Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Cooke

"You Send Me" Daniel Wolff's definitive biography of Sam Cooke begins the second chapter with a description of the birth of Samuel Cook and his delivery "by a midwife in Clarksdale at 2:10 in the afternoon on January 22, 1931."

Wolff goes on to describe Clarksdale of the early 1930's:

"Out of these elements -- a large colored population, a little spending money, the exhaustion of picking cotton and the exhilaration of cheap whiskey -- came a music historians have called the Delta Blues. Legendary practioners like Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and Skip James were drawn -- like the Reverend Cook (Samuel's father) -- to the relative prosperity of Clarksdale. Here they traded lyrics and played all night dances, till the music reached a zenith of moaning double-entendres, secret protest, and contagious gut-bucket beats."
The twin of the delta blues, Wolff notes, was the church song: the spiritual. And the two were not to be crossed.

The Reverend Cook left his Clarksdale church at 2303 7th Street and hoboed up to Chicago with just thirty-five cents in his pocket. After finding work in the Chicago stockyards, he came back for his family.

This was how Sam Cooke (he added an e to his name after turning professional) made it to Chicago and the Soul Stirrers where on December 1, 1950 he replaced gospel legend R.H. Harris as lead singer. In March 1951 at 20-years-old a nervous Sam Cooke made his professional recording debut, a fact that Wolff writes did not sit well with producer Art Rupe who didn't know Harris had been replaced by a kid.

"Can he sing?" Rupe wanted to know.
"Yes sir, he can sing," Rupe was told.
"Okay" a disappointed Rupe replied angrily, "I'll allow you one mistake."

It was a decision Art Rupe of Specialty Records never regretted. There was no mistake.

Sam Cooke sang lead on eleven songs during that first session including "Peace in the Valley" and what would become the hit of the session, and Sam's breakout gospel song "Jesus Gave Me Water".

Wolff writes:

"The Sweet Mississippi accent he got from his parents dwells on each syllable and calls for attention. The third time through the chorus, Sam lets the group start and, by coming in a beat later, kicks up the excitement. And when he sings "I want to let His praises swell," Sam's voice does just that. If Art Rupe didn't know he had a hit here, he wasn't listening."
Rupe was listening. So were thousands of impressed gospel fans who made "Jesus Gave Me Water" more popular than anthing R.H. Harris had ever recorded with the quartet. More than five decades later, as another Christmas approaches, we're still moved by the spirit in Sam Cooke's voice. And we're still listening.

(Click to hear Jesus Gave Me Water by The Soul Stirrers)

(Click to hear The Soul Stirrers sing Peace in the Valley)

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Christmas Staple

They called him "pops", out of respect. But he was born Roebuck Staples near Winona, Mississippi on a plantation with 13 older brothers and sisters. When he was eight, his family moved to the more affluent Dockery Plantation where he was influenced by the great delta blues guitarists Charley Patton and Son House.

Roebuck Staples remembers it like this:
I was raised on the Will Dockery place from the time I was eight till I got to be 20 years old. Charley Patton stayed on what we called the Lower Dockery place, and we stayed on the Upper Dockery.

He was one of my great persons that inspired me to try to play guitar. He was really a great man.

At first I was too small to go hear him on a Saturday night. But on Saturday afternoons, everybody would go into town, and those fellows like Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf would be playin' on the streets, standin' by the railroad tracks, people pitchin' 'em nickels and dimes, white and black people both.

The train came through town maybe once that afternoon, and when it was time, everybody would gather around, just to see that train pull up. They'd play around there, before and after the train came, and announce where they'd be that night, and that's where the crowd would go.

They'd have a plank nailed across the door to the kitchen, and be selling fish and chitlins, with dancin' in the front room, gamblin' in the side room, and maybe two or three gas or coal-oil lamps on the mantelpiece in front of the mirror, powerful lights.

It was different people's houses--no clubs or nothin'. And I finally grew up to play.
Like so many Delta bluesmen would do, Roebuck Staples left Mississippi for Chicago when he was 20. But Roebuck did not follow the blues path. He went the other direction, toward gospel.

Pops, with his children, Cleotha, Mavis, and Purvis became the Staple signers, recording for several Chicago record labels. One of their songs recorded in 1955 was "This May Be My Last Time," later recorded by the Rolling Stones.

The Staple Singers recorded an album of Christmas songs in 1962 called "The 25th Day of December". That's where they recorded "The Last Month of the Year".

The last month of the year has special significance in the Staples family. Pops was born in the last month of the year, on December 28th. He died in the last month of the year as well, December 19, eight years ago.

(Click to hear The Last Month of the Year)

(Click to hear This May Be My Last Time by the Staple Singers)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas With A Milkman

William Ferris was a 30-year-old man when this photo was taken back in 1972. By that time he already was a veteran blues researcher and scholar.

Ferris discovered blues as a teenager in Vicksburg, Mississippi. For the next forty plus years he photographed, recorded, and filmed blues and blues artists in his home state. Some of his best work can be found in the book Blues From The Delta.

In a soon to be released retrospective of his career, a new book called Mississippi Blues: Voices and Roots , Ferris explains:
...what led a privileged, white Mississippian to work with black musicians in the 1960s. Drawn to the Civil Rights Movement as an undergraduate student, I recorded the voices and music of black musicians whose lives I felt were missing in American and southern history. These artists spoke and sang about violence, about suffering, about love with an eloquence that resonated in my ear. They taught me about worlds that were both at my doorstep and far removed from my own experience.
What began as a fascination with the delta blues culture evolved to become his life's calling.

Ferris and Judy Peiser co-founded the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, Tennessee and, with Charles Reagan Wilson, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. He and Wilson are co-editors of The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. The book earned them a nomination for the Pulitzer.

Along with other blues researchers Mack McCormick, Jim O'Neal and Gayle Dean Wardlow, Ferris helped put blues music and culture into context for the rest of the world.

You can see some of what William Ferris saw in his documentary films like Give My Poor Heart Ease. This and other of his documentaries can be viewed on line at the Folkstreams website , and with the release of his new book, for the first time they also will be available on DVD.

There are some who question why we are so willing to applaud those who "discover" the artist as much as the artist himself. They call it celebrating the milkman, instead of the milk.

William Ferris' work has put a lot of milk on a lot of tables for over 40 years. And for that we should be thankful. One person who believes that is Dick Gordon of American Public Radio. Gordon's show is called "The Story." He spoke with Ferris last Christmas about blues Christmas music as William Ferris did what he does best, he told stories. And they played a lot of great blues music.

The interview is still available online, so if you want to spend a little of your Christmas with the milkman, you can. And you even get some free milk to go along with it.

(Click here to hear Dick Gordon interview William Ferris about Blues Christmas music)

(Click to hear NPR story on Folkstreams)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa Claus is Back In Town

It's not easy being King.

In September 1957 Elvis Presley went into a Hollywood recording studio to cut a Christmas album. After three days in the studio, he ran out of material. But still he needed one more song. So Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller (Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Smokey Joe's Cafe) went away together and quickly came back with a classic double-entendre blues number for Elvis called "Santa Claus is Back in Town."

It would become the last song of the session, and very nearly the last song ever to feature Elvis' original sidemen, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black.

As Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick tells in "Last Train to Memphis" the band had been promised they could make some extra money by cutting some instrumentals for an album with the remaining studio time. But when they were instead suddenly denied the opportunity, both men wrote a letter of resignation and quit in disgust. They had to be pretty angry in order to leave the biggest selling music act in the world.

