Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mississippi Women in Blues!

In celebration of Black History month Fancy, the Son, and Friends of Junior Kimbrough in partnership with the Leotyne Price Library at Rust College presents: Mississippi Women in Blues! A presentation of photographs, films, and archival material celebrates native Afro-American female presence in the Mississippi Blues world.

Black History Month begins 2/1/2018 - 2/28/2018
#BlackHistoryMonth #Celebration #VisitHollySpringsMS #RustCollege

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Memphis Burns Brighter" w/ Bill Pichette

By Bill Pichette - December 20, 2017
The Little Pitcher Project - Charlie Burse Project

Nobody is as Serious about Burying the
Bull as Bill and his Team
I envisioned taking a stroll, maybe having to beat through some bushes or tall grass, then finding his grave, screaming out “A-HA!” listening to one of his songs, and sending a picture. But when I found Rose Hill Cemetery off Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, there was a tree uprooted and broken by a recent storm laying in front of the gate. That should have been a warning. The first obstacle in my search, but not the day this mystery began.

When Will Shade returned to Memphis he had an idea. He gathered musicians with various talents so he could form a “jug” band like the ones he saw and heard in Louisville Kentucky. The group had a date set to record but Shade thought something was missing. He heard a young musician from Decatur Alabama playing and singing in a bar in 1928, liked what he heard, and invited the man to record with the band, which was elastic in its membership anyway. The young man provided vocals for that session’s “On The Road Again” and added his guitar for the classic “Lindberg Hop” and others. But that is not the day this mystery began.

Will Shade, Dewey Corley, & _____
Today, the small graveyard is peaceful and maintained. But Rose Hill Cemetery has a terrible past. Along with evidence of other crimes, in 1994 three murder victims were dumped there - evidence shows they were buried alive under a casket. These events sparked action from neighbors and local Cane Creek (MBE) Church. In 1979 bones were found above ground, funeral homes were fined, and the cemetery owner was murdered. All part of Rose Hill’s story, but not when my mystery began.

I met DeWayne Moore, Executive Director of Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, on another day in another cemetery at a ceremony for another Memphis music legend - Frank Stokes. That’s what Moore and “the Fund” do - locate and mark lost graves of musicians who had an impact, though many are not widely known, and help preserve or save the cemeteries they’re in. We got back in touch some months later, and then he asked me to attempt to locate a grave, which led me to mentally mark a grid and walk the cemetery the way I used to train post-incident recon teams to do - and my initial research. But those days are not where this mystery began.

On this day, I reflect on small success - finding some stories and the grave of the young man’s Mother at Rose Hill - and the failure of finding knowledgeable contacts and lost records. On this day in 1965, the day this mystery began, Charlie Burse, the longtime partner of Will Shade in the Memphis Jug Band and bandleader of the short-lived Memphis Mudcats, died of heart disease in Memphis and was later buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Monday, January 8, 2018

`Folk Music' Is Mance Lipscomb

By Jim Kelton - April 21, 1968 - San Antonio Express & News

Folk music. Now there's an elusive term. Next time you've got a day or two with nothing to do, sit down and think about it. What was it? What is it? What distinguishes it from the torrential tirade of self-purported mainstreamia? All good questions. All almost unanswerable. But the term folk music itself may not be as indefinable as the intangible quality of the inner character Of the music's collective personality. The term is, for the most part, a label, a modern convenience employed mainly for the experience of the superficial observer or for the fluency of conversation. 

To understand what it is all about, what it means, you have to understand, at least partially, the people who play it. And that opens a pretty wide spectrum. There are all kinds but they are not difficult to categorize. First, there are the Translators, groups like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary who deem it their mission to translate older songs into the vernacular both musically and grammatically. 

Then there are the Conservationists. This group, small to begin with and apparently dwindling, takes upon itself the awesome duty of playing so-called old-time music the way it was originally played. 

And finally, there are the Real People, meaning mainly the old-timers themselves. There aren't many of these left, though. In fact, you can count the survivors of the early - 1900 generation on one hand. 

Nevertheless, one of the most important members of this group is a Texan, accessible and perhaps, through circumstance, may provide the centerpiece for the entire patchwork of native American music. He is Mance Lipscomb, ex-sharecropper, and hard-laborer, blues singer, songster, and guitar player extraordinaire, not to mention exceptional human being. 

Lipscomb, the son of a man who was born a slave, began playing guitar about the time he was 14, in 1909. He taught himself in a relatively unorthodox thumb-and-forefinger style, but it has been a style that has worn well. For most of his life, he played in and around Navasota, his hometown in east Texas. He played dances mainly, dances on Saturday nights and white dances on Sunday nights. He picked up a little money that way to supplement his generally meager common-labor income. And he met some of the greats of his time: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jimmie Rodgers, and others. 

