Louisiana Red had a life story that could only have belonged to an itinerant bluesman — from the interesting (he was born not in Louisiana, but in Bessemer, Ala.) to the horrowing (his mother died not long after giving birth, and his father was lynched by the KKK).
For those who didn’t know much more than that about the respected slide player when he burst to international fame with a pair of Blues Music Awards in in 2010, his sudden passing in February at age 79 only added to the sad legend. In between however, there were a series of interesting, if often lost, recordings — as Louisiana Red continued an electric blues tradition that stretched back to Muddy Waters and Elmore James.
This forthcoming album, featuring previously unreleased 1970s sessions alongside Peg Leg Sam and Lefty Dizz, proves to be a fine example, as Louisiana Red storms through eight originals while putting his own indelible stamp on tracks composed by Slim Harpo, Gary Davis and Fred McDowell, and Kent Cooper.
It is, perhaps, unsurprising that a theme of escape, of flight against all odds, extends throughout When My Mama Was Living, due October 30, 2012, from Labor Records. From the opening “Walk All over Georgia,” to “Caught Your Man and Gone,” from “You Got To Move” to “Going Home,” the album seems to have caught Red in the middle of traveler’s reverie.
Even more connective are those moments when he turns introspective, as on the title track and “Cold, Cold Feeling” — both of which face not just mortality but the awful loses that we must endure on the way to that final stop. “I’ll be Glad When You are Dead, You Rascal You” finds Red rising up, triumphally defiant, not against those forces, but against something more present: Somebody who’s done him wrong. Same with the bitterly vengeful “Stole From Me.”
Along the way, these 16 tracks — though they typically feature Louisiana Red alone or in duo situations — make his case all over again as a lost last link to the mid-century blues tradition. As rustic as this album seems on its surface, the songs are defined by their tough urban grit.
Red – who was born Iverson Minter on March 23 in either 1932 or 1936 — had a signature year in 2010, as he was named acoustic blues artist of the year and also earned acoustic album of the year honors for You Got to Move, his collaboration with pianist David Maxwell. He was building on that recognition in 2011, having just released Memphis Mojo when a thyroid imbalance sent Red into a coma from which he never emerged.
In all, Louisiana Red earned 14 nominations and three awards from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation. He recorded for the Chess subsidiary Checkers, Roulette, Bluestown, Earwig, Ruf and — with 1972’s Louisiana Red Sings the Blues — for Atco Records. Louisiana Red’s regional R&B hits included “Red’s Dream,” and “I’m Too Poor To Die,” both from the early 1960s.
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