LOUISIANA RED-DEAD STRAY DOG.
LOUISIANA RED-DEAD STRAY DOG.
When eventually, the history of the blues is written, Louisiana Red’s name will loom large. His career began in 1949, when when he first recorded for Chess Records. Then in 1963, Louisiana Red released his debut album The Lowdown Back Porch Blues. That was the first of over fifty albums Louisiana released during the next five decades. One of these albums was Dead Stray Dog, which was released in 1976 on the Blue Labor label. Dead Stray Dog was released on 6th January 2014 by Fat Possum Records. Before I tell you about Dead Stray Dog, I’ll tell you about Louisiana Red’s career.
Louisiana Red was born Iverson Minter, in March 1932, in Bessemer, Alabama. Tragedy struck early in Louisiana Red’s life. His mother died of pneumonia not longer after giving birth. Then when Louisiana Red was five, his father was lynched by the Klu Klux Klan. After the death of his father, Louisiana Red lived with a variety of relations. This meant moving throughout America. During this period, Louisiana Red learnt to play guitar and harmonica. By 1949, he made his recording debut for Chess Records.
Having made his recording debut, Louisiana Red decided to join the army. He trained with the 82nd Airborne and became a paratrooper. By 1951, Louisiana Red was sent to Korea as part of the 3rd Infantry Division. A year later, Louisiana Red return homed and continued his career as a musician.
After leaving the army, Louisiana Red recorded another single in 1952. This time, when he recorded a single for Checker Records, Louisiana Red was billed as Rocky Fuller. Then towards the end of the fifties, Louisiana was part of John Lee Hooker’s band. He spent two years touring with John Lee Hooker. This was good experience when Louisiana Red recorded his debut album.
It was 1963 when Louisiana Red recorded his debut album Lowdown Back Porch Blues. Little did anyone realise that this was the first of over fifty albums Louisiana Red would record. He would become one of the most prolific blues artists. Later in 1963, Louisiana Red released his sophomore album Seventh Son. A year later, Louisiana Red enjoyed a his single with I’m Too Poor To Die, which reached number thirty in the US R&B Charts. Throughout the rest of the sixties Louisiana Red was just as busy, constantly touring and recording. There was no letup as the seventies dawned.
By 1972, Louisiana Red was signed to Atco Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. That year, Louisiana Red released Louisiana Red Sings The Blues. It was the only album he released for Atco. A years later, Louisiana Red’s career had stalled.
After Louisiana Red Sings The Blues, Louisiana Red’s career seemed to be going nowhere. So he contacted Kent Cooper at Blue Labor Records in 1973. Things had got so band for Louisiana Red, that he wasn’t even making a living as a musician. He was working in a factory making barrels in New Jersey. That’s when Louisiana Red decided he call Kent Cooper.
When Kent heard Louisiana Red, he realised that he sounded similar to Muddy Waters. The similarities were uncanny. However, the problem was getting Louisiana Red to find his own voice. Kent wanted Louisiana Red to forget about sounding like Muddy Waters. That would allow Louisiana Red to enjoy a long and successful career. So, Kent gave Louisiana Red a pile of songs he’d written, and encouraged him to find his own voice. This was important. Louisiana Red’s career was at stake. Eventually, they found real Louisiana Red and he signed to Blue Labor Records.
This was the perfect place for Louisiana Red. Here was a label run by two musicians. Kent Cooper was a jazz arranger and Helner Stadler was a composer. They realised that Louisiana Red was underrated blues player. John and Kent felt Louisiana Red was as good as John Lee Hooker. So, they were determined to get the best out of him for his Blue Labor debut. This they did. Sweet Blood Call, sees Louisiana Red at his very best, breathing life and meaning into the music. All the time, his ability to improvise makes Louisiana Red stand out from the rest. The title-track would go on to be the song that’s synonymous with Louisiana Red. It seemed at last, Louisiana Red had realised his potential. Would he do it again on Dead Stray Dog, his second album for Blue Labor.
For Dead Stray Dog, Kent Cooper played a huge part in the album. He cowrote nine of the twelve tracks with Louisiana Red, while Don Jonson and Kent penned Going Train Blues. Louisiana Red wrote Caught My Man and Gone and Kent wrote Riding On A Tall White Horse. Recording took just two days. The first session was on February 10th 1975 and the second and final session was on 13th March 1975. During these two sessions, it was just Louisiana Red with his acoustic and slide guitar. Producing Dead Stray Dog was Kent and Heiner. Once it was completed, Dead Stray Dog was released in 1976.
On its release in 1976, Dead Stray Dog wasn’t a commercial success. It was well received, with the real Louisiana Red shining through. The only problem was, blues music was no longer as popular. Since then, Dead Stray Dog has never been rereleased on CD. That’s until Fat Possum Records rereleased it recently. Is Dead Stray Dog a hidden gem from Louisiana Red? That’s what I’ll tell you.
Dead Stray Dog opens with the title-track. Delta and country blues are combined as Louisiana Red unleashes a powerful, frustrated vocal. He’s accompanied by his trusty slide guitar, as Louisiana Red makes the lyrics sound very personal. Especially when he sings: “if you’ve got nowhere to go, how can you call that being free?” It’s as if he can relate to the broken promises and having nothing and nowhere to go. This results in a powerful slice of vintage blues, that comes to life thanks to Louisiana Red’s despairing vocal.
As New Jersey Women unfolds, Louisiana Red’s fingers glide up and down the fretboard, making his guitar sing. That sets the scene for Louisiana Red’s angry vocal. He sings about a New Jersey Woman who mistreated him. So vivid are the pictures Louisiana Red paints that you can picture them unfolding before your eyes.
