Blues Great Percy Strother Dies at Age 58
Blues Great Percy Strother Dies at Age 58
Minneapolis, MN, May 31, 2005 - Blues great Percy Strother passed away at his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 29, 2005. With his wife of 35 years Roseanna Strother and his son Percy Strother, Jr. at his side, Percy succumbed to complications from liver cancer and diabetes at age 58. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 23, 1946, Percy Strother was revered as a gritty and soulful blues singer, an expressive and emotional guitar player and an outstanding songwriter. Percy left Mississippi at age 14 in the wake of family tragedies, eventually settling in the Twin Cities in 1969. His many career highlights included several European tours and constant touring of the U.S., playing premier clubs and festivals. His recordings included the release "A Good Woman Is Hard To Find," written by Percy and selected as Best Blues Song of 1992 in the Living Blues magazine Readers' Award category. In addition to his wife Roseanna Strother and son Percy Strother, Jr., Percy Strother is survived by stepdaughters Anita Higgins and Juliet Higgins, son Tyrone Strother, grandchildren Theresa, Daisha, Eboni and Tyrone Strother, Jr., one sister and four brothers, and countless fans and friends. A memorial service will be held on Friday, June 3, 2005 at 1:00 p.m. at Estes Funeral Chapel, 2210 Plymouth Avenue North in Minneapolis (612-521-6744). Interment at Hillside Cemetery following service. As Percy did not have adequate medical insurance, donations to help pay medical, funeral and family living expenses can be sent to Strother Family, P.O. Box 22193, Robbinsdale Branch, Robbinsdale, MN 55422.
More information on the life of Percy Strother. Percy Strother was born on July 23, 1946 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Percy was one of six brothers and a sister. His father worked as a sharecropper and a porter and his mother was a teacher who supplemented the family income by doing odd jobs. Growing up in a farmhouse with no electricity, Percy's family looked to music for comfort and entertainment. Everyone in the family sang and loved the blues music that was literally born in their region. Percy's father was his earliest influence, teaching Percy his first guitar riffs and blues songs.
When Percy was eight or nine years old, his father was accused of killing a white man and he was hanged. Percy's mother was devastated, and the tragedy took a toll on her from which she would never recover. By the age of 12, Percy was working farm labor from sun up to sun down, using the meager pay to help feed the family. This type of work at such a young age, and under such personal circumstances, could break a person's spirit. Percy endured the struggles, in large part, by singing while he labored. Songs by heroes like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson would get him through the days.
By his early teens, Percy was singing in clubs in Vicksburg and nearby towns. Always a devoted performer, Percy would walk five miles to one of the rougher clubs just to take the stage.
When Percy was 14 years old, his family lost their farm and his mother lost her battle with grief and alcohol. With no intention of entering a nearby orphanage, Percy took his younger brothers and hitchhiked out of town, staying for a while in Jackson, Mississippi. He soon made his way to North Carolina, where he worked cropping tobacco, and then Florida, where he harvested oranges and other fruit.
By the 1960s, Percy had traveled and worked his way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As he had in previous locales, Percy sought out chances to hear live music and sit in with bands as a singer. His "day job" was typically grueling, working in a foundry. In 1968, Percy formed his own band with a home-base of Racine, Wisconsin, not far outside of Milwaukee. He then spent about four months living in Chicago, catching live sets by legends like Magic Sam, but not regularly performing himself.
It was around 1969 or 1970 that Percy Strother, along with his brother Max, visited relatives in the Twin Cities. Percy was impressed by the surprisingly rich blues scene in town, and settled in the Twin Cities for the rest of his life. In his early twenties and with plenty of tough life experience behind him, Percy was embraced by the blues community and encouraged and mentored by a new friend, Twin Cities blues legend Lazy Bill Lucas. Lucas, a piano player and singer who hosted house parties that were a focal point of the local scene, was known to exclaim "Have Mercy, Mr. Percy" when Strother stepped forward with his powerful vocals.
It was also during this period, in 1970, that Percy Strother married his wife Roseanna, with whom he would spend the rest of his life. Roseanna inspired Percy in every way, including his music, his songwriting and his focus on family. "Sharing my life with Percy was a gift," says Roseanna Strother. "He was a very loving and protective husband. Percy cherished me, and I cherished him."
