Monday, March 21, 2011

Fred Sanders with the Cadillac Blues Band - 1991

Fred Sanders (1940-2011)

Fred Sanders died a couple months ago. Most of you have probably never heard of Fred, but for anyone involved with the Memphis blues scene, he was a major figure for a very long time. He was also a major figure in my young life, although I don't claim the reverse was true - if we were to run into each other now he would likely need a minute to even remember my name, assuming he recognized me at all (it's been almost 20 years, after all).

For a brief time as a young man I was around Fred quite a bit. We traveled together, played together, even lived together. I spent countless hours watching him play in a variety of settings, but mostly in Handy Park on Beale Street, playing for nickels and dimes. He was a man of immense talents, and this post was inspired by my frustration at how little of his talent has been adequately documented.

Brad Webb has gone a long way toward rectifying that situation. A stalwart supporter of the Memphis Blues scene and its citizens, he is responsible for the lovingly assembled record Long Time Comin', which is currently the only commercially available recording featuring Fred.

As valuable as that record is, and as grateful as I am that it exists, it also came too late in many respects. Fred's guitar skills never left him; even at the end, when his health was very poor, he was still a riveting instrumentalist. His voice, however, had deteriorated dramatically over the years. There are now several youtube videos available that show Fred, in his last days, still performing for tips in Handy Park, and it pains me to see the rich, supple vocals of my memory reduced by illness, age and hard living to a shadow of their former greatness.

So, I wanted to put something up that shows folks a little of what I remember of Fred, and why he was so respected throughout the Memphis music community. There are lots of stories to tell about Fred. He was truly gifted, very charismatic, and capable of moving audiences in a way that I've seldom seen before or since. He was also a complex guy, with his share of problems and difficulties. He made such an impression on me in my younger days that I used him as the model for one of the main characters in my first novel, A Darker World (available for download on my website).

The four songs in this post come from a 1991 recording of the Cadillac Blues Band I got from Brad Webb (one more big thanks to the much-appreciated Brad). I don't believe this CD has ever been officially released, but it provides an excellent snapshot of the Fred Sanders I remember so well. I have only included the 4 cuts that feature Fred, and on each of them, he is singing and playing his heart out.

Fred was, in many ways, the last remaining member of a crucial generation for Memphis blues. Most of his contemporaries (some of them chronicled in other posts on this blog) have passed away. The Beale Street Cadillac Blues Band name was used by a variety of musicians who rotated in and out over the years. I witnessed several incarnations of the band in the few brief years I was in Memphis. But most of the older black artists who were the foundation of those motley street bands, who had served as mentors, teachers and examples to the younger generation of players, are now gone. Sadly, few of them left behind much in the way of a recorded legacy. These four cuts aren't the career-spanning body of work I wish Fred had left us, but they'll have to do for now.

The Beale Street Cadillac Blues Band - recorded 1991:

Fred Sanders - vocal and guitar
Jimmy Ellis - vocals and drums
David Dunn - bass
Dan Charette - guitar

1. Everybody Wants To Win
2. Let The Good Times Roll
3. Possum In My Tree
4. Reconsider Baby

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