Walter E. "Furry" Lewis (March 6, 1893 – September 14, 1981) was an American country blues guitarist and songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee. Lewis was one of the first of the old-time blues musicians of the 1920s to be brought out of retirement, and given a new lease of recording life, by the folk blues revival of the 1960s.
Walter E. Lewis was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, United States, but his family moved to Memphis when he was aged seven. Lewis acquired the nickname "Furry" from childhood playmates. By 1908, he was playing solo for parties, in taverns, and on the street. He was also invited to play several dates with W. C. Handy's Orchestra.
His travels exposed him to a wide variety of performers including Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Alger "Texas" Alexander. Like his contemporary Frank Stokes, he was tired of the road and took a permanent job in 1922. His position as a street sweeper for the City of Memphis, a job he would hold until his retirement in 1966, allowed him to remain active in the Memphis music scene.
In 1927, Lewis cut his first records in Chicago for the Vocalion label. A year later he recorded for the Victor label at the Memphis Auditorium in a session with the Memphis Jug Band, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, and others. He again recorded for Vocalion in Memphis in 1929. The tracks were mostly blues but included two-part versions of "Casey Jones" and "John Henry". He sometimes fingerpicked, sometimes played with a slide. He recorded many successful records in the late 1920s including "Kassie Jones", "Billy Lyons & Stack-O-Lee" and "Judge Harsh Blues" (later called "Good Morning Judge").
In 1969, Lewis was recorded by the record producer, Terry Manning, at home in Lewis' Fourth Street apartment near Beale Street. These recordings were released in Europe at the time by Barclay Records, and then again in the early 1990s by Lucky Seven Records in the United States, and again in 2006 by Universal. Joni Mitchell's song, "Furry Sings the Blues", (on her Hejira album) is about her visit to Furry Lewis' apartment and a mostly ruined Beale Street on February 5, 1976. Lewis despised the Mitchell song and demanded she pay him royalties.
Before he died, Lewis opened twice for The Rolling Stones, played on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, had a part in a Burt Reynolds movie, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), and had a profile in Playboy magazine.
Lewis began to lose his eyesight because of cataracts in his final years. He contracted pneumonia in 1981, which led to his death from heart failure in Memphis on September 14 of that year, at the age of 88. He is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in South Memphis, where his grave bears two headstones, the second purchased by fans.
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