by J.D. Reager
Several sources (including the website American Blues News) have reported that longtime Memphis blues musician and Beale St. icon Fred Sanders passed away yesterday at the age of 71 after suffering from a stroke earlier in the week.
Sanders had his share of health problems in recent years, including two difficult bouts with lung cancer, but continued to perform and record regularly all the while despite his declining condition. He was known for his gritty, skillful guitar work and soulful vocals, and was seemingly a constant presence on Beale St. and in other blues venues around town for decades.
"Our musical community will be deeply saddened by this loss of his talented, creative, humble, funny, REAL spirit," wrote friend and Freeworld bassist Richard Cushing, in a post to his Facebook account. "His musical style harkened back to an era that is seldom referenced by today's Beale Street. It's an untimely and tragic loss for us all, and he will be deeply missed."
On a personal note, and though he'll probably be more remembered for being the incredible musician that he was, I'll remember Fred Sanders as the sweet and funny man who used to play in bands and hang out with my father when I was in grade school. The man who once encouraged me (age 10 or so, mind you) to get up and do the Pee-Wee Herman dance on stage in Handy Park while he took an extended guitar solo. The man with who I used to make laugh doing an impression of my dad's "blues guitar face" whenever they would hang out. And the man who always generous enough to share the the spotlight with my pops in the band they played in together off-and-on for years, even though he (Sanders) was clearly the featured attraction.