But always he was unknown outside of his native area. He had a chance once to go on the road as guitar-picker with Jimmie Rodgers, the old country bluesman, but he declined the offer for one reason or another. Mainly, he says, because he was just a country boy and didn't know much about the outside world. 

He does now. Since the early 1960s, almost everything in Lipscomb's life has changed. He still lives in Navasota with his wife of some 50-odd years. But he doesn't work the fields anymore and he's not playing his guitar for dances. Now people listen to what he's playing. And they welcome the opportunity. Chris Strachwitz, who heads a small but significant folk record company dubbed Arhoolie, recorded Lipscomb in his Navasota home one night, released a record entitled "Mance Lipscomb, Texas Songster and Sharecropper" and sprung the lid on the box that had been Mance's hiding place for about 60 years. 

Since then Lipscomb has played in almost every part of the country at nightclubs, folk festivals, universities, you name it. He played San Antonio last weekend and he vowed he would again. The Good News folk emporium on San Pedro says he's booked for the first weekend in May. "My whole life has changed since I was 60 years old," he said one night between sets as he crossed his legs and rearranged the cushion he was using to soften the beer keg he was sitting on. "I'm 73 years old now and I'm still living in a young people's world."

He had been sick, he said, for about eight weeks before his appearance here and he was a little afraid that his guitar playing, due to lack of practice, might not satisfy the crowd. 

But the crowd that came to hear him, a diverse but attentive group, came not to be impressed nor to be extraneously satisfied, but to listen, which NVAS apparently deep satisfaction in itself. They bade him goodbye Satur-day night with a standing ovation. 

Certainly, they were satisfied, but what the people came to hear and what satisfied them may have been two completely different entities. They came to hear and see an old-time blues singer and guitar picker who learned many of the songs that are called folk songs today, in one form or another, when they were new and who wrote a sizable share of them himself. 

What they heard was a man with the ability to communicate reality as he conceives it in the language he understands. 

It is not always a pretty language. Maybe that's why there were those who left when he started to play. The guitar is a part of Lipscomb's language and it is not the smooth-flowing, nontraumatic conversation of the campus variety, crowd-pleasing folk groups of today. 

"My guitar sings the song," Mance says. When the song says pain his guitar registers it. The songs he sings were borne mainly of the reality of experience. And the experiences of which he sings cover every range. 

"Everybody's always asking, 'What is the blues,' he said. "Well, the blues is a fee-lin'. If you ever felt bad that's the bad - feelin' blues and if you ever felt good that's the good - feelin' blues." 

Mance is 73 years old now and he speaks with the simplicity of the achieved or assumed wisdom of age. 

"Everybody asks what folk music is," he says. "There's one way to straighten all that Out. Everybody's folks." 

The incidents Lipscomb's songs speak of may not be familiar to everyone but the emotions they seek to illustrate are common. 

Every artist, be he writer, painter or musician, seeks to achieve an insight into human character and content through a meaningful abstraction of reality. And what is any piece of music but an attempt, directly or indirectly, to achieve just that? 

Maybe that's what it's all about. Maybe that's why Lipscomb doesn't waste too much time trying to explain, he just plays. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Making of "The Land Where the Blues Began"

By John Bishop - 1982

Mississippi summers are hot. When you pick up a camera you are instantly drenched with sweat from the exertion. Three thousand watts of quartz light and two hundred people crammed into a little church add to the effect. 

It was the first day’s shoot and I was nervous; they weren’t getting audio in the recording van and already the deacon was starting the revival. My collaborator, folklorist Worth Long, had briefed me on the order of the service and what to expect. I thought over what he said as I waited. The two men in the front row were seekers who expected to accept religion; the preaching, singing, and praying would focus on them. If all went well, they would cross over to the mourner’s bench which faced the congregation. 

“Tape’s rolling.” Director Alan Lomax’ voice came over the intercom. I swung the Ikegami HL-77 onto my shoulder and looked across the room to Ludwig Goon who would be shooting concurrently with a TKP-45. He smiled and gestured thumbs up as the congregation eased into the galvanizing moan of a lining hymn.

Things moved fast for the next three hours. Alan coordinated the coverage by intercom from the van where he would watch both monitors. Much of the interaction consisted of a rapid alternation between song leader and congregation or preacher and congregation, so each camera fed a separate recorder for the greatest flexibility in editing. The experience was more intense than I had expected. There was poetry in the songs and sermon, tender community support of the parishioners in trance, and the resolution of an essential conflict of group membership when the two seekers crossover. I was swept into the excitement; the camera became part of me, the heat ceased to be noticeable, and I moved as part of the congregation. This revival service was the start of a month of shooting that would culminate in a one-hour program for PBS, THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN.