Elvis at first wished them luck in finding new jobs, but eventually offered each a $50 raise. They each declined. A few weeks later on September 27 when Elvis played a second (and final) homecoming concert in his hometown of Tupelo, Scotty and Bill were nowhere to be seen. In their places for the first time ever, Hank Garland played guitar and Chuck Wiginton was on bass. They played well, but one week later Elvis relented and hired Scotty and Bill back on a per diem basis.

It was a rough year for Elvis. In December he got a letter from Uncle Sam informing him that he'd just been drafted. For the King of Rock and Roll, it would be a blue Christmas.

(Click to hear Elvis sing Santa Claus is Back in Town)

(Click to hear Elvis sing Blue Christmas)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Christmas, Pretty Baby

How might music history be different if Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins wasn't such a nice guy? Born in Belzoni, Ms. in 1913, the affable piano man got his start playing the keyboards for Robert Nighthawk's KFFA radio show in 1943. Then a short time later Sonny Boy Williamson offered Pinetop more money to play with him on the King Biscuit Flower Hour. Pinetop's boogie woogie piano style was in high demand then and would be for many decades to come.

When Otis Spann left Muddy Waters in 1969 to go out on his own, Muddy didn't have to look long for a replacement, he wanted the man with the old-school Delta style, Pinetop Perkins. Pinetop contributed to Muddy's sound for the next ten years.

But it was back at a dance in Moorehead in the 40's when Pinetop was flying high as Sonny Boy's boogie woogie right hand man that a single act of generosity perhaps turned out to be his greatest contribution to music. As Robert Palmer tells it in his essential blues history "Deep Blues" Pinetop befriended a precocious kid from Clarksdale who idolized the piano star and wanted to learn to how to play that boogie woogie piano. The kid was Ike Turner.

Pinetop didn't have to take the time to give some kid free music lessons, but he did. And they took. Ike of course went on to become quite a good musician and while still a teenager wrote and recorded in 1951 what is largely regarded as the first rock and roll song "Rocket 88" with his saxophone player Jackie Brenston on lead vocals at Sun Studio with Sam Phillips. Phillips leased the song to Chess Records in Chicago, it hit number one and Phillips used the money to start his own record label, Sun Records.

Music fans the world over would be indebted for years to come.

Most remember Ike today because he went on to have a successful career with another lead singer, Anna Mae Bullock, whom he married and gave the stage name Tina Turner.

At 95, Pinetop still has that boogie woogie going on. He records and tours and is now considered an elder statesman of the blues. Ike died a year ago this month.

Both men recorded the classic 1947 Charles Brown song "Merry Christmas Baby."

Turner's 1964 arrangement is soulful and intense, as you might expect. Perkins' version from just a few years ago is laid back and cool, just like the man. Both draw from a piano style learned years before in the Mississippi Delta.

They take different stylistic paths, but both the teacher and the student eventually arrive at the same location, just like they did back in Moorehead in the early 40's. Merry Christmas, baby.

(Click to hear Pinetop Perkins' Merry Christmas Baby)

(Click to hear Ike & Tina Turner's Merry Christmas Baby)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blues For Christmas

Born in 1917 near Clarksdale, John Lee Hooker had 10 older brothers and sisters. His first instrument was an inner tube nailed to the barn. His first father was not musically inclined. Luckily, his mother then married a man who was. Hooker's step-father, William Moore was a guitar player. William Moore played fish fries and parties, sometimes joining blues legends Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake. William Moore also taught young John Lee how to play the blues.

It was a lesson that lasted a lifetime.

John Lee ran away from his Clarksdale home at either 14 or 15 to play the blues in Memphis. He wound up working as a movie usher, but also working with Robert Nighthawk. Then he moved to Cinncinnati to live with relatives. For the next ten years John Lee sang gospel and worked a variety of manual labor jobs.

But it wasn't enough to hold him, after a stint in the army, he settled in Detroit, working at a receiving hospital and later at Dodge and Comco Steel (possibly also as a janitor at the Chrysler car plant). Through it all, however he paid the rent, John Lee never put down his guitar. He played in clubs, but it took a little luck before John Lee got to really boogie.

Someone with connections to a local record distributor heard him playing at a house party, noticed that he was very good, and in 1948 John Lee Hooker recorded his first hit record, the classic "Boogie Chillen." It was in a style he learned long ago from his step-father back in Clarksdale.

"Blues for Christmas" isn't a boogie tune. it's far from it. "Blues for Christmas" is a laid back drinking blues with a jazzy feel augmented by Bob Thurman on piano, Jimmy Miller on trumpet and Johnny Hooks on tenor saxophone. Hooker wrote and recorded it in Detroit in 1954.

William Moore never got to hear this or any other John Lee Hooker record. He died before his step-son got to Detroit.

(Click to hear John Lee Hooker's Blues for Christmas)

Click here for John Lee Hooker Tribute Page

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bawdy BB The Back Door Santa

Surely the most recognizable blues musician alive in the world today has to be B.B. King. The man from Itta Bena, Mississippi has said that as a young man he would sing gospel songs on the street corner in Indianola and the passersby would applaud or shake his hand and tell him how wonderful it was to hear such songs. But they didn't drop any coins into his hat.

When he went across the street to sing blues songs, that's when he made his money. Playing the blues paid better than gospel. And it sure paid better than sharecropping.

The blues are what took Riley King out of Indianola to Memphis. And the blues are what made B.B. King an international star. Along with his obvious talent as a blues singer and guitarist is B.B.'s image as one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. Regal, just like his name, but folksy at the same time.

But don't be fooled. B.B. knows how to get down and dirty with the blues. Even at Christmastime.

Take for example, "Back Door Santa," a song written in 1968 by Clarence Carter, which obviously is molded after Vicksburg native Willie Dixon's classic "Back Door Man" from a decade earlier.

Back Door Santa Lyrics:

They call me back door Santa,
I make my runs about the break of day,
They call me back door Santa,
I make my runs about the break of day.
I make all the ladies happy,
while the men are out to play.
Well I ain't like old Saint Nick,
he don't come but once a year
Well I ain't like old Saint Nick,
he don't come but once a year.
But I'll come runnin' with my presents,
every time you call me dear.
B.B. King recorded "Back Door Santa" in 2001 for an album called "Christmas Celebration of Hope." All the money went to the charity "City of Hope," a world-renowned biomedical research and treatment center for people with HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Sure, he could have recorded a nice gospel album for the charity. But you know what? The blues pay better.

To enjoy B.B. King's "Back Door Santa", click here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bo Knows Santa Claus

He was born Armenter Chatmon to former slaves in 1893 at a plantation between Bolton and Edwards, Mississippi. Both his mother and father sang and played music. But it was "Bo" who made the family famous. Well, Bo and his half brother Charley Patton.

As Bo Carter he made over 100 blues or "race" records in the 1930's. Many of those records were as a solo artist. But he also sang and recorded with his brothers in a group they called the "Mississippi Sheiks." They were a famous string band and their "Sitting On Top of the World" is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

As a solo artist in 1928, Bo was the first to record the blues standard "Corinne, Corinna." But music historians mostly remember Bo as the man who sang bawdy blues songs like "Let Me Put My Banana in Your Fruit Basket" and "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me".

