Louisiana Red recently toured the UK with Michael Messer -
"A collaboration of
two great musicians from totally different backgrounds, brought together
through a passion for playing blues slide guitar and many years of
mutual admiration for each othersí work". I had the privilege of
interviewing Red at Southport Arts Centre in conjunction with Spencer Leigh, BBC Radio Merseyside.
Spencer: Can we start
with your background Red? I think your father was killed by the Klan.
When did you find that out?
I was five years old and it was in 30s. It was a terrible scene. My
grandmother got a telegram and in those days they put 5 stars on it when
somebody died and then I found out later that it was the Ku Klux Klan
who killed him. They brought the body to our place in Vinesfield,
Alabama. I just grew up and I hated all these white people. But when
I got in the army I learned a lesson and some of the best friends I had
was white people. Sometimes I wouldnít get no letters from home and
theyíd get packages with fruit and theyíd share with me, and that
changed my heart around. Thatís why I still say today that there is no
black and white, itís just musicians working together.
Michael [Messer] is one of the sweetest musicians I ever worked with.
Iíve worked with many in Germany, where I live after I had to leave
Chicago because there wasnít much work there. I came to an American
Folk Blues Festival and I began to live with Champion Jack Dupree. Iíve
been calling him Grandfather since I was out of the orphanage. I came
over here to start working at the Festival.
We later moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after my Daddyís funeral and
then we moved to Cannisburg and stayed out there for a while. After the
funeral my grandmother took me to Pennsylvania and my aunt put me in an
I presume in those days they didnít even try to find out who the
No, no, no
Itís amazing to think that was only 70 years ago.
I asked my grandmother how my mother died. She said she died from
pneumonia, got while she was following her fatherís funeral hearse to
the graveyard. She died 7 days after I was born. So I was brought up in
hardships but now itís beginning to lighten up and open up for me.
And how did you get involved in music?
It was in the orphanage. I used to sit in a corner and read my bible,
just like you see here. Kids would laugh at me and tease me and Iíd say
to myself that one of these days I would make something out of myself.
My grandmother on my fatherís side came and got me out of the orphanage
and I began to hang around these street players in Pittsburgh and I got
in touch with the music and used to hang around with older people than I
was. I was around 13 or 14 but Iíd hang around with older people. Iíd
go to joints which were dangerous and Iíd hang around to hear the
blues. It got to me, inside. I tried to learn drums at drum school,
tried violin lessons but something was missing. It was only when I got a
record by Arthur Big Boy Crudup and heard that kind of music and it got
to me and I knew I had to learn the guitar. My grandmother
bought me a Stella and I started playing on the streets and I finally
got there. Then I met the great Muddy Waters in 1949 or 51. I was in
my teenage years then and Leonard Chess came and got me out of
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After I had called into Aristocrat Records
and run my auntís phone bill for about two hours, I called Chicago where
I'd never been and talked to Mr Leonard Chess. I said, ďMy name is
"Rocky FullerĒ (that was my street name) and I just loved that record
you put out by Muddy Waters. Please send a pictureĒ. And Iíve got that
picture now. He said that I could meet him in Chicago. I said ďWhat
sort of man is heĒ and he said, ďHeís a big fellaĒ. And sure enough,
when I went to Chicago, he came down to the office and Mr Chess said,
ďThis is RockyĒ and he said ďHi RockyĒ. They didnít put me in a hotel
because it was dangerous and he took me to his house. I canít explain
it but it was one of the most heavenly nights I had when I played at the
Chess Brothersí Zanzibar club. Thatís why I have Zanzibar on my new CD,
in memory of there.
My life is blues. Thatís all Iíve known. I was rudely beat by my uncle
and I know what brutality is, as I say on my one of my CDs, Earwig.
Thatís why every year we go to see the orphans in Ghana, where my
wife is from, and I take money to them. When I play in Rome, they
collect money for Louisiana Redís children in Ghana. I wrote a book
called Nobodyís Child but itís not published yet and all the
information is in that book.
Who influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?
Muddy Waters. He used to say that when he came to New York and theyíd
ask about the guest list, heíd always say, ďCome on Rocky. Rocky has
been following me since he was a kidĒ. He learned me the bottleneck.
And how did you become Louisiana Red?
Thatís a short story. I liked a lot of Louisiana hot sauce so my uncle
named me that.
I can see that Iím saying Louisiana wrongly arenít I? You say it
Alan: Are there any particular songs youíve played that have special
meaning to you?
I play a song that was written by a dear friend of mine Kent Cooper and
he used to own a record company called Labor Records. He wrote the song
for me, When my Mama was living, I never had a hungry day. Iíve been
starving and crying ever since my dear mother passed away. The wine
bottle in my pocket tried to help me day by day. He wrote that song
for me and it got to me. I play it softly and sweetly because I never
seen my mother in my life and I hope that when I go to the States I will
go to Alabama and see Mrs Cory and she has my motherís picture. Iíve
never seen my mother in my life but she has a picture.
Alan: Of all the 50 plus albums that youíve released, which is your
I donít know why it is but I guess itís that album there, Low Down
Back Porch Blues. I recorded it in 1960. Henry Glover, the A&R
man recorded me.
He wrote Redís Dream for you on that didnít he? I always love songs
that mention other people and thatís one of those.
And the other songs, I wrote myself, ďI am Louisiana Red".
