Louisiana Red, itinerant bluesman, dies at 79

February 28, 2012

Louisiana Red, a respected slide guitarist and itinerant bluesman who settled in Germany in the early 1980s, died Feb. 25 at a hospital in Germany. He was 79.

He slipped into a coma brought on by a thyroid imbalance, according to a spokesman for his U.S. record company, Ruf Records, which released his latest album, “Memphis Mojo,” in September.

Over the years, he received 14 nominations and three awards from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, including a double win in 2010 for acoustic blues artist of the year and acoustic album of the year for his duet with pianist David Maxwell, “You Got to Move.”

“In a profession well stocked with the footloose and itinerant, he stood out as the most adventurous of blues travellers, taking his music to almost every country in Europe and many beyond, playing with local musicians in several of them,” British blues historian Tony Russell said in an obituary in the Guardian newspaper.

Louisiana Red was born Iverson Minter in Bessemer, Ala., on March 23, 1932 (some sources list his birth year as 1936). He went through a series of stage names when he was establishing himself, but the nickname associated with his passion for oysters doused in Louisiana red pepper sauce is the one that stuck.


28 July 2007, Louisiana Red in Germany. (Photo by Till Niermann/PHOTO BY TILL NIERMANN)

His mother died within a week of his birth, and his father was lynched by members of the Ku Klux Klan when he was 5, prompting an aunt to place him in an orphanage. He later lived with his grandmother and an uncle in Pittsburgh. His grandmother gave him a guitar, and he honed his skills while playing on the streets for tips.

He recorded in Detroit in the early 1950s under the pseudonyms Rocky Fuller and Playboy Fuller. The low fidelity and poorly distributed recordings — he sold them out of his car — have nonetheless become highly prized among collectors of early electric blues.

By 1962, the bluesman had moved to New York and recorded for producer Henry Glover at Roulette Records. He had been given a hasty audition after he barged into the office demanding to record.

“I had to play with a guitar I borrowed, but after a few notes, Glover went in and told Morris Levy that he had found a player like Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, and Lightnin’ Hopkins rolled into one,” he recalled to writer Larry Benicewicz. “Yeah, they signed me up for five years for fifty dollars. I didn’t know any better.”

His recordings “Red’s Dream” (1963), in which he imagines himself in the Kennedy White House advising the president, and “I’m Too Poor to Die” (1964), in which he jokes about about being unable to pay for his own funeral, were regional blues hits.

Survivors include his wife, Dora.

Staff and news service reports

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