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Preserver of Delta BluesCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1998
Pitchford, LonnieLonnie Pitchford dedicated his musical career to an authentic expression of the early acoustic blues tradition of the Mississippi Delta. His haunting vocals, evocative guitar (and occasionally piano) playing and dedication to reviving the root tradition of the region earned him a substantial reputation.
He began singing in church as a child, and took up his various instruments as a teenager. He learned directly from a number of musicians who represented the authentic tradition, including the late Eugene Powell and Robert Lockwood, the stepson of the legendary Robert Johnson. He began to perform at festivals outside of Mississippi in the early 1970s, and subsequently made international tours to Europe and Australia. When not performing, he worked as a carpenter.
The first instrument he learned to play was neither guitar nor piano, but the diddley-bow, the home-made single-string instrument used in rural Mississippi by those without access to a more sophisticated medium. Pitchford played one as a child, but continued to make the diddley-bow part of his show.
In concert, he would not only play this most basic of blues instruments, but would assemble it on-stage from a plank, two nails, a length of wire, and a crushed snuff can (the wire was often simply nailed to the side of a house or barn in its original context). The instrument is directly connected to the African roots of the blues, and he played powerful, driving music on it, using a dime as a slide.
Pitchford took part in two documentary films, The Land Where the Blues Began in 1980, and Deep Blues in 1992, and was featured on the Columbia Records tribute to Robert Johnson, Roots of Rhythm and Blues, in 1992. He released his debut album, All Around Man, in 1994, and also recorded with the veteran bluesmen Eugene Powell and Big Jack Johnson as the New Africa String Band. He was working on an unfinished album at his death from complications of pneumonia (he was HIV positive) at his home.