Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI MUSICIANS: Lonnie Pitchford


Lonnie Pitchford Lonnie Pitchford

Major Works

  • All Around Man-his only solo album
  • Mississippi Moan
  • Roots of Rhythm and Blues: A Tribute to the Robert Johnson Era
    Deep Blues
  • If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day
  • Sweet Home Chicago
  • 55 Blues
  • Water In My Gas Tank
  • Drinkin' Antiseptic
  • Tracks on Living Country Blues U.S.A. LP, National Downhome Blues Festival
  • Soundtrack to the Film Deep Blues
  • Roots Rhythm & Blues: A Tribute to Robert Johnson
  • The Harry Smith Connection
  • Folkway Tribute to Smith's Anthology American Folk Music
  • Played slide guitar on one track of John Mellencamp's album Mr. Happy Go Lucky

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Lonnie Pitchford: A Biography
By Patrice Harper (SHS)

Lonnie Pitchford, a Delta blues musician,  was born October 8, 1955, near Lexington,  Mississippi, to Rosie Pitchford. He was actually raised about five miles outside of Lexington, a rural Mississippi town that is close to Clarksdale, Mississippi. Lonnie made a one-string guitar called the ''Diddley Bow'' at the age of five years old.  He later continued to make this guitar on stage when he performed. Patrice Harper, SHS researcher In 1974 Lonnie became an overnight wonder when the Smithsonian discovered his ability to bring the material of the legendary Robert Johnson to life (Pareles).  When Lonnie Pitchford was seventeen years old,  he went to Washington,  D.C.,  to play at the National Folk Festival (Skelly). He was discovered by folklorist and ethnomusicologist Worth Long in  Washington where Pitchford performed on the one-string diddley bow ( Steber-The Digital Journalist).  Lonnie went on to play in lots of bands in his teen years, and he did R&B and Blues covers.   He also enjoyed  playing in church groups, which he started doing at the age of twelve.

Lonnie Pitchford learned his Delta blues from Eugene Powell, who played with the Mississippi Sheiks in the 30's.   Lonnie also learned Delta blues from Robert Junior Lockwood, whose stepfather was Robert Johnson.   When Lonnie Pitchford was thirty-six,  he had toured Australia, Europe, and the United States.  Lonnie also had a second job when he wasn't singing blues or making records:  he was a carpenter in his hometown in Mississippi (Pareles).  Lonnie Pitchford had two sisters, one named Ersine Hodges, and the other Brenda Jones.  Lonnie also had four brothers named Willie Douglas, Andrew James, Edward Charles and Roosevelt (Pareles).  His mother Rosie is still living.

Pitchford began performing outside of Mississippi as a teen-ager.  At seventeen he appeared at the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklore (1972),  and  he continued to play there until 1991 (Pareles).  In 1994 Lonnie put out his only solo album for Rooster Blues Records called All around Man.  In 1998, just before his death,  Lonnie put out a release on the German L&R Records. He also did Roots of Rhythm and Blues:  A Tribute to the Robert Johnson Era in 1992 for Columbia Records and  an album for Deep Blues in 1992 for Anxious Records. He appeared in two documentaries The Land Where the Blues Began in1980 and Deep Blues  in 1992.   He also recorded for five blues anthologies before he made his  solo album, All Around  Man. He was working on an album for Mississippi Crossroads Music and had  made an album with the New Africa String Band and was featured on one track of a John Cougar Mellencamp CD.

Pitchford talks about his diddley bow in the liner for All Around Man. Pitchford writes: "When I was five or six, I would make a  one-string guitar upside the wall. I would get me some baling wire or wire from a broom that my Mom had discarded, and some old rusty nails - didn't have new ones - I had to pull them out of the old boards. Then I would pound them into the wall upside the house, wrap the wire at both ends and lay a snuff can under the bottom. Then I'd just go to playing anything that came to mind."  The producers for what is Lonnie's only full length CD were  Lonnie Pitchford, Patty Johnson and Jim O''Neal.

On November 8, 1998,  Lonnie Pitchford died at the age of 43 at his home in Lexington,  Mississippi.  He leaves behind a daughter,  and a wife named Minnie Pitchford.  He is buried at Newport Community Cemetery near Ebenezer, Mississippi,  near the grave of Elmore James. He had been voted one of Living Blues magazine's "top 40 under 40" new blues players to watch. 

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Interview with Minnie Pitchford, wife of Lonnie Pitchford
by Patrice Harper (SHS)

What was Lonnie's parents' names?