Slow and moody, Held Up In One Town features just the slide guitar before Louisiana Red unleashes a vampish vocal. He mixes drama and power, as the real Louisiana Red shines through. He sounds quite different from his early recordings. His gravelly vocal sings of escaping town, but there’s a woman who he keeps coming back to. It’s one of his best vocals, matched by a slide guitar masterclass.
A meandering, pensive guitar opens Bad Case Of The Blues. Then Louisiana Red’s powerhouse of a vocal enters. It rasps and has a lived-in, all seeing quality. That’s fitting, given Louisiana Red’s singing about a cheating woman, whose betrayed him leaving him with a Bad Case Of The Blues. Anger, emotion and frustration shine through in Louisiana Red’s vocal.
While the guitar weaves its way across the arrangement to Caught My Man And Gone. Louisiana Red gets the chance to unleash some glorious bluesy licks. As a guitar player, he’s often underrated. Here, his talent shines through. During his solo, he replicates the sound of a train. Then his playing matches the anger and frustration in his vocal. He’s angry because his partner’s left him alone. His pride’s been hurt, but by the end of the track, bravado shines through as Louisiana Red doesn’t want people to realise he’s been hurt. This says much about how in years gone by, men weren’t “allowed” or “meant” to show their feelings.
The guitar licks that open My Heart’s A Loser could just as easily come from an early blues record. What differs is the quality of the recording. Here, the quality is stunning. This allows the listener to hear a despairing, frustrated Louisiana Red. He’s got the shakes, because he’s trying to give up the whiskey he loves. His vocal is a powerful roar, while his guitar playing is peerless. Seamlessly, he switches between strumming, plucking and playing the slide. Quite simply, Louisiana Red is one of the most underrated guitarists in the history of blues music.
Riding On A Tall White Horse sees Louisiana Red’s vocal dominate the arrangement. His guitar takes back seat, as he plays sparse, repetitive licks. Later, as his vocal drops out, he unleashes some of his trademark slide guitar. That’s just an irresistible taste of what Louisiana Red’s capable of. Soon, his vocal returns and Louisiana Red unleashes another vocal powerhouse.
Moody and broody describes the introduction to Cold White Sheet. There’s a sense of melancholy and longing as Louisiana Red sings: “ I’m going back to the country, where the women wear their dresses long.” It’s as if Louisiana Red is looking for a rural idyl. Looking back to America in 1975, that rural idyl didn’t exist. It probably didn’t exist even when Louisiana Red was young. Having said that, it makes for an evocative, if controversial song. After all, the times Louisiana Red is singing about was a time of poverty, racism and disease.
Train songs have long been a favourite of blues singers. So it’s no surprise there’s one on Dead Stray Dog, Going Train Blues. Louisiana Red is accompanied by a driving guitar. He plays it at lighting speed, replicating the sound of a train, while unleashing a vocal that’s a mixture of power and emotion. All the time, he’s contemplates leaving “this town.”
Back To The Road Again finds a restless Louisiana Red thinking of leaving town. He’s discovered his partner has been cheating on him. Anger, frustration and sadness fill his vocal. It’s loud and emotive, while his chiming guitar is subtle. What follows is a soul-baring vocal and blues guitar masterclass from Louisiana Red.
Just a lone guitar sets the scene for Louisiana Red’s vocal on My Baby’s Coming Home. His partner has been gone for two weeks, due to his cheating ways. Now he realises he loves her, he doesn’t if she’ll stay. As he tells this tale, worry and emotion are ever-present. He realises he might just be about to loose her. Sadly, only now does he appreciate what he had and what he could’ve lost.
Cold Feeling closes Dead Stray Dog. This track could be the followup to the previous one. A mournful, heartbroken Louisiana Red realises he’s lost the one he loves. She’s cheated on him and their relationship is over. Accompanied by his trusty guitar, what follows in an outpouring of emotion at the love he’s lost. This seems to spur Louisiana Red on to unleash some peerless bluesy licks, closing Dead Stray Dog on an emotive high.
Whilst Dead Stray Dog didn’t enjoy the commercial success or critical acclaim of his previous album Blood Sweet Call. It’s a hidden gem that features the real Louisiana Red. With a little help from Kent Cooper, Louisiana Red found his own voice. Previously, he’d sounded just like Muddy Waters. It was as if Louisiana Red was copying Muddy Waters. That wasn’t going to result in a long and successful career for Louisiana Red. So, down on his luck, he called Kent Cooper and the pair started working together.
Dead Stray Dog was the second in a quartet of albums Louisiana Red recorded for Blue Labor Records. The music was a combination of delta and country blues. Many of the songs were about betrayal or love gone wrong. Some songs harked back to a simpler time. This includes Cold White Sheet, where Louisiana Red sounds like he’s in the wrong movie. He sounds as if modern life isn’t for him. Life’s no longer what it used to be. Others songs are hard luck stories, featuring characters whose lives had taken a wrong turning. This was ironic. Before signing to Blue Labor Records, Louisiana Red wasn’t even working as a musician. He was working in a factory. Thankfully, Kent Cooper rescued Louisiana Red and maybe even his career.
It marked a resurgence in Louisiana Red’s career. He recorded four albums for Blue Labor Records, and after that, enjoyed a long and successful career. Louisiana Red toured and recorded right up until his death in 2012, aged eighty. By then, Louisiana Red had been recognised as one of the legends of blues music. Dead Stray Dog which was rereleased by Fat Possum Records, is just one of over fifty albums Louisiana Red recorded, and is the perfect introduction to his sixty-three year career.
LOUISIANA RED-DEAD STRAY DOG.