Bo obviously didn't know subtlety.

Even in his 1938 Christmas song, when he sings, "when I get to using your Santa Claus, wanna use him different ways. I wanna use your Santa Claus baby both night and day," you what Bo's talking about, and it aint a fat man in a red suit.

So here's a little gift, mama, that Bo Carter wants to stuff into your Christmas stocking tonight.

(click here to hear Bo Carter's Santa Claus)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sonny Boy and Santa Claus

Seeing as how we just missed posting anything about the birthday of Glendora's own Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller Dec. 5, 1897) and beginning with Bobby Lounge we're starting to post Christmas songs, I'd like to try and rectify the inexcusable ommission of Sonny Boy with a seasonal post and a tip of the bowler hat dedicated to the King of the Harmonica.

Sonny Boy recorded "Santa Claus" in April, 1960 and he sounds a little bit like Howlin' Wolf. Kind of funny 'cause it was Sonny Boy who taught Wolf how to play harmonica. But then you could argue that Sonny Boy taught the world.

Merry Christmas, baby. Many more songs to follow.

(Click here to hear Sonny Boy's Santa Claus)

FYI: The term "Santa Claus" is often used in blues and gospel to mean the Christmas gift, not Mr. Claus himself.

The lyrics:
My baby went shoppin yesterday,
Said, "I'm gonna buy what you need for Santa Claus."
My baby went shoppin yesterday,
Said, "I'm gonna buy what you need for Santa Claus."
"I'm gonna take mine with me,"
"But I'll leave yours in my dresser drawer."
So, that started me to ramblin,
Lookin in all of my baby's dresser drawers.
Wow, that started me to ramblin,
Lookin all in my baby's dresser drawers.
Tryin to find out,
What did she bought me for Santa Claus.
When I pulled out the bottom dresser drawer,
The landlady got mad and called the law.
When I pulled out the bottom dresser drawer,
The landlady got mad and called the law.
I was just tryin to find,
What did she bought me for Santa Claus.
The police walked in and jarred me on the shoulder,
"What you doing with your hand in that woman's dresser drawer?"
I hand the police a letter my baby wrote me,
Showin where I should find my Santa Claus.
I just kept on pullin out all of my baby's dresser drawers.
I walked out and left the police and the landlady arguin,
Said, "Look at the man done pull out all the lady's dresser drawers."
Yes, I walked out and left the police and the landlady arguin,
Said, "Look at the man done pull out all the lady's dresser drawers."
But he said, "I got the letter and show the judge."
"The boy just tryin to find his Santa Claus."
Oh yeah.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It Aint Gene Autry

McComb's playful piano pumper Bobby Lounge (aka Dub Brock) never met an unusal character he couldn't relate to or sing about with soul. Such is the case with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Back when Gene Autry sang about the classic caribou in 1949 it was a quaint tale about how our individual characteristics, no matter how different they may be, are strengths rather than weaknesses, if only the world allowed us to use them correctly.

Put Bobby Lounge behind the piano and Rudolph not only rocks, he gains even more underdog strength and respectable coolness.

NPR has taken note of the Lounge act before with a 2006 feature story on All Things Considered called "Wild Man of Jazz Fest." Most recently the public radio network shone a light on Lounge back in October when they chose Lounge's version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as the NPR Song of the Day. (Click here to listen)

Said writer Marc Silver:

A pianist hammers out a jaunty intro that sounds familiar, yet seems hard to place. There are octave runs and an insistent bass line, as well as repeated chords that conjure up "Heart and Soul." Wait, could it be? It sure could, as Bobby Lounge begins yelping like Jerry Lee Lewis and singing words that everyone knows by heart: "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer / Ow, he had a shiny nose..."

Silver goes on to explain the not so subtle differences between the Gene Autry and Bobby Lounge versions:

In case you were wondering, "Lord, they loved that boy" is not part of the original lyric. Nor is the scat-filled ending, as Lounge growls and howls a "Shab a dap" denouement as bright as Rudy's shiny schnoz.

Lounge recorded Rudolph for his latest CD "Somethin's Wrong". It aint Gene Autry. And there's nothing wrong with that.

(Read the full article here.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rolling Out The Red Carpet In Rolling Fork

Today Muddy Waters recieved his blues marker in Rolling Fork as the birthplace of McKinley A. Morganfield. Eleanor Barkhorn writes about the big day in yesterday's Delta Democrat:
“We're just so excited to have this tangible evidence of Muddy Waters here in Rolling Fork,” said Meg Cooper, coordinator for the Mississippi Lower Delta Partnership, who spearheaded efforts to bring the blues marker to Rolling Fork.

Cooper said international tourists flock to Rolling Fork, searching for signs of Waters, who was born McKinley Morganfield in 1913 and lived in the Delta until the 1940s, before moving to Chicago.

That's fine, except, Muddy was not born in Rolling Fork.

Muddy Waters biographer Robert Gordon was on hand for the ceremony, so nobody's trying to fool tourists. Because the first page in Gordon's biography of Muddy details where Muddy was born and why so many wrongly believe it to be Rolling Fork. Apparently the marker will explain that while Muddy often said he was born in Rolling Fork, he actually was born in neighboring Issaquena County at a place called Jug's Corner and Rolling Fork was the nearest post office. Here's an excerpt of an interview with Muddy's brother Robert Morganfield for Robert Gordon's 2002 documentary "Can't Be Satisfied", a companion to the biography of the same name.
If you really want to see where Muddy Waters was born, Click here to see unused video and interviews from Robert Gordon's American Masters documentary on Muddy Waters.

And if you really want to find out how it really wasn't Alan Lomax who "discovered" Muddy Waters, then read Gordon's bio. Here's what music writer and historian Dave Marsh had to say about it following Lomax's death in 2002:

Lomax's obit made the front page mainly because he "discovered" Son House and Muddy Waters. But in Can't Be Satisfied, his new Muddy Waters biography, Robert Gordon shows that Lomax's discoveries weren't the serendipitous events the great white hunter portrayed. Lomax was led to House and then Waters by the great Negro scholar, John Work III of Fisk University. Gordon even shows Lomax plagiarizing Work, and not on a minor point. (See page 51) In his book, Lomax offers precisely one sentence about Work. He eliminated Work from his second Mississippi trip. He also burned Muddy Waters for the $20 he promised for making the records.

Click here to read the full Marsh article.

Yes, they rolled out the red carpet today for Muddy Waters in Rolling Fork. Hopefully, it's a really long carpet that stretches all the way to Jug's Corner. Like the $20 Lomax never paid him, Muddy deserves it, and so much more.

Click to see the PBS American Masters Muddy Waters page.

Click here to hear a young Muddy sing "Country Blues" as recorded by Alan Lomax on the Stovall Plantation.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mannish Boy

The earliest known photograph of Muddy Waters is with his first true love; the first recording he ever made. It would be a beautiful and lasting relationship, Muddy and blues records. He would of course become one of the most influential musicians ever to strike a chord.

Hollywood is late in telling the Muddy Waters story with the release this weekend of "Cadillac Records", but music writers have been telling his story for decades. Still, it took a long time for a proper biography to emerge.

"Muddy Waters usually told people that he was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi," begins Robert Gordon's 2002 biography of Muddy called "Can't Be Satisfied".

