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

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