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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Freddie Spruell

Freddie Spruell, b. December 28, 1893 in Lake Providence, LA, d. June 19, 1956 in Chicago, IL, Delta blues guitarist and singer, variously billed as Papa Freddie or Mr. Freddie. He is generally regarded as the first Delta bluesman to be recorded ("Milk Cow Blues", 1926), although Mamie Smith (1920) and Blind Lemon Jefferson (1925) predated him in recording the first blues records. Details of his life are sketchy and sometimes contradictory.

Spruell was probably born in Lake Providence, Louisiana. He relocated with his family to Chicago, Illinois, when he was a young child. His Social Security records gave his birth date as December 1893. In spite of his urban residence, his recordings are classed as Delta blues and are noted for his musical styling. On June 25, 1926, Spruell recorded "Milk Cow Blues" in Chicago. The track was released by Okeh Records, backed with "Muddy Water Blues", recorded in November that year; both sides were credited to Papa Freddie. His second single release was "Way Back Down Home", backed with the same recording of "Muddy Water Blues". He recorded two more songs in 1928, one of which was "Tom Cat Blues", issued by Paramount Records and credited to Mr. Freddie Spruell. Five more songs were recorded in April 1935 and released by Bluebird Records under the name of Mr. Freddie. In this session he recorded "Let's Go Riding", his best-known song. Carl Martin played second guitar accompanying Spruell on the track. At the insistence of his mother, Spruell stopped playing secular music in the mid-1940s. He became a Baptist preacher. Spruell died in Chicago in June 1956, after a lengthy stay in hospital. He was aged 62. No death certificate has been found. All his recorded work is on the compilation album Mississippi Blues, vol. 2 (1926–1935), The Complete Recorded Works of Arthus Petties, Freddie Spruell, Willie "Poor Boy" Lofton.


by Steve Leggett
Freddie Spruell (or Papa Freddie, as he is sometimes known) is often cited as the first performer to record an actual blues song, a claim that isn't exactly accurate. Spreull recorded ten tracks for OKeh, Paramount, and Bluebird between 1926 and 1935, but vaudeville-styled blues pieces like "Crazy Blues" by Mamie Smith appeared in 1920, while Blind Lemon Jefferson was recording the first hard blues tracks at least a year earlier, in 1925. Spreull could well be considered the first Delta blues performer to record, however, when he cut "Milk Cow Blues" in Chicago on June 25, 1926. He recorded two more sides in 1928, including "Tom Cat Blues," and five tracks (under the name Mr. Freddie) on April 12, 1935, a session that yielded perhaps his best song, the rag-inspired "Let's Go Riding," which featured second guitar from Carl Martin. Spreull's Social Security file indicates he was born on December 28, 1893, and although he is generally considered a Mississippi bluesman, it appears he moved to Chicago with his parents as a small boy, and his ties to the Delta are more stylistic than geographical. "Let's Go Riding" appeared on the Ghost World soundtrack in 2001.