He continues:
Rolling Fork is where the train stopped, where Muddy's family would get their mail and do their shopping. Rolling Fork was on the map. But Muddy's actual birthplace is to the west and north of there, in the next county over -- Issaquena, pronounced "Essaquena," the initial "e" the only thing soft in this hard land."

On Wednesday, December 3rd at 10:30 a.m., Rolling Fork once again will be called the birthplace of Muddy Waters, this time by the state of Mississippi with another historic marker along the growing blues trail. Waters already has a marker in his name in Clarksdale, six miles from where he grew up at the Stovall Plantation, where he lived and worked and learned to play the delta blues by watching and listening to his idol Son House.

Later, Gordon writes inaccuracies in Muddy's life story were not uncommon, sometimes with Muddy acting as the innacurate source:

"Although his parents never married, the child was given his father's last name: McKinley A. Morganfield. In years to come, after he moved to Chicago, Muddy usually told people he was born in 1915, oddly shaving only two years off his age (if his goal was to appear younger for the entertainment field). He thus became a man born in a year he wasn't born in, from a town where he wasn't born, carrying a name he wasn't born with."

That nickname, Muddy Waters, was given to him by his grandmother, Della Grant. And that is the name that today the world remembers him by. Whether the world remembers that he actually was born a county away from Rolling Fork, at a bend in the road next to the Cottonwood Plantation in an area known as Jug's Corner is of little consequence. Robert Johnson, after all, lays claim to three burial sites. Giving Muddy two birth sites is the least the blues world can do.

Click to hear Robert Gordon October 3, 2002 interview on NPR.

Click to hear Muddy's "Mannish Boy"

Sunday, November 30, 2008

B.B. King Drawing Fans South

Word has spread about the new B.B. King museum in Indianola. And the word is good. It's been open for less than three months and blues fans from all over are feeling a pull to the delta to pay homage to the man and the delta blues art form.

Tom Uhlenbrock of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a recent visitor. But he wanted to see more than artifacts and photographs in a museum honoring the past.

Here's an excerpt:

Rave reviews about the B.B. King Museum, which opened in Indianola in September, inspired me to head out on a road trip through Mississippi, which is busy setting up highway markers for a Blues Trail. But I didn't want to make a dead-man's tour of markers, museums and grave sites. I wanted live legends, "real-deal" Delta bluesmen.
Uhlenbrock also mentions the new documentary "M for Mississippi" and interviews one of the bluesmen featured, T-Model Ford:

"I was born in Forest, Miss., picked cotton, plowed mules, worked in a sawmill," he said. "Can't read, can't write, never been to school a day in my life. Taught myself how to play the guitar. When I was 18, guy tried to kill me. I killed him and went on the chain gang in Tennessee. It didn't make a bad man out of me, made me a good man. I been quiet ever since."

Although his doctor told him to cut back on the Jack, Ford still tours and just got back "from this place with a great big blue lake." He couldn't remember the name, but Stella, who is 50ish, yelled from the porch, "Barbados."
Read the full article here.

Click here to hear B.B. King's 3 O'Clock Blues

Monday, November 24, 2008

Forty Days With Muddy Waters

What would it have been like to watch Muddy Waters cut one of his many classic records in the legendary Chess Records studio at 2120 South Michigan in Chicago?

A new movie attempts to show us how "Forty Days and Forty Nights" might have went down in 1956 with Muddy and Little Walter.

Cadillac Records Exclusive Clip

The movie is Cadillac Records, the story of Chess Records. (see earlier blog mention) That's Jeffery Wright portraying Muddy Waters and Columbus Short as Little Walter. That's Buddy Guy's vocal on the soundtrack. The movie opens December 5th, just two days after Mississippi once again honors Muddy with a second blues trail marker. The first marker is placed at Muddy's cabin site on the Stovall Plantation in Clarksdale. This time around, a blues trail marker will be unveiled at his birthplace in Rolling Forks.

From the Clarksdale Press Register we find that the Delta Blues Museum has secured $1.8 million in grants to expand the museum, including a new home for the Muddy Water's cabin exhibit where it can be erected to its actual height. Right now, the top section of the cabin is not included, as the ceiling height of the museum is too low.

Will this star-studded new movie renew interest in Mississippi's blues greats like Muddy Waters? Absolutely. And many of those will come to check out the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale and the blues trail markers across the state. With 58 markers now in place, to view them all, it just might take someone, oh I don't know, something like forty days and forty nights.

Click to hear Muddy's Forty Days and Forty Nights.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Elvis Gets Planted

Who is the greatest singer in the rock and roll era? In it's newest edition, Rolling Stone Magazine tries to settle the question, or at least start another worthwhile debate. The magazine polled singers, producers, journalists and other music insiders to find out who is the most respected singer. For Led Zepplin's Robert Plant, there is only one answer - Tupelo's Elvis Presley.

Says Plant:
"Anyway You Want Me" (click to hear) is one of the most moving vocal performances I've ever heard. There is no touching "Jailhouse Rock" and the stuff recorded at the King Creole sessions. I can study the Sun sessions as a middle-aged guy looking back at a bloke's career and go, "Wow, what a great way to start." But I liked the modernity of the RCA stuff. "I Need Your Love Tonight" and "A Big Hunk o' Love" were so powerful — those sessions sounded like the greatest place to be on the planet.
This of course means that when Rolling Stone's panel of experts looked at every remarkable singer from the past 70 years, they collectively decided on the top five singers, and three have Mississippi roots: Clarksdale born and bred Reverend C.L. Franklin's daughter Aretha finished first, Ray Charles second, and Elvis third. Sam Cooke, also born in Clarksdale, finished fourth.

Other notable mentions: Howlin' Wolf at 31, Muddy Waters at 53, and John Lee Hooker at 81.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Vanity, Thy Name Is Blues

Who knew Vanity Fair was a blues publication? Last month the magazine which bills itself as one of of culture, fashion, and politics, published an extensive article on a purported new photograph of Robert Johnson.

And now this.

When Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel sat down at Ground Zero blues club to speak with Terry Harmonica Bean for their documentary "M for Mississippi", they weren't concerned with their own vanity. But they are today, after what can truthfully be called a vanity printing featuring the two.

Normally, that's a derogatory term meant to diminish the work of an artist as he or she builds up the ego with blatant and usually undeserved self promotion made at the artist's expense. But this is no slap at the producers of "M for Mississippi". Quite the contrary. While it's more than fair to call this latest interview a vanity printing, it's still nothing but a good thing and definately a tribute to the good work of Cat Head Record's Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel, owner of Broke and Hungry Records.

Both men sat down for an interview with a writer for Vanity Fair online to discuss their new documentary of Mississippi blues called "M for Mississippi". (see earlier blog mention)

And you know what? They didn't have to pay a single penny for this Vanity printing. Obviously Vanity Fair is loving it some Mississippi blues.

Here's an excerpt:

VF Daily: One of the interesting things about this movie is how well you captured the essence of real-life juke joints. I think many people nowadays think of a juke joint as being House of Blues or B.B. King’s club in Times Square.

Roger Stolle: I think that’s true. I think the term “juke” has just been abused. People started calling a regular old club a juke joint. But if you look at these real joints, these rag-tag places, it’s totally different. You get the crowds that talk back to the acts. You have lighting that’s very dim. There’s a real atmosphere.

