Louisiana Red was an award winning blues guitarist, harmonica player, song writer, and singer, who recorded more than 50 albums. In 1983 he won a W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Blues Male Artist. He has also won two Blues Music Awards in 2010 for Acoustic Artist of the Year and Acoustic Album of the Year for the CD “You Got To Move”.
The Chicago Blue Guide raves about Louisiana Red’s musicianship: “Louisiana Red was a powerful downhome blues artist who could channel his teachers (among them MuddyWaters, ElmoreJames, Robert Nighthawk, Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker) into his own heartfelt musical conversation, delivered with such moving passion and honesty that it would leave his audiences indelibly touched. He was a fine singer with a distinctive voice, and an amazing guitarist who could play all of the traditional blues styles and excelled as one of the world’s greatest slide guitarists. He could create moods and textures, both musically and spiritually, and had the ability of falling so deep into his own songs that he would go to tears, making his audience cry with him. That was the gift of this great artist.” – Bob Corritore Chicago Blues Guide February 25, 2012.
Louisiana Red’s contributions to Blues are noted by the Guardian Newspaper: “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. Possibly his most exotic encounter was in Greece, where he blended strains of blues and rembetika (types of folk music) in collaboration with the singer and bouzouki player Stelios Vamvakaris. 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.” – Tony Russell -The Guardian Feb 25, 2012
Born Iverson Minter in Bessemer Alabama in 1936, he was orphaned when his mother died from pneumonia 7 days after his birth and his father was lynched by the KKK when his was five. His grandparents took him to live in Vicksburg Mississippi. His grandfather was a self-taught bottleneck guitarist. His grandmother bought Red his first guitar.
In his teens Iverson moved to Canonsburg, Pa to live with an aunt and uncle. He moved into the city of Pittsburgh to live with his grandmother in the late 1940’s. One day in Pittsburgh Red heard blues guitarist Crit Walters playing on his porch. Walters (also known as Boy B) serenaded passers-by every day with down home blues. Red asked Walters to teach him the blues. Red also studied wtih another Pittsburgh bluesman named Mr.Cash. After learning the basics from Walters and Cash, Red and his friend Orville Whitney formed a three-piece band composed of a washboard player, a washtub bass player, and himself on bottleneck guitar. They performed on the streets of Pittsburgh for pennies. They earned 5 dollars on a good night Remembering his Pittsburgh roots Red’s 1995 release “Sittin Her Wonderin” features his song “Pittsburgh Blues”.
Disk Jockey Bill Powell who played R&B on his WILY radio show, took an interest in Red’s music. Red did a live broadcast on Powell’s program and performed at one of Powell’s teen hops. Red cut a crude acetate at WILY in 1952 that he sent as a demo to Chess records. At age 15 Red called Scott Cameron, Muddy Water’s agent, asking him to send his demo to Phil Chess.
Impressed with his demo Chess summoned Red to Chicago. In Chicago Red met Muddy Waters who gave him slide guitar tips and let Red sit in with his band at Club Zanzibar. Red recorded his first songs under the name of Rocky Fuller on the Chess Records subsidiary Checker Records. He was backed by Muddy’s Walters’ band that included Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers. Red recorded ten songs. Two of the songs were released in 1952 as a single “Soon One Morning” / “Come On Baby Now”. Three of his early Chess Record recordings were released on the compilation Detroit Ghetto Blues in 1976.
After the Chess single failed to sell, Red took a job at an Oldsmobile plant in Lansing Michigan. He made trips to nearby Detroit to visit the Hastings street blues clubs where he met John Lee Hooker. Red played with John Lee Hooker in Detroit for two years in the late ’50s. He recorded with John Lee on the song “Down Child” released on Marion Records.
Red was drafted into the military serving during the Korean War. During his service he performed at PX Clubs. After his discharge in 1957 he settled In New York where he recorded the single “I Done Woke Up” / “I Had A Feeling” for Atlas Records. He was billed for the first time as Louisiana Red. It was a nickname given to him as a child by his grandfather because his fondness for “Louiana Red” hot sauce.
Red released his first two albums in 1963 with “Lowdown Back Porch Blues” on Roulette Records and “Seventh Son”. The first album featured Red’s first hit single the song “Red’s Dream”. His 1964 single “I’m Too Poor To Die” on the Glover label hit the charts. It reached number 117 on the Billboard charts and number 30 on the Cashbox chart. He came to international attention with that album and began making regular appearances in Europe.
During the late 1960’s and 1970’s Red released records on the Carnival, Fat Possum, Labor, Wounded Bird, Black Pantherscand other labels.
After living for a time in Chicago and Phoenix Louisiana Red moved to Hanover, Germany in 1981. There he married his wife Dora and adopted her sons. He remained in Europe for the rest of his career taking the blues to many countries. During the 1980s through the end of his career he recorded on several European labels including JSP. He collobrated with European musicians blending ethnic folk music with blues on the recordings recording “Last Mohican of the Blues” in Poland (1992) and “Blues Meets Rembetika” recorded with Greek musicians in 1994.
Red began touring the U.S. again in 1997 to promote his Earwig Records releases. Earwig is owned by Pittsburgh native Michael Frank. Louisiana Red returned to Pittsburgh on June 5th of 2006 to perform at a benefit concert at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church Red performed on Beale Street in Memphis in 2010 when he won two Blues Music awards.
His last album “Memphis Mojo” was released on Ruf Records in 2011.
Louisiana Red passed away on February 25, 2012 at age 79.
“He’s kind of one of the originators,” Kim Wilson, singer and harmonica player for the Fabulous Thunderbirds. “His career took off in the ’60s, and he had a little bit more of a modern sound than Muddy and the guys from the ’50s. He was a real pivotal guy for people like me, and he was a very, very good songwriter.
“He’s a blues guy, a real blues guy — not one of these guys who call themselves blues people. That’s an important distinction,” Wilson said. “When guys like that leave the planet, quality control goes out the window.”
Article reprinted from Pittsburgh Music History.