After World War II, in the northern hills of Mississippi, a music sub-genre grew like the honeysuckle vines that predominate the small farms of that area. It came to be known as Hill Country blues, and like it's older kissing-cousin to the South, delta blues, it incorporates finger picking, a healthy dose of bottleneck guitar, and stories of murder, deception, hard days working and, of course, the frustrations of love.
If anyone was to stake a claim on being the grandpappy of Hill Country blues, it would perhaps be Mississippi Fred McDowell. McDowell played a mean sounding, repetitive, rhythm-heavy solo blues that owed much to Son House and Charlie Patton. For much of his life McDowell worked the evening in local juke joints in and around his hometown of Como, Mississippi while working the days on his small farm. He had been doing this since the 1920's but it wasn't until 1959 that McDowell was "discovered" by folklorist Alan Lomax. For Lomax and a small number of blues fans, it was like opening a time capsule. Blues had moved North, had become upbeat, incorporated full bands and was edging into what was about to become Soul Music. But in the rural northern hills of Mississippi, a handful of musicians in abutting farms, perhaps unaware of the trends of the day, were still playing it the old way. Arguably, nobody did it better than McDowell. Mississippi Fred incorporated insanely catchy riffs with his his edgy slide playing as he would double the vocals and the guitar melody in perfect pitch and timing. As he once said in a recording: "What I sing, the guitar sings." The two instruments were one. And so it was, starting at the age of 55, McDowell made his first recording, filmed his first appearances, traveled abroad for the first time and became blues royalty overnight. He would be dead 12 years later. But in that brief time, his traditional country blues left a major imprint. McDowell's neighbors, Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside would soon get recording sessions and Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones were just a couple of the popular acts who would pick up his style and would go on to have success covering McDowell.
In 1965, McDowell traveled to Germany with a group of blues musicians. Most of his tour mates, like Matt Murphy, had completed the transition to upbeat urban blues. Fred McDowell was still playing it old style. Sitting down and letting the guitar and voice sing it together. The song filmed in '65 Germany, Going Down to The River, is our Song of the Week.