Louisiana Red

"It was a dream," the singer croons, "a dream I had last night." About what, you wonder, as the raw-and-righteous Jimmy Reed-style rhythm bristles forward. Then the answer comes, as only Louisiana Red could put it: "I dreamed I went to the U.N. and set the whole nation right." Back in 1962, this consisted of "Telling old Kruschev," whose, "sittin' there lookin' bad," to "Get that junk out of Cuba, 'fore you make me mad. Dig up them missile bases," Red demands, "take those planes and all, before I get me a bat, and use your head for the ball!"

Old Castro is next on the chopping block and Red gives it to him in no uncertain terms: "I'll Grab you by the beard," he threatens, "and give you a dirty shave."

He tells the President that he'll be heading up the Senate from now on, and that there'll be a few changes made when he puts "a few soul brothers in it:" They'll include Lightnin' Hopkins, Bo Diddley, Big Maybelle and of course, "a guy like Jimmy Reed."

So concludes "Red's Dream," one of the finest and most unique blues singles of the 1960s. The fact that Louisiana Red isn't a household name, and that he isn't revered as the blues genius that he is, are two factors that testify to the myopic misinterpretation of this much-abused genre. Yet while the idea of setting the whole nation right might admittedly have been a dream, Louisiana Red has been setting the music world right for over half a century.

Born Iverson Minter in Bessemer, Alabama in 1936, Red grew up idolizing Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker--both of whom he'd become tight with by age seventeen--and was also heavily influenced by the knocked-out, laid back rhythms of Jimmy Reed and the emotion-laden vocals and screaming slide guitar of Elmore James. "Louisiana Red primarily inhabits the dark side of the blues," wrote Tali Madden. "Partially autobiographical, partially demon and mojo-driven, and almost always chilling...his lyrics skew toward the haunted, troubled and occasionally downright evil."

And with a life story as rough as Red's it's no wonder.

Orphaned at age three when his father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan, Red was brought up by a series of relatives in various locales including Vicksburg, Mississippi, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania and Watsonville, California. Similarly, his early recorded career is a mystique-laden roadmap of songs cut under names such as Rocky Fuller, Playboy Fuller, Cryin' Red, Rockin' Red and Walkin' Slim.

The Rocky Fuller moniker came from Muddy Waters, who took Red under his wing during his first recording session, at Chess Records in 1952. Though ten sides were cut, only two--"Soon One Morning" and "Come On Baby Now"--were issued. The next year found Red residing in Michigan, where he worked for Oldsmobile and hung out on Detroit's legendary Hastings Street with Motor City blues men like Eddie Kirkland, Bobo Jenkins, Washboard Willie and of course, John Lee Hooker. Red self-released his next disc, under the Playboy Fuller moniker, on the Fuller label, but it remained as instantly obscure as his first effort.

If you were a Hastings Street musician back then, sooner or later you were bound to cross paths with record shop owner Joe Von Battle, whose back room recording sessions yielded the unreleased "Early Evening Blues," the only side Red would ever cut for Von Battle. Unearthed on the Barrelhouse Records compilation Blues Guitar Killers: Detroit 1950s, George Paulus masterfully described it as "One of the most overdosed electric slide pieces ever recorded. Shrieking the vocals and punctuating the breaks with slide, Fuller was years ahead of his time with his high volume amp cranked up to the breaking point."

While the quality of the recording may be rough, the music is another matter, something that would remain a constant throughout Red's career.

After dodging the draft three times in hopes that Harlem record producer Bobby Robinson would issue a recording that he'd cut for him (he never did), Red was drafted into the Korean War where he played the PX Clubs only to find that most of his military peers preferred hillbilly music. Discharged in 1957, he hit New York where he cut "I Done Woke Up" and "I Had A Feeling" for Atlas Records. This time around, he reached back to childhood for an old nickname his grandfather had given him, one that came from a favorite brand of hot sauce he liked on his oysters: Louisiana Red. And this time, the name stuck.

His first hit came a few years later when he signed up with Roulette Records and waxed the aforementioned "Red's Dream." Though it sold a million copies, Roulette was run by Morris Levy, a notorious gangster who always got his way. The song's author didn't see a dime for his brilliance; a situation that would continue through the Roulette follow up "Lowdown Back Porch Blues" as well as a superb 1972 LP Louisiana Red Sings the Blues that ATCO Records allowed to wither on the vine by releasing it with zero promotion.

Things improved when Red signd with New York City's Labor Records, for whom he recorded 1975's stupendous Dead Stray Dog, an intense musical travelogue that plumbed the depths of loneliness. Though, in the words of writer David Whiteis, Red had already "endured personal travails that would have destroyed a lesser man" (the recent death of his beloved wife being just one of them), and had been struggling for years at a variety of jobs ranging from railroad switch man to itinerant fruit picker, most of the songs on Dead Stray Dog weren't his own. Interestingly, they had been penned by writer Kent Cooper, whose liner notes revealed that he'd written most of them "Sitting in bars feeling sorry for himself."

Nevertheless, dispatches of desperation like "Held Up In One Town" completely connected with Red's own experiences, and, after a splashy promotion from Living Blues magazine, Red headed to Europe where he performed alongside Juke Boy Bonner, a young guitar player like himself, with a penchant for poetic lyrics and gutbucket delivery. After a performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Red relocated to Europe, where he lived for two decades, and was appreciated much more than he had been in his own country. The performance was later released as Live In Montreux, and, like just about all of his recordings, ranks as one of the finest and most unique in all of blues music.

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