You did a song on the death of your first wife, which is one of the most
powerful songs Iíve ever heard. Is this something you perform
The Death of Elise. Iím a little aggrieved because when the
German producers of a documentary took me to Georgia, my son took us to
the graveyard and I had to play that song in the film. I hated to do
that. When I saw that in the film, I just felt let down. I guess
Robert was thinking of his mother but it affects that boy now.
I presume itís very emotional when you do it on stage?
I donít do it on stage anymore. I donít perform it now because I just
Alan: Red, what is your favourite guitar?
My favourite guitar? I wish! Ladies and Gentlemen, I want the Muddy
Waters guitar that Fender discontinued making. If Michael can find me
one somewhere, I would be so grateful Ė that is the one I want. They
went and copied it in Cleveland and I was promised one but never got it,
so I just hope one is around. It means a lot to me and I want it! It
means a lot because I played his guitar a lot myself, many times, when
he was there with me. Heíd sing and Iíd be playing his guitar and it
was like a jewel to me. If the Fender people have mercy on me and make
it up again, Iíd be so appreciative. [NOTE from Michael Messer -Two
days after the UK tour finished, I found a Fender Muddy Waters
Telecaster and had it shipped to Redís home in Germany. Sorted!]
Which is the Muddy Waters record that really turns you on?
Standing Around Crying or Feel Like Going Home, when he
was playing with the glass bottleneck. I know all about the necks he
had. Michael tells me Iím a slideologist. I got slides in Ghana,
guitars in Ghana, guitars in Germany, guitars in the States...I just
love my music.
Alan: How healthy do you think the blues scene is in Europe compared
with the US?
Itís beginning to pick up now in the US. I go there every year and they
accept me there now. I play BB Kingís Club two times and I play the
Chicago Festival three times. Blues is very high there now. In
Germany, they love the blues, and Italy and France.
And the blues is very uplifting, isnít it?
Yes, it is. The blues comes from the church, from Gospel. If you hear
Gospel, youíll hear blues. I asked a friend of mine why every jazz
festival has to have a blues artist there and he said itís because jazz
is the baby of the blues.
In the early years, people like Ray Charles did songs based on gospel
and people frowned upon it. There was a real division then.
It was kind of gospel-style
Alan: To me, gospel is the other side of the coin to blues. Ultimately,
they are one and the same thing.
Yes, even me, I did a gospel record on my new CD, Donít Miss That
Train. I was brought up in the church and was in the church choir
and I donít forget my gospel singing. Sometimes at home, I play some
gospel music on my CD, like Mavis Staples. I met her over the telephone
years ago . I met Papa Staples over the telephone but I never got the
chance in the 60s to go to Chicago to see them because I was working in
a steel drum plant and I couldnít just leave it to go travelling.
I remember talking to Charlie Louvin of Louvin Brothers and he said his
mother would never forgive him if he didnít do a gospel song on stage
I do one every night.
Alan: Some music styles may be fads, but the blues are always with us.
Why do you think this is?
Itís a music that is deep, and it was always that way. Itís like Mr
Floyd Jones who said, ďThe blues is here and will never die. The blues
is here to stayĒ. If one goes away, another comes along, and itís gonna
stay around for ever.
Itís the basis of all contemporary music really. Are you still writing
songs yourself? And do you write on the road?
Yes, but not on the road. I have a new album - Little Victorís Juke
Joint Band was behind me at the Notodden Festival, Norway. The recordís
doing pretty good and is due to have a big release in America so Iím
hoping it gonna open doors for me. Iím playing in the States after this
tour. Iím going to Italy and to a place Iíve never been in my life Ė
Albania. Iíve just come from Greece where I have a birthday tour every
March. I canít let Johnny Angel down on that!
This interview will be going out in Liverpool. What do you know about
Liverpool groups, like the Beatles?
Yes, I used to listen to them. Iíd come in from work and listen to
I Wanna Hold Your Hand Ė I like that record. But I got into
another record when I heard Chuck Berry. I want to meet him when I go
to the US this time. I used to have a little band in New Jersey called
ďThe Chuck Berry JuniorsĒ and I loved the song, School Days.
So you used to play Chuck Berry songs?
Oh yes. I had a Gibson Les Paul and Iíd get out there and do the same
thing he did.
You are touring at the moment with Michael Messer?
tour photos here]
Michael is a very good friend of mine. We met in Germany, in Berlin a
few years ago. He invited me on a tour with him and we became friends.
He gave me a brand new Michael Messer guitar he brought from China and
Michael Lewis in Paris built me a wooden-bodied guitar. You know,
airlines are dangerous. Two of my guitars got torn up in the States on
United Airlines. Iíll never forget this. They didnít try to reimburse
me, they didnít try to repair my guitars or replace them. I had a 1951
Kay and I had a 1962 Stratocaster and when I got to the sound check in
Mississippi , the Fender neck had fallen down. And then my guitar
player, Chris James, he said, ďRed, we canít do anything for it. We
opened it up and the whole body is split in parts.Ē A í62
Stratocaster. So now, I carry my guitars on the plane. I donít care
what they say. My wife got me a new Telecaster and then Michael Frank
of Earwig called me one evening and said ďRed, Chris found your guitar.
One like you hadĒ. So I got my green guitar back Ė but this time it
stays at home.
and Alan: Louisiana Red, thank you so much.
I enjoyed you
gentlemen. Itís very seldom I do interviews.
Spencer Leigh - BBC Radio Merseyside
Alan White - earlyblues.com
Transcription by Christine White - earlyblues.com
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