"His mother's name is Rosie, and she is living in Chicago."

What high school did Lonnie Pitchford attend?

"J.J. McLain High School,  but it's not that now.  It's something else.''

Who was Lonnie Pitchford's favorite musician?

''Robert Johnson, a man before his time."

What musician do you think influenced Lonnie at the time?

''Robert Johnson did.  Lonnie used to listen to him all the time.''Lonnie Pitchford, Man All Around

When did Lonnie first become interested in music?

''When he was about six years old.''

Was there something in particular that made Lonnie choose music as a career?

''His mommy used to sing, and his daddy played the guitar also.''

How did Lonnie learn how to play and sing?

"His daddy was a musician."

What kind of student was Lonnie in school?

"He was the quiet type,  but most of the time you would find him in the bathroom by himself.''

If Lonnie was alive today, what do you think he would tell future musicians?

"To follow their dream and never give up."

Did Lonnie ever use a stage name?

"No, he never used a stage name because he wanted to be known for  who he was."

Did Lonnie ever have any children?

"He had one girl that I didn't know about, and I still don't know her."

Did Lonnie ever go to college?

"No he didn't.  He never went."

"Lonnie played around the house. He didn't make much money. He just liked what he did. He played for the neighborhood.   Lonnie also liked to cook;  he was a good cook,  and everybody liked him. He was a good person to get along with.    My kids liked him. You should say our kids.  He would play the guitar with my son, and they would just about knock the dust from under the floor board.   One day we went to a cafe to eat and there was  no one there but us,  and this man across the street from us had a club.  So I said, 'Lonnie,  let's be the devil. Play your guitar,' so Lonnie asked the lady in the cafe if he could plug up his guitar. The lady said that she didn't care, so I went outside and said, 'Everybody,  Lonnie is getting ready to play his guitar,' and every body from across the street came to the cafe where we were.  We took all the white man's business from across the street.  Because Lonnie never went anywhere without his guitar; you see he played for whoever wanted him to play.  And Lonnie loved his Diddley Bow!"

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Timeline

1955-Lonnie Pitchford was born to Rosie Pitchford near Lexington, Mississippi.

1960-Lonnie Pitchford started making one string guitars (called his Diddley Bows) at the age of five. He used a dime as a slide.

1967-At the age of twelve,  Lonnie began singing in church and learned how to play the piano when he began sharing a guitar with his four brothers.

1971-Lonnie meets folklorist and activist Worth Long and his musical expression began to expand

1972-At the age of seventeen,  Lonnie went to Washington, D.C., to play at the National Folk Festival

1972-He gained national recognition playing his one string "guitar'' or diddley-bow at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C.  He also played the material of the legendary Robert Johnson.

1982-Pitchford met Robert Junior Lockwood at World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, and began playing with him. Robert Johnson was Lockwood's stepfather.

1984-One of the youngest performers at Downhome Blues Festival in Atlanta.

1988-German L&R Records released Mississippi Moan, a compilation that included Pitchford.

1992-Roots of Rhythm and Blues:  A Tribute to the Robert Johnson Era was released by Columbia Records, and Deep Blues was released by Anxious Records.  Both are compilations including work by Pitchford.

1993-Played at the Port Townsend Country Blues Festival

1994-Rooster Records released his first and only solo album All Around Man

1996-Appeared playing slide guitar on John Mellancamp's Mr. Happy Go Lucky

1998- November 8, Lonnie Pitchford died at his home in Lexington Mississippi, from AIDS. 

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Related Websites

This foreign site plays The Judgment Day.

Brief biography of Lonnie Pitchford before he appeared at a festival.

This site plays audio clips of Pitchford's music.

This site is about Pitchford's album All Around Man.

Delta musicians site is about Pitchford.

This site plays Lonesome Blues and gives brief biography.

Get Music biography is found here.

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Bibliography

Larkin, Colin, ed. "Lonnie Pitchford. " The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Vol. 11.  New York:  Stockton Press.  1995.  1123.

Lonnie Pitchford [online] Available at http://www.bluestodo.com/articles/97-5-lonnie.html

Pareles, Jon.  New York Times.  November 23, 1998.

Pitchford, Minnie.  Telephone Interview. May 8, 2000.

"Pulling Blues out the Sky" [online]Available at http://catish keith.com/ April 13, 2000

Skelly, Richard. Lonnie Pitchford [online] Available at http://allmusic/    April 12, 2000.

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Last updated in 2000
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