Sometimes you see the spotlight behind the artist, shining in the audience’s faces, and sometimes there’s no real stage, just a patch of carpet, and when you look around, you can’t help but think, How is it possible that a fire marshal didn’t get involved here? But I’m grateful for that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The audience really becomes a part of what’s going on. They are not just the observer; they’re the participants.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Book on Delta Blues

Does the world really need another book about the history of the Delta Blues? Ted Gioia thinks so. "Delta Blues" is Gioia's sixth non-fiction book. His "The History of Jazz" was selected as one of the twenty best books of 1997 by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, and was also chosen as a notable book of the year in The New York Times. Gioia’s new book, "Delta Blues", published in October by Norton, is getting good reviews too.

Here's an excerpt from Ben Ratliff's November 7 review in the New York Times:

The chapter on John Lee Hooker — and here Gioia really hits his stride — deals with Hooker’s endless variations on a one-chord groove, but also with the profligacy of his recording career. He could make dozens of records in a single year, some under different names, sometimes lending himself to producers who had no idea what to do with him. There’s an embedded narrative here about the way certain blues musicians — not just Hooker, but Son House and others — might have taken too much pride in the quantity of their work, and not enough in the quality, as an emotional defense against exploitation. But there’s another, too, about the opportunism of both Hooker and his employers. Gioia follows Hooker to the end of his long life with a clear fascination for even some of his lesser achievements, through his ’70s recordings with Canned Heat and his Grammy-winning final days.

And in this YouTube video, Gioia himself explains what motivated him to write "Delta Blues."

Gioia is in Oxford tonight at 6 p.m. at "Off Square Books" 129 Courthouse. Tomorrow night at 5:00 he's in Jackson at "Lemuria Books" off I-55 North.

This may be the latest of many books, but it's certain that it will not be the last word on the Mississippi Delta blues.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cadillac Records

If you know who plays the bass drum on the Muddy Waters song "She Moves Me", then you can safely say that you do indeed know a lot about Leonard Chess and Chicago's famed Chess Records. This Christmas season, a lot more people will know a lot more about Chess Records.

There are a lot of great stories to tell about Chess Records. I'm not sure if this latest film is one of them, but we'll find out when TriStar Pictures releases "Cadillac Records" the story of Chess Records.
The movie stars Academy Award winner Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess and Shiloh Fernandez as brother Phil. Beyoncé Knowles is Etta James. With the exception of James and Chuck Berry, the musicians who made Chess records famous are almost exclusively from Mississippi, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, James Cotton, Jimmie Rogers, Hubert Sumlin, and more. Some of the filming took part in Mississippi.

Here's the trailer:

The film premieres on December 5th. Then we'll find out if like Muddy says, "She Moves Me." (click to listen to Muddy on guitar, Little Walter on harmonica and Leonard Chess on bass drum)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bobby Lounge

Dub Brock from McComb performs as Bobby Lounge, but it's a rare treat. Once a year you can catch "Bobby Lounge" at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival where he has recieved enthusiastic reviews from Downbeat Magazine, Rolling Stone and the New York Times and USA Today.

Here's an excerpt by Edna Gundersen about his 2008 appearance:

•Even with its staggering diversity of artists, Jazz Fest seldom serves up anyone as eccentric as Bobby Lounge, the singer/pianist who made his third consecutive Jazz Fest appearance before a large, enthusiastic throng.

Introducing the reclusive McComb, Miss., resident, toastmaster Calvin Tubbs, said, "I've been paid an amazing amount of money to lend some gravitas to these proceedings." Fat chance.

Lounge, wearing feathery wings on his shirt, was wheeled on stage in an iron lung (that's actually an old gym steam chamber with added knobs). He introduces his "closest companion," a primly dressed woman whom he also describes as a lawn jockey, auto mechanic, parole officer, nurse and contortionist who collects Hummel figurines.

She sits and reads a book as he launches into a new song about a Barry Manilow statue made of cheese. He hauls out other Southern Gothic boogie-woogie marvels, including I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burned Down and the epic Take Me Back to Abita Springs. The humor is swift, smart, surreal and often salacious, and his piano playing recalls the prime of Jerry Lee Lewis. No words can describe the freak performance piece that entails Lounge galloping on the keys and spinning a yarn about a Sasquatch-like squirrel while a man in a huge squirrel costume chases a woman, clad only in bra and panties, through the audience until his tail falls off. Now that's Southern-fried entertainment.

Bobby Lounge is scheduled to perform in Covington on November 22nd.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween

Top Ten Halloween Blues songs… subject to debate, of course

1) Haunted House Blues - Bessie Smith
2) Devil Got My Woman - Skip James
3) Two Headed Woman - Junior Wells
4) Evil - Howlin’ Wolf
5) Bo Meets the Monster - Bo Diddley
6) Haunted House - B.B. King
7) Hellhound On My Trail - Robert Johnson
8) She’s Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight - Lonnie Johnson
9) She Brought Life Back to the Dead - Sonny Boy Williamson
10) Devil's Son-In-Law - Peetie Wheatstraw

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Still King of the 9 String

On his headstone Big Joe Williams is proclaimed to be "King of the 9 String Guitar." It's doubtful that anyone disagrees. It's probably even safer to say that nobody really knows the name of whoever claimed to be second best.

A contemporary of Lonnie Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, Roosevelt Sykes, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Peetie Wheatstraw, Robert Nighthawk, and a very young Muddy Waters who played harmonica for Big Joe Williams in the early '40's at juke joints around Mississippi. Williams created the 9 string guitar to make his sound original. But he didn't need a novelty string instrument to make himself a standout and an eventual W.C. Handy Blues Hall of Fame singer/songwriter/guitarist. One of 16 children, he was a talented bluesman from Crawford, Mississippi who taught himself to play on a homemade guitar at the age of five. His very first hit in 1935, "Baby Please Don't Go" became a shortlist blues standard, covered by his one-time harmonica player Muddy Waters, among many others.

Here's Big Joe's version from 1963 on YouTube.

On Monday November 3rd in his hometown of Crawford at four in the afternoon, Big Joe Williams once again will be proclaimed "King of the 9 String" with a Blues Heritage Trail Marker.

Don't expect anyone to challenge it. Not on Monday. Not ever.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chicago Gets Clearwater News

And we're not talking about Lake Michigan.

Longtime channel seven news reporter Harry Porterfield tapped Macon, Mississippi native Eddy Clearwater for his popular "Someone You Should Know" series on Chicago television Tuesday night at 5:15.

The story (you can see it by clicking the link above) includes video from Eddy's latest DVD Live at the Rawa Blues Festival in Poland. Clearwater now calls suburban Skokie, Illinois home, but insists his heart is in his music, and in his Mississippi roots.

From Porterfield's story:

"I want give as much back to the blues as the blues has given to me because it's very important for the younger generation to hear. This is where we came from this is our culture. I want make sure it continues into the next generation," said Clearwater.

Eddie Shaw A Budding Movie Star with Sax Appeal

Like Father like son? After years as a successful blues musician, Benoit's Eddie Shaw appears to be going the other direction, following in his film star son's footsteps onto the big screen.

Like so many bluesmen before him, saxophonist Eddie Shaw went from Mississippi to Chicago to play the blues. Eddie is of course well known for his solo work and also for his earlier career work playing tenor sax behind Hound Dog Taylor, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Earl Hooker, Magic Sam and most notably Howlin' Wolf. He took over Howlin' Wolf's band, the Wolf Gang, and became the Wolf's personal manager. Eddie also arranged the tunes on The Howlin' Wolf London Sessions (with Eric Clapton) and Muddy Waters' Unk and Funk album.

