Like so many other blues musicians, slide guitarist Louisiana Red long struggled to make a living in his native country, so in the early 1980s he moved to
where, to his delight, he found audiences far more receptive to his elemental sound.
He would return to the United States periodically for tours, and in 2009, one of the first things he did after again setting foot on his home turf was to send a copy of his latest album to the country's first African American president,
"Friends of mine played for him back in Chicago, when he was raising funds for schools," Red told the Boston Herald at the time. "I'm gonna write, 'I hope you enjoy these blues. I'm proud of you.'"
Red died Saturday at a hospital in Germany, just a few nights after the president and his wife had hosted
and others at the
for a celebration of the blues. The guitarist died at 79 after slipping into a coma brought on by a thyroid imbalance, according to a spokesman for his U.S. record company, Ruf Records, which released his latest album, "Memphis Mojo," in September.
Over the years Red received 14 nominations and three awards from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, including a double win in 2010 for acoustic blues artist of the year and acoustic album of the year for his duet with pianist David Maxwell, "You Got to Move."
The musician born Iverson Minter in Bessemer, Ala., on March 23, 1932 (some sources list his birth year as 1936), went through a series of stage names when he was establishing himself, but the nickname associated with his passion for oysters doused in Louisiana red pepper sauce is the one that stuck.
Red's mother died within a week of his birth, and his father was lynched by members of the
when he was 5, prompting an aunt to place him in an orphanage. He later lived with his grandmother and an uncle in Pittsburgh.
He landed a deal with Chicago's influential Chess Records after playing a song over the phone for label co-owner Phil Chess, who sent him a bus ticket for Chicago. The man who picked Red up at the station to drive him to meet Chess was
, who was to become one of the label's biggest stars.
Waters and some of his band mates, including harmonica player Little Walter and guitarist Jimmy Rogers, played on some of Red's recordings, and he appeared on records by other blues artists including Waters and
"He's kind of one of the originators," Kim Wilson, singer and harmonica player for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, said Monday. "His career took off in the '60s, and he had a little bit more of a modern sound than Muddy and the guys from the '50s. He was a real pivotal guy for people like me, and he was a very, very good songwriter.
"He's a blues guy, a real blues guy — not one of these guys who call themselves blues people. That's an important distinction," Wilson said. "When guys like that leave the planet, quality control goes out the window."
Survivors include his wife, Dora.