Fred Below (September 16, 1926 – August 14, 1988)
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Fred Below was a leading blues drummer, best known for his innovative work with Little Walter and Chess Records in the 1950s. Nobody laid more of the Chicago blues rhythmic foundations, particularly its archetypal backbeat, than Fred Below.
He was born in Chicago, and started playing drums in a high school jazz band. After being conscripted into the United States Army, he joined the 427th Army band, where he played with Lester Young. After war service, he played in nightclub in Germany before returning to theUnited States in 1951.
Back in Chicago, Below joined a group called The Aces, comprising Junior Wells and brothers Louis and Dave Myers. Little Walter had just left Muddy Waters‘ band to pursue a solo career, Wells taking over Walter’s role in the Muddy Waters band and Walter commandeering the Aces (Myers brothers and Below). As Little Walter and the Nightcats, they became one of the top electric blues bands in Chicago.
In 1955, Below left Little Walter‘s live band to concentrate on working as a session musician for Chess Records. However, he continued to play on Little Walter’s records, as well as hit records for Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Rogers, Elmore James, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Howlin’ Wolf and others.
Whilst John Brim’s last Chess single, “I Would Hate to See You Go,” was waxed in 1956 with a musical ensemble consisting of Little Walter, guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr., bassist Willie Dixon, and Fred Below. Among his more famous work was playing on Chuck Berry‘s 1957 hit single, “School Days”.
The Myers brothers and Below re-formed under the Aces moniker in 1970 to tour Europe before again going their separate ways.
Fred Below died from cancer on August 14, 1988 in Chicago at the age of 61.