The Mississippi Sheiks were a popular and influential guitar and fiddle group of the 1930s. They were notable mostly for playing country blues but were adept at many styles of United States popular music of the time, and their records were bought by both black and white audiences. Country blues is often seen as being the domain of individual musicians, a stereotype propagated by the way such delta blues performers as Robert Johnson and Charley Patton have entered the popular consciousness. Of the smaller number of groups playing at the time, the Mississippi Sheiks are among the better known and most influential among their peers.
Black Hen Music have announced that they will be releasing a tribute album to the Mississippi Sheiks in 2008. The tribute album's artists will include Ry Cooder, Bruce Cockburn, Bill Frisell, Kelly Joe Phelps and John Hammond.
When the band first recorded in 1930, the line-up consisted of Carter with Lonnie and Sam Chatmon, and Walter Vinson. Charlie McCoy (not to be confused with Charlie McCoy, a later American musician) played later, when Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon ceased playing full time. It was Lonnie Chatmon and Vinson who formed the real centre of the group.
Their first and biggest success was "Sitting On Top Of The World" (1930), later to be recorded by Howlin' Wolf, Nat King Cole, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills (numerous times), Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and Jack White, and re-done by Robert Johnson, and called Come On in My Kitchen. The song was also the theme to the Film "A Face In the Crowd" (1957) produced by Elia Kazan and starring Andy Griffith. Throughout their five active years, the Mississippi Sheiks recorded over seventy songs for the Okeh, Paramount and Bluebird labels.
The Sheiks and related groups under other names, such as Mississippi Mud Steppers and Blacksnakes, recorded about a hundred sides in the first half of the 1930s, among them original compositions (probably by Vinson) like "The World is Going Wrong" and "I've Got Blood in My Eyes For You" (1931) - both recorded by Bob Dylan - or the topical "Sales Tax" (1934).
Sam Chatmon made more recordings in the 1960s and Walter Vinson contributed three selections (using the Mississippi Sheiks band name) to Riverside's 1961 series, Chicago: The Living Legends. Bo Carter died in 1964, destitute.
In 1978 Rory Gallagher recorded a tribute song "The Mississippi Sheiks" for his Photo Finish album. In the song, Gallagher sings about having "seen" the Mississippi Sheiks as if he had been "travelling in a time machine" and invites a girl to join him to see them again.