Not a bad resume.

Eddie's son Stan Shaw went in another direction, from Chicago to Hollywood. You've seen Stan in "Fried Green Tomatoes" "The Boys in Company C" (Where Stan's character does sing a little blues) and "Harlem Nights".

Now more than 30 years after Stan broke into acting, Eddie is turning up on the big screen. First, there was last year's natural performance as elder bluesman Time Trenier in the terrific but sadly overlooked John Sayles independent film "Honeydripper." (do yourself a favor, rent it)

Here's a clip from the film courtesy YouTube complete with Spanish subtitles and commentary about Eddie from writer/director John Sayles:

This won't be the last we see of Eddie Shaw at the movies. Stan is working to get his dad back up on the big screen, and this time in an even more comfortable role: himself. Stan is in the final production stages of a soon-to-be released blues documentary called "Roots of my Father, Blues Royalty."

According to an earlier story in the Illinois Entertainer, Stan Shaw has interviewed friends in and around Benoit, Mississippi. The film will of course include concert footage and interviews with Eddie about his lengthy music career.

He's a bluesman, not a movie star. But who says he can't be both?

Look for the film to be released early next year.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Updating R.L. Burnside

Northern Mississippi Hills guitarist R.L. Burnside tried to make his mark as a blues artist in Chicago during the heyday of Chicago blues in the 1950's but left a broken hearted man. It wasn't that his music talent when unrecognized. It was because while in Chicago, Burnside's father, brother and uncle all were murdered within a month of each other. R.L. decided to get out alive. He left the big city and returned home to farming. But he never stopped playing his guitar, and his influence on generations of other hills blues guitarists is legendary.

Now here it is 2008 and Burnside's grandson has released his own brand of blues. Count a Boston Globe music reviewer as a fan of the Juke Joint Duo Cedric Burnside and Lightin' Malcom. In a Boston Globe review of the new CD "2 Man Wrecking Crew" reviewer Tristram Lozaw writes:

If there was any doubt about the inspiration for this debut, it's dispelled in the album's first track, an ode to legendary Delta bluesman R.L. Burnside. Working in memory of the electric gut-bucket blues of Big Daddy, drummer Cedric's granddad, this Mississippi duo casts its own heady spell of juke-joint blues stripped down to the fuzz and guts. Schooled in supporting roles for R.L., Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, Otha Turner, Hubert Sumlin, and others, the young Burnside and guitarist Lightnin' Malcolm add a wonderfully ragged and Hendrix-like rhythmic crunch to the entrancing circular moans of their Hill Country blues teachers.

You don't have to take Lozaw's word for it. If you want to see and hear for yourself what the new generation of R.L. Burnside blues sounds like here's your chance. Cedric and Malcom, who perform as "The Juke Joint Duo" will be playing Martin's in Jackson on Saturday November 1st at 10 p.m.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is This Man Robert Johnson?

There are two verified photographs of blues legend Robert Johnson. Vanity Fair might have just published a third. In a fascinating article in the November issue of Vanity Fair (available online here) Contributing Editor Frank DiGiacomo writes about how a New York guitar salesman bought the photograph on eBay for several thousand dollars, (where it was erroneously suggested the guitarist pictured might be B.B. King) then set about trying to authenticate it.

Steven “Zeke” Schein believes that's Robert Johnson on the left and another delta bluesman, Johnny Shines on the right. And Schein makes a great case for it, but you'll have to read the 5 page Vanity Fair article for details about why. The story also includes the detailed copyright history which began when Steve LaVere bought the only other two known photographs of Robert Johnson from his half-sister Carrie Thompson in 1974 and the Mississippi Supreme Court decision that gave Crystal Springs native and Johnson' heir Claud Johnson ownership of Robert Johnson's image.

Here's a brief passage:

In late summer 2007, Schein’s attorney, John Pelosi, submitted the photograph to John Kitchens, the lawyer for the Johnson estate, to see if there was any way of authenticating it. Kitchens’s father, Jim Kitchens, had been the lead attorney in Claud Johnson’s fight to be named heir of the Johnson estate, but he had since turned the day-to-day handling of the estate over to his son, who turned 30 this year and was all of 12 when the Johnson boxed set was released. Not surprisingly, when John Kitchens saw a copy of the photo, he wasn’t exactly floored. “I didn’t know who it was,” he says. But Kitchens remembered reading about a forensic artist who, that August, had reportedly determined the identity of the sailor kissing the nurse in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous Life-magazine photo of Times Square on the day World War II ended. The artist’s name is Lois Gibson and she works for the Houston Police Department. She is also a graduate of the F.B.I. Academy Forensic Artist Course and was deemed “The World’s Most Successful Forensic Artist” in The 2005 Guinness Book of World Records because, at the time, her sketches and facial reconstructions had helped net more than 1,062 criminals.

Kitchens sent Gibson a copy of Schein’s photo, along with reproductions of the Hooks Bros. portrait and the photo-booth shot. Gibson compared the facial features in each of the three photos and reported back with a pretty startling conclusion: “My only problem with this determination is the lack of certainty about the date of the questioned photo,” she wrote in her report to Kitchens. But, she continued, if Schein’s photo “was taken about the same time as, or a little earlier than,” the photo-booth self-portrait, “it appears the individual in [Schein’s photo] is Robert Johnson. All the features are consistent if not identical.”

(Click to hear Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Making Jamz On The Today Show

Viewers of NBC's Today Show got a dose of homemade Mississippi Blues via Tupelo last week. American Story reporter Bob Dotson is the latest national reporter to tell the tale of Renaud Perry and his three children, ten-year-old Taya, Kyle, 14 and Ryan, 16.

They began playing the blues with homemade guitars their father constructed out of parts from his auto parts store.

Taught to play by Jabbo Harris, The Homemade Jamz Blues Band recently finished second at the Memphis International Blues Challenge, beating out 92 other bands.

Here's a sample:
“We would sweat and we would work,” recalls Jabbo, pushing back his battered straw cowboy hat. “Then we would practice and sweat some more. I said, ‘This guy’s gonna make a guitar player because his fingers are as fast as lightning.’

“Next thing I know, here comes his little brother, Kyle, carrying a bass guitar. Bass was way longer than he was. Looks like the bass should have been carrying him. He picked up strumming right away.

“Finally, their little sister, Taya. She’s the drummer. Just 7 at the time. Reminded me of Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith; just a natural.”

Read the full text and watch the video of Bob Dotson's NBC story here.

NBC isn't the first national media to discover The Homemade Jamz Blues Band. In July, correspondent Michele Norris featured the band on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" show.
An exerpt:
I decided I had to meet the three kids who make up the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, so we invited Ryan, Kyle and Taya Perry to visit our studios. I had the pleasure of watching the adults in the room go through the same jaw-dropping experience. Faces twisted. Eyebrows raised. Are these kids really playing this music? It was rich.

Who knows if these kids will get rich playing their music? I got the sense it's not what drives them. They're not even old enough to vote, and they've already found their talent and their passion. And anybody who listens — well, they're made richer by the experience.

In August, Modern Guitars Magazine featured the band on their website with this story.

Last December, it was CBS news featuring the band.

