Louisiana Red: Blues singer and guitarist who found fame at Montreux

 

Popular music may be a young person's game but from time to time older performers come tonational attention long after what might be regarded as their sell-by date. Gordon Haskell, Ted Hawkins and Seasick Steve are good examples, and so too is the blues singer and slide guitarist, Louisiana Red. He had been a journeyman musician for many years before he triumphed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975 and soon was seen as an elder statesman of the blues.

Louisiana Red was born Iverson Minter in Alabama in 1932. His grandfather died around the same time and it turned into a double tragedy as his mother died of pneumonia as a result of following his coffin. Minter was orphaned when he was five after his father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan. The crime was never investigated. When I met Minter before a concert at Southport Arts Centre in 2009, he had been given a copy of his father's death certificate from a well-meaning fan and researcher and this had upset him.

"After his funeral, I was taken to Pittsburgh," said Minter, "I grew up with a hatred of all white people and that didn't change until I got in the army. Some of my best friends were white soldiers. I would not be getting packages from home and they would share their food with me. That changed my heart and nowadays there is no black and white for me. I am working with a white musician, Michael Messer, and he is one of the sweetest men I have ever met."

Minter was raised by a series of relatives, including his grandmother, in New Orleans, and also spent time in an orphanage. He picked cotton, and when he was 11 he was shown how to play an old guitar. In 1949, after a brief spell in prison, Minter joined John Lee Hooker's band and one track, "Good Rockin' Red", is a tribute to him.

In 1951 Muddy Waters took Minter to Chess Records where he recorded as Rocky Fuller. He made a succession of records during the decade, often under pseudonyms, and then he took the sobriquet Louisiana Red after his fondness for Louisiana Hot Sauce. He had moderate success with "I Done Woke Up" and a strong plea for universal harmony, "Red's Dream". His album The Lowdown Back Porch Blues, produced by Henry Glover, was released in 1963. A second album, Seventh Son, was released later in the year. His single, "I'm Too Poor To Die", which purloined Muddy Waters' style, appeared on the lower rungs of the US pop chart. "I'm Louisiana Red" described his early life, this time in John Lee Hooker mode.

"Sweet Alesse" was about his wife, actually Ealase, whom he married in 1963. Another song, "Two Fifty Three", fondly recalled the time of day that he first met her. They lived on a farm near swampland in Florida and raised three children, but his wife died of cancer in 1973. He wrote the harrowing "Death Of Ealase" for her and performed it with intense emotion in concert.

After his appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975, Louisiana Red was acclaimed as a master of the slide guitar and a powerful and effective singer. He married a blues singer, Odetta Gordon, in 1977 and they settled in Hamburg four years later. He released several albums including A Different Shade Of Red (2002), Back To The Black Bayou (2005) and Memphis Mojo (2011). A collaboration with a Greek musician, To Blues Sinanta To Rembetiko (1988) was a beguiling experiment, adding exotic instruments to the blues.

Louisiana Red often toured Europe and the US and as a result of his wife's involvement, they visited Ghana every year to help underprivileged children. I can relate to these children," he told me, "I was brutally beaten by my uncle so I know what brutality is. I would rather not have had these experiences but they have helped my music. My life is the blues and it's all I know. Blues music is deep and it will always be there."

Spencer Leigh

Iverson Minter (Louisiana Red), blues singer and guitarist: born Bessemer, Alabama 23 March 1932; twice married (three sons); died Hanover 25 February 2012.

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