Furry Lewis was the only blues singer of the 1920s to achieve major media attention in the ’60s and ’70s. One of the most recorded Memphis-based guitarists of the late ’20s, Lewis’ subsequent fame 40 years later was based largely on the strength of those early sides. One of the very best blues storytellers, and an extremely nimble-fingered guitarist into his seventies, he was equally adept at blues and ragtime, and made the most out of an understated, rather than an overtly flamboyant style.
Lewis gave up music as a profession during the mid-’30s, when the Depression reduced the market for country-blues. He never made a living from his music — fortunately, he found work as a municipal laborer in Memphis during the ’20s, and continued in this capacity right into the ’60s. His brand of acoustic country blues was hopelessly out of style in Memphis during the postwar years, and he didn’t even try to revive his recording or professional performing career. In the intervening years, he played for friends and relatives, living in obscurity and reasonably satisfied. At the end of the ’50s, however, folksong/blues scholar Sam Charters discovered Lewis and persuaded him to resume his music career. In the interim, all of the blues stars who’d made their careers in Memphis during the ’30s had passed on or retired, and Lewis was a living repository of styles and songs that, otherwise, were scarcely within living memory of most Americans.
Furry Lewis became a blues celebrity during the ’70s, following a profile in Playboy magazine and appearances on The Tonight Show, and managed a few film and television appearances, including one as himself in the Burt Reynolds action/comedy W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings. By this time, he had several new recordings to his credit, and if the material wasn’t as vital as the sides he’d cut at the end of the ’20s, it was still valid and exceptionally fine blues, and paid him some money for his efforts. Lewis died in 1981 a beloved figure and a recognized giant in the world of blues. His music continued to sell well, attracting new listeners many years later.