You also can count blues legend B.B. King and Jesse Robinson as fans, as evidenced in this popular YouTube clip:

The title of The Homemade Jamz Blues Band's CD is "Pay Me No Mind." But with this kind of national exposure, that's not very likely.

Friday, October 17, 2008

M for Mississippi

M for Mississippi: A Road Trip through the Birthplace of the Blues, is a new documentary "celebrating the raw, raucous spirit of Mississippi's surviving blues scene." This isn't about the history of the blues, this is about the present blues.

Ron Brown reports on it for Mississippi Public Broadcasting: Audio Link

Find out more at MforMississippi.com

Blues Trail: Roots of Rock and Roll

Saturday at 8:30am the Roots of Rock and Roll Blues Trail marker will be unveiled at 614 Mobile Street.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

BB's Museum

Ron Brown at Mississippi Public Broadcasting shares the story of the new BB King Museum. For more of the story read Billy Watkins' interview of BB in the Jackson Clarion Ledger or this report from Rolling Stone.

Blues Trail - Freedom Village

On Wednesday, September 17, at 5:30 p.m., the Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau will unveil the latest Mississippi Blues Trail marker, honoring Freedom Village.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Black Prairie Kings

Scott Barretta writes about the Black Prairie Blues with a picture of the historic performance of Steve Bell, Eddy Clearwater, and Willie King at the recent BPB Mississippi Blues Trail marker dedication in Macon.

On Aug. 19 several hundred people gathered in downtown Macon for the unveiling of a Mississippi Blues Trail marker acknowledging "Black Prairie Blues." On Friday night, marker honoree Willie King headlines the 13th annual Howlin' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival in West Point as part of the "Black Prairie Kings," which also includes harmonica player Blind Mississippi Morris.

Although the Delta dominates public imagery of Mississippi blues, many important artists came from the prairies. Honored in Macon alongside King were natives Eddy Clearwater, who drove down from Illinois for the unveiling, and the late harmonica great Carey Bell, represented by his harmonica-playing son Steve of Kosciusko.

Forthcoming markers in Crawford for Big Joe Williams and in Aberdeen for Booker White will highlight the area's rich blues heritage, while Howlin' Wolf's legacy in West Point is secured. A statue of the bluesman - Chester Arthur Burnett - stands next to a Blues Trail marker in his honor, and the nearby Howlin' Wolf Blues Museum has amassed an impressive collection of Wolf-related artifacts from around the world.

Monday, August 25, 2008

RIP Little Arthur Duncan

Sad news from the Chicago Tribune:
Little Arthur Duncan left Mississippi as a teenager for Chicago, where he befriended blues giant Little Walter and learned to play the harmonica. Mr. Duncan became an accomplished harp player and gutbucket blues singer who performed across the city and in Europe and ran two clubs on the West Side for many years. Mr. Duncan, 74, died Wednesday, Aug. 20, in Kindred Hospital in Northlake of complications from brain surgery, said Rick Kreher, a guitarist who often played with Mr. Duncan.

Born in Indianola, Miss., the hometown of B.B. King, Mr. Duncan came to Chicago when he was 16 and did construction work while playing in bars and clubs around Chicago.

He went into business about 1980, running two West Side clubs—the Artesian Lounge on Lake Street and Backscratcher's Social Club on Madison Street. The club, like his backing band, The Backscratchers, took its name from one of his signature numbers, Slim Harpo's "Baby Scratch My Back."

He played regularly at Rosa's Lounge and Buddy Guy's Legends and in Europe. He threw parties, which were renowned for their lavish spreads of Southern food he prepared, for the city's blues communities at his South Side home.

Visitation will be held at 4 p.m. Aug. 29 at A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home, 318 E. 71st St. A one-hour visitation will precede 11 a.m. services Aug. 30 at Second Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, 7922 S. Hoyne Ave.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The money blues

Alex "Lil' Bill" Wallace has made a lot of music, and a lot of musicians. But he hasn't made a lot of money.

He taught Greenville artist Eden Brent to play the organ. Her latest album, "Mississippi Number One" currently sits on top of the state's roots music chart. And Wallace is credited with convincing B.B. King he should stop playing gospel music and start singing the blues - a switch that brought King fortune and international fame.

Despite the success he nurtured in others, Wallace did not make much money of his own. After Wallace died earlier this month at the age of 83, local blues artists and fans sponsored a benefit concert to help his family pay funeral expenses.

According to Albert Folk, president and CEO of Greenville label G-Town Records, Wallace's financial woes are typical of the Delta's blues artists. He cited legendary musicians Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson as examples of other bluesmen who died penniless.

"Blues is a multi-billion dollar industry," Folk said. "Unfortunately, the artists don't see none of that money."

Billy Johnson, founder of the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland, said blues musicians face challenges beyond dishonest executives and unsympathetic festival organizers. "Blues is just a minute part of record sales today," he said. He also said that piracy and illegal downloading cut into music sales, which hurts all musicians.

Though Folk and Johnson may disagree on the source of Delta blues artists' financial troubles, they agree on one thing: People are willing to travel from far and wide to hear the blues performed in the land where it was born.

"People across the country are crazy about our culture here," said Folk.
Read the full story here: Blues singing not a lucrative gig

Saturday, August 23, 2008

King, Clearwater and Bell honored with Blues Trail Marker

Starkville Daily News reports on the Noxubee marker:
History was made Tuesday in the Black Prairie region of the state [with]...a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker unveiling ceremony in Downtown Macon. The Black Prairie Blues marker will honor legendary bluesmen Willie King, Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater and Carey Bell. King and Clearwater were on-hand for the ceremonies and were joined by the late Bell’s son Steve, a talented harmonica player in his own right. Among those in attendance were legendary Jackson bluesman and Blues Commissioner Jesse Robinson, Highway 61 Radio Host and Living Blues Magazine Editor Scott Baretta, Co-founder of Rooster Blues Records and Living Blues Magazine Jim O’Neal, Howlin’ Wolf Blues Society Director Richard Ramsey, Philadelphia blues prodigy Caleb Childs and Waverly Waters Resort and 2 Brothers BBQ CEO Mike Reilly. Several family members of King, Clearwater and Bell were also on hand. Tuesday’s Black Prairie Blues Trail Marker unveiling was the 46th Blues Trail Marker unveiling ceremony, and its crowd of roughly 160 visitors made it the largest crowd for an event of its kind to date, according to Baretta and Heritage Trails Program Manager Alex Thomas. “Although, collectively, the three blues artists have performed at venues from Jackson to Stockholm, Sweden, they always make sure people know they are from Noxubee County,” said Noxubee Alliance Director Brian Wilson during the opening ceremonies. “And it means so much to have them back here in Noxubee County today.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Marty Stuart and Mississippi's Musical Genres

Philadelphia native Marty Stuart performs in Little Rock Arkansas this weekend.
The Old State Museum is an unlikely venue for a concert. However, the museum has housed Stuart’s exhibit, “Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart’s American Musical Odyssey,” since April. The exhibit will run through Oct. 5.

With instruments, rare photographs, hand-written song lyrics, stage costumes and more, the exhibit is fine sampling of unique artifacts of country, bluegrass and rock and roll music.

“Those belongings look like treasures to me,” Stuart said. “I got pieces from family members and thrift stores and pawn shops. In a simple form, it’s honoring the people that gave me a job. Certain bits and pieces of our culture get overlooked. I think it’s great for us to make new records and stay creative but at the same time, it’s important to me to keep the tradition and our musical history alive.”

