Blues singer developed inimitable style
The blues singer and guitarist Louisiana Red began his career as an eerily accurate copyist of other artists but grew into a musician of inimitable originality. 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, including Australia.
His discography includes albums cut in Czechoslovakia and Iceland and his output over 50 years makes an eloquent case for the blues as an international language.
Louisiana Red was born Iverson Minter on March 23, 1932, possibly in Bessemer, Alabama (though he would cite other birth places, too). His mother died shortly after his birth and his father was killed in a Ku Klux Klan lynching when Iverson was very young. He spent some years in an orphanage in New Orleans before going to live with his grandmother in Pittsburgh.
In his teens he hung around with John Lee Hooker and Eddie Burns in Detroit, where he made some heavily Hooker-influenced recordings under the pseudonym Rocky Fuller. His other early sides were similarly flagrant but immensely spirited imitations of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters.
By 1962 Red had found his way to New York, where he recorded Red’s Dream. The album Lowdown Back Porch Blues (1963) and the 1964 single I’m Too Poor to Die drew further attention to this vivacious and articulate young bluesman. After the album’s release in Britain, he regularly visited Europe.
He also recorded in Germany then, back in the US, he made two gripping solo albums in the 1970s, Sweet Blood Call and Dead Stray Dog.
In the early ’80s, Red relocated to Germany but he was not forgotten in the US, where he received a W. C. Handy blues award in 1983 for best traditional blues male artist. However, he continued to find most of his work in Europe, where his impassioned performances provided a blues experience like no other. He played in Australia a number of times in the early 1990s.
His 2009 album Back to the Black Bayou and a duet set with the pianist David Maxwell, You Got to Move, led to several nominations at the 2010 Blues Music Awards, where he won best acoustic artist and best acoustic album. His final album was Memphis Mojo (2011).
After an early marriage, in the 1970s Red was involved with the singer Odetta. He married Dora in the 1980s and is survived by her.
Tony Russell, Guardian