Memphis Minnie (1897 – 1973)
Here is a short article I had published in 2016 in Classic Rock's 'The Blues Mag'. It's about one of my big hero's Memphis Minnie. You may have heard my cover of Minnie's song "Bumble Bee" on my new album 'Live at Brighton Road' (VizzTone Label Group) - This article explains why I have such huge respect for this phenomenal blues lady:
She could "pick a guitar and sing as good as any man I've ever heard." - Big Bill Broonzy recalling how Memphis Minnie beat himself and Tampa Red at a guitar contest.
Lizzie Douglas, better known as Memphis Minnie, held the torch as a lady of the blues at a time where there were no other notable female blues guitarists. You could contrast Minnie with Sister Rosetta Tharpe who was a gospel guitarist; but Minnie’s country blues style led to her success as the most popular blues woman outside of the vaudeville tradition. Minnie stood out because she wrote her own songs (which have since been covered by the likes of Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane) and played badass fingerpicking guitar. She was so influential, and yet Minnie was buried in an unmarked grave until 1996 when Bonnie Raitt purchased and erected a headstone for her.
Having learnt guitar and banjo as a child, thirteen-year-old Minnie ran away from home to live on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. She earned her living playing on street corners, only returning to her family's farm when she ran out of money. Like many female performers at the time, she sadly turned to prostitution to survive financial hardship.
It was a Columbia A&R man who gave Lizzie the name Memphis Minnie and helped to launch her career. Being a woman in a man’s world was hard but Minnie was tough and determined. Bluesman Johnny Shires recollected how Minnie wasn’t afraid of a fight: “Guitar, pocket knife, pistol, anything she get her hand on she'd use it". Despite looking elegant in dresses and pearls, Homesick James recalled that Minnie “chewed tobacco all the time including whenever she played her guitar, and always had a cup at hand in case she wanted to spit.”
A true hero of the blues guitar and a hauntingly expressive singer, my favourite Memphis Minnie song is ‘Bumblebee’. I recommend you all check it out!
And below is my cover of Bumble Bee, a Tribute to my hero :-)