Growing up in Mississippi, Stuart was surrounded by an array musical genres. Naturally, he was influenced by all of the sounds of the region.

“I was exposed to Dixieland music, the Blues, gospel and of course, a lot of country music,” he stated. “We had a local radio station, WHOC. As a youngster, I listened to that station and I loved their format. In the morning, they played country music. That was followed by the farm report then the gospel hour. Later, they played rock and then soul. In the evening, it was easy listening. I enjoyed all of it and all of those sounds are a part of me and my music today.”

Read the full story here: ‘Mainstream’ Marty Stuart to appear in Little Rock

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blues Makin in Macon

Several hundred folks turned out yesterday in Macon for the dedication of the Black Praire Blues marker on Mississippi's Blues Trail honoring Noxubee County natives Eddy Clearwarter, Carey Bell, and Willie King.

The Commercial Dispatch has a great article on it:
“It’s important for us to keep the spirit of the blues alive,” Willie King said as he stood next to a freshly unveiled historical marker displaying his name. “It tells the story of reality.”

King, 65, and fellow Noxubee County blues musicians Eddy Clearwater, 78, and the late Carey Bell dedicated nearly all their lives attempting to paint a picture of their realities in East Mississippi using their music. And on Tuesday, the trio of artists permanently became icons of the reality and history of the small Noxubee County city. The marker will serve as a permanent symbol of East Mississippi’s Black Prairie region, which produced several of the world’s most well-known blues artists.

Clearwater, a blues guitarist and songwriter who was born in Macon in 1935 and has been bestowed with several blues honors — including the Chicago Music Award, grinned and laughed as he explained his love for Macon. “If heaven is better than this, then that’s a place I want to go,” Clearwater said in reference to Macon. “This is like heaven here today." “When I was young, we would go down the street here to the movie theater and see cowboy movies,” Clearwater added as he pointed northward on Jefferson Street. “This honor means so much to me and I will always uphold the name of Macon, Miss., wherever I go.”

Bell died last year at the age of 70, though several of his family members assured the blues harmonica legend was watching the ceremony from above. “Carey has passed on, but I know he is smiling from above,” said Vanessa Carson, Bell’s aunt, said in reference to the Macon native whose death garnered national media attention. “We are so proud of him and we know he is proud of Macon and Mississippi as he’s smiling down from heaven,” Carson added. “Thank you, Macon, for putting out a man like Carey Bell.”

“We are here today to honor three blues legends who are Noxubee County natives,” Noxubee Alliance Director Brian Wilson said as he looked at the three blues musicians. “These three men have meant so much to the world of music, and they always do so while representing Noxubee County. “Whether it’s Stockholm, Jackson or Italy, they always make it known that they are from Noxubee County, Miss., while they are rocking out the world,” Wilson repeated.

The Macon blues marker will join similar monuments in Meridian, Columbus and West Point in directing visitors through the hometowns of many of the state’s blues legends, explained Scott Baretta, research coordinator of the Mississippi Blues Trail. “Mississippi blues is mostly associated with the Delta,” Baretta said. “But the markers we now have in the Black Prairie and other areas in East Mississippi will hopefully draw a lot of blues tourists who would normally veer west. “This has to be the largest marker unveiling I’ve been to, as far as the number of people who came to the ceremony,” Baretta added. “The markers are a showcase of the heritage of Mississippi, and today we will certainly add to that.”
(Read the full article here.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blues Trail Marker in Noxubee County

A few pictures from today's event in Macon honoring the Black Prairie Blues, Eddy Clearwater, Carey Bell, and Willie King.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Native Son Paints the Blues

In coordinatin with the Black Prairie Blues trail marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail, the Macon Welcome Center will exhibit works by native son James Conner.

Twenty-eight pieces by Conner, a widely known artist and lecturer, will be exhibited from August 19 to September 17, 2008. Conner, a native of Shuqualak, Mississippi, holds a B.F.A. degree from Wayne State University, and a Masters degree in Fine Arts from the University of Mississippi. He served two tours in Vietnam and one in Germany as a member of the U.S. Army 423rd Ordnance Supply. He has been an art instructor at Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women, and Meridian Community College. He is presently a spring lecturer at the University of Alabama where he and his family live.

The exhibit is divided into three sections: THE BLUES, executed with rhythmic strokes in deep brooding color; HERITAGE, which includes poignant paintings from Conner’s childhood memories; and TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN, three paintings memorializing the renowned World War II aviators.

The Macon Welcome Center is open 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday - Friday, or by appointment. For more information contact: maconmainstreet@aol.com; or call 662-694-1094.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Historic Joint Peformance by Black Prairie Blues Legends

It is homecoming time, blues style, in Noxubee County. Blues legends Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater and Willie King will perform together for the first time ever on Tuesday, August 19 at 11 a.m. during the Black Prairie Blues marker dedication ceremony in downtown Macon, Mississippi. The Black Prairie Blues marker is the newest addition to the Mississippi Blues Trail and will honor Noxubee County natives and Blues legends Carey Bell, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, and Willie King. In addition to the Clearwater King performance, Steve Bell, son of deceased honoree Carey Bell, will represent his father and perform with Jesse Robinson and the 500 Pounds of Blues Band. Scott Barretta, host of Highway 61 radio show on Mississippi Public Broadcasting and former editor of Living Blues magazine, will make a special presentation. And there will be lots of BBQ and cold drinks on this hot and bluesy Mississippi reunion.

Eddy Clearwater
Willie King
Carey Bell
Jesse Robinson

Two Great Blogs

I just added these to the link list. But check out Jim O'Neal's "Stackhouse & BluEsoterica" and for sure you need to visit Jim and Scott Barretta's unofficial "Mississippi Blues Trail" blog.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Black Prairie Blues

The Black Prairie Blues Marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail will be unveiled Tuesday in Noxubee County. The marker honors Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, Carey Bell, and Willie King: 11am - Corner of Green and Jefferson in Macon, Mississippi. There will be BBQ plate lunches available for $7, live music, and lots of folks ready to boogie.

RIP Alex "Little Bill" Wallace

Delta Blues native Alex "Little Bill" Wallace of Leland, Mississippi passed away on Sunday, August 10, 2009. "Little Bill" was one of the first delta blues men to play the electric guitar. Wallace influenced and performed with many great musicians including BB King, whom he played with in their younger days.
Photo: Alex "Little Bill" Wallace with Alex Thomas, Mississippi Blues Trail Director at the David "Honeyboy" Edwards marker ceremony on April 13, 2007.

Friday, August 8, 2008

T-Model Ford Hospitalized

Alex Thomas, Program Manager for the Mississippi Division of Tourism's Heritage Trails, passes this note along regarding T-Model Ford:
Greenville blues musician James "T-Model" Ford was hospitalized Thursday with heart complications. I was informed by T-Model's family that he will undergo surgery Friday morning at Delta Regional Hospital. He is scheduled to be honored on the Mississippi Blues Trail on September 26, 2008 at his birthplace in Forest, MS. Please keep T-Model and his family in your prayers.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Blues Trail License Plate

The Mississippi Blues Commission has designed a Mississippi Blues Trail license plate. They need commitments of those who would purchase them as their tags before they can proceed with the license plate process. If you are interested in the Mississippi Blues Trail license plate for your automobile, contact Leigh Portwood at the Heritage Trails Program at MDA.