Born in Sunflower, Mississippi, in 1943, David Lee Durham was raised in the blues. He never darkened the door of a schoolhouse and moved from farm to farm to pick cotton. He could pick 400 pounds of cotton by the age of thirteen. Music was his release.
Durham was a self-taught musician. Like many other bluesmen, he rigged wire to wall to have some strings to pluck. He finally got his hands on a four-stringed guitar when he was twelve years old and taught himself to play the Jimmy Reed songs he heard on the radio. Once he got down Jimmy Reed’s sound, he went on to practice the styles of other Delta bluesmen. Durham can’t
read music; his ear taught him all he knows.
As a young man, Durham would visit the Harlem Club in Inverness, Mississippi, where he would stand on a five-gallon bucket to peek in on Howlin’ Wolf performing for a local crowd. Eventually, Durham began performing in front of an audience himself, and he and his friend, W. H. Lowe, spent many a night playing at country jukes for twenty-five cents or a nickel. During those early days, Durham didn’t sing. Finally, though, he found his voice and the nerve to perform for an audience.
Durham performed with a handful of famous bluesmen over the years and was part of a few different bands. But most knew him as the front man for The Ladies’ Choice Band, which originated in 1975. The band was the Sunday night house band at Club Ebony in Indianola for several years, where they also opened for B. B. King at his annual homecoming concert. In 2004, the band won the Delta’s Regional Blues Challenge. That same year, the Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola named Durham “Blues Musician of the Year.”
Durham’s style was an amalgamation of all of the bluesmen he listened to over the years: B. B. King, Albert King, and Little Milton Campbell. That signature sound inspired his last group, The True Blues Band. The band recorded a CD, Struggling and Straining, released in 2006 which included a couple of original songs by Durham.
Durham passed away unexpectedly on January 24, 2008, at the age of sixty-five.