in the Memphis Blues Caravan, which included Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes, Memphis Piano Red and Mose Vinson.
Before he died, Lewis opened twice for the Rolling Stones and he appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and with Burt Reynolds in the 1975 film, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings. He was also profiled in Playboy magazine.
Lewis reportedly died in 1981 at the age of 88. He is buried in Memphis.