Mundell and I are from the same town, Laurel, Miss. I was aware of him from my first encounters with the guitar. If you said “guitar” to anybody in Laurel, their response always included “Mundell Lowe.”
I first met him in 1958, during a trip to New York. He was doing the show Your Hit Parade and invited me to a rehearsal in Midtown. That experience is vividly burned into my memory. Clyde Lombardi played bass, Billy Bauer played auxiliary guitar, Bernie Leighton was on piano and Hank Freeman played alto sax, plus a full orchestra with strings. It shook my foundation. I wanted to be a part of that life.
We kept in touch until 1964, when I went to New York and hung out with him for a few days. We played together and I sight-read some for him. Then I asked him if he thought I could make a living there. He assured me I could, so I moved there in June of that year. He was so busy, running from one studio to another—two or three dates a day, sometimes four (he always said that the fourth date went to the government).
He was responsible for my first jobs, including a Broadway show. He moved to L.A. in 1965, and I moved to Nashville in 1973. He visited from time to time, once in 1978 as the music director of a network special, Lucy Comes to Nashville. Over the years, we did two CDs, gave several university concerts with their lab bands, and performed many times at the W.C. Handy Music Festival.
After his final Handy festival, we went into the studio one last time. Following that session, we talked often: two, three times a week and then two or three times a day—often about Laurel. We even made plans to go back and stroll the streets, but it didn’t happen. I’ll miss him greatly.
Read George Varga’s Overdue Ovation profile of Mundell Lowe from the December 2008 issue of JazzTimes.
Read Jim Ferguson’s Farewell tribute piece to Mundell Lowe from the March 2018 issue of JazzTimes.Originally Published