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Monday, June 06, 2011

Remembering Lowell Fulson

A dozen years have passed since Lowell Fulson died and I am still digging into his work. I think that he ranks with the other major blues poets - Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Son House and the rest. I have memorized one of his lesser-known, later songs - "Thanks A Lot." This is one of those tunes that tells a perfectly formed story - in this case, it is the tale of a married man resisting the advances of an unmarried woman. This song has some terrific couplets - here is one I love; "My wife would not suspect because her trust in me is deep; But I would suffer anyway. My conscience would not let me sleep." Arnold Schwartznegger should have listened to this song every day.

Lowell was born in Tulsa OK, allegedly on a Chocktaw Indian reservation. He claimed to be part Cherokee and part Chocktaw - it might be true. He learned to play the guitar and worked with Alger "Texas" Alexander when he was 18 years old in 1940. Lowell toured with the Texas bluesman until 1943 when he was drafted. After he got out of the service in 1945, he ended up in Oakland California. He started up his own band, which included some amazing cats - a young Ray Charles on piano, David "Fathead" Newman on sax and many others. Lowell began uncapping a string of classics in 1948 with "3 o'Clock Blues," a slow, sad tale about a wayward woman. This tune was B.B. King's first big hit.

Lowell's most famous tune is probably "Reconsider Baby," a mid-tempo blues with clever lyrics. This song has been covered by everyone - Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa and every singing blues guitar player in the world. Lowell had some other big songs ("Tramp," which is a favorite sample used by Ice Cube and many other hip hop artists), but none as huge as "Reconsider Baby."

Lowell Fulson played for over five decades, shutting down his act in 1997 when his health started to fade. He died in 1999; he was almost 78.

This is a guy that deserves to be celebrated - he was a soulful, funky dude that contirbuted a lot to contemporary music. He had a solid baritone voice and played terrific blues guitar. He was a huge influence on Ray Charles. Why isn't he famous, dammit?

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