Percy built a reputation over the following years as one of the Twin Cities best and most authentic blues vocalists, with a growling, haunting sound in the tradition of Delta-born legends like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. During the 1970s, Percy cut a single on his own P.L.S. label to get on Twin Cities jukeboxes and radio and generate a little more interest in his career. In 1977, a teenage R.J. Mischo encountered Percy's talents in a local music store and sought out his advice for Mischo's new blues band. Always one to help out and teach young, aspiring blues musicians, Percy took the harmonica player under his wing, a kindness that would be appropriately reciprocated by Mischo years later.
Percy performed throughout the 1970s and 1980s as a vocalist in the Twin Cities and other regional locations, but it was not until 1990 that he began playing guitar publicly. Other than early tips from his father and his keen observation of peers, Percy was a self-taught guitarist who decided to focus on the instrument mid-career. According to Twin Cities guitarist Curt Obeda of the Butanes, "One of the things that impressed me most about Percy was his lifelong pursuit of learning more about music and getting better. He could have just gotten up and sang and he would have been fine, but Percy was always trying to improve and find more ways to get his music heard."
In 1992, Percy Strother would finally gain international recognition for his blues vocals, recognition that he had not previously received or sought, for that matter. At the insistence of R.J. Mischo, the blues harmonica player that Percy had mentored years earlier, Percy participated in a recording that would go on to receive critical acclaim and help bring Percy into the spotlight. Ready To Go (1992 Blue Loon Records) by R.J. & Kid Morgan Blues Band Featuring Percy Strother was a recording in the style of 1950s classic Chicago blues. Percy finally had a proper recording to help spread the word.
Buoyed by the warm reception given to Ready To Go, Percy went into the studio in 1992 to record his own album, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find. Released that same year on the Blue Loon label, Percy surprised fans and the blues press by stepping outside 1950s style Chicago blues. With a horn section and tons of soul, the album established Percy as a huge talent in the R&B style of blues associated with the Memphis sound. Living Blues magazine picked the album as a runner-up for Best Blues Album of 1992 in their Critics' Awards, and readers picked the title track "A Good Woman Is Hard To Find" as Best Blues Song of 1992 (in a tie with Robert Cray's "I Was Warned"). The song was written by Percy for his beloved wife Roseanna.
With successful recordings helping pave the way, Percy Strother undertook his first European tour in 1993, including a live show for the national Dutch radio. Percy was so well received by the appreciative European audiences that he would return there to play festivals and clubs throughout his life, the last time in Fall 2004. He tirelessly toured in the U.S. as well, a welcomed regular headliner at clubs like Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago and the Terra Blues club in New York City.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Percy continued to add outstanding recordings to his discography. The Highway is My Home (1995 Black Magic Records), It's My Time (1997 JSP Records) and Home At Last (2001 Black & Tan Records) are the work of a powerhouse singer and versatile artist, whether getting low down with gritty Chicago blues or pumping up some soulful R&B.
Despite battling illness, Percy Strother continued to put on magnificent shows within weeks of his death. His final appearance was at Famous Dave's BBQ & Blues in Minneapolis on April 15, 2005. Percy played solo, and the packed crowd included many members of his family and his band. Percy put on a typically joyous and powerful performance, fielding requests and lifting the spirits of everyone in attendance.
Well loved for his music, Percy Strother the man was equally admired. His kindness and (sometimes disarming) sense of humor touched the lives of innumerable friends and fans. His love of family and the blues were rivaled only by his passion for fishing. "I have heard stories about people spotting Percy out fishing when most people would be sitting by a fire to get warm," said Twin Cities musician Paul Metsa. "Even when he was fishing he had style, dressed like he was ready to go on stage in his ever present hat, cape and snakeskin boots. Percy was the ultimate professional and he'll never be replaced. For my money, Percy's vocals were as deep and powerful as guys like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf." So refined was Percy's fashion sense, he was chosen to act in commercials and model for magazine advertisements that ran in Rolling Stone, GQ and other media outlets.
A true bluesman, singer, songwriter, guitarist, harmonica player and charismatic performer Percy Strother will be greatly missed by the blues world.