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:; 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.