I ached all over the next day. Shooting handheld for three hours with a new camera that weighs twice as much as an Arri takes its toll. But the rushes were a fine liniment: both cameras captured the vitality of the service. Even after watching the action over and over in the editing, I still get chills when the two men “come across”.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ghost Story

By Arne Brogger 

Business took me to Nashville for three days and I decided to take a long weekend and visit Memphis. I hadn’t been there in almost twenty years, not since the funeral of my old friend and co-conspirator, Walter “Furry” Lewis. Furry was a charter member of the Memphis Blues Caravan (MBC), a group of geriatric bluesmen whom I had the pleasure of booking and managing in the Seventies.

On a Friday morning I headed southwest out of Nashville on I-40 (The Music Highway, as the sign said) across the Tennessee River, through the rolling Cumberlands, on down to the brown and wide Mississippi. I had promised myself this trip for years. I had fantasized about it. Obsessed over it. It was like a reverse Vision Quest. I wanted to go back, to recapture scenes that had been an important part of my life, but knowing all the while that was not possible. Most of the folks I had known were now gone. But they had stayed with me – and I thought…who knows what I thought. I knew it was a trip I had to take.

Capitol Loans
Capitol Loans
I arrived early afternoon. The first stop was the Cozy Corner CafĂ©, BBQ ribs and chicken (with a side of beans), just to get in the right frame of mind. Then up Poplar Avenue to the intersection of Mannassas, where sat the global headquarters of Capitol Loans. Capitol was the pawnshop where Furry would hock his guitar every time he came off the road. When it was time to go back out again, it was up to me to “un-hock” it so that he could play the dates.
Turning on Mannassas I drove one short block to Mosby Street where Furry had once lived at number 811. The house is gone, having burned down a month before he died of complications from the fire. But standing next door was its duplicate. A four-room shotgun style house. Six or eight folks were sitting on the front porch. I asked if any of them knew Furry Lewis who used to live next door. An old woman volunteered, “the gittar picker?” I nodded. “You know he gone. Passed some time ago.” Yes, I know.

I looked over at the empty lot and remembered walking up on the porch, through the front door, into the main room where Furry sat on his bed. A whiskey glass stood on the table next to him covered by a saucer. “Spiders” he said, “can’t see too good. Don’t want no surprises.” That was in 1973.

Big Daddy’s Office

Bukka White’s “office” consisted of a chair leaned against a brick wall. Next to the chair was a wooden crate. Both sat on the shady side of the street beside Triune Sundry. This is where I first met him, having been told earlier by his wife that “Big Daddy ain’t home. He’s at his office.” Cruising the streets near Mosby, I knew it was around the area somewhere. Suddenly something told me to turn right at the corner of Leath. There it was.
Triune Sundry

Triune Sundry

Triune Sundry

It was a hot day in 1973 when I had first stood on that corner and shook hands with a legend. He was B. B. King’s big cousin and had given B. B. his first guitar, a Stella. Muddy Waters would later tell me that there were licks Bukka did that he (Muddy) was still trying to figure out. And Bukka was the man who literally sang his way out of Parchman Farm Prison. I stood on the corner for a while. I took a few pictures. I could hear the rolling thunder of Aberdeen Blues and see his hands, hopping back on forth on the guitar. I got in the car and headed for Beale.

Daddy’s Dogma

Land Where the Blues Began

By Carl McIntyre
Jackson, MS Clarion Ledger
Sep 30, 1979

To the accompaniment of the diddley bow and a cane fife, the blues was born in the Mississippi Delta.

A musical form all its own, growing more popular the world over. the blues "was transplanted from Africa, reformulated and given English words," according to Alan Lomax, probably the world's foremost folklorist.

To prove his point, and to preserve the fading vestiges of the original blues singers for all time, Lomax has been in the Delta this year filming and recording.

"THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN" is ready as a special for Mississippi Educational Television. It is being delayed for a time in order to see if it can be scheduled for a national audience on the Public Broadcasting System.

An hour long program, it just hits the high spots of Lomax' latest venture into American folklore. He re-corded and filmed more than 40 hours of the Delta blues, using as his "stars" some of the old timers who still remember the original verses as well as the tunes.

He features Sam Chatmon, Bud Spears, Jack Owens, Beatrice Maxwell, Lonnie Pitchford, Othar Turner, Clyde Maxwell, Lucius Smith and others. They range in age up into their 90s.

If listeners are able to understand all the words that some performers sing, there may be a hullabloo over the airing, for the blues had down to earth lyrics.

THAT'S WHAT MADE IT the blues, Lomax declares.

"It was music that gave vent to the emotions of people who expressed their frustrations, their ill treatment, their lack of hope in their singing," Lomax points out.

Shunted into a narrow world of their own, they knew mostly poverty. However, even their menial work they turned into a dance and the rhythmic motions were keyed to a melody. The words gave expression to their thoughts.

Life's basics were their themes. This can be under-stood by those who study the lyrics. One can see how they could almost rejoice in a love of living — or perhaps that is a living of loving.

From that, "Make me a pallet on your floor so your man will never know" or "Shakin' in the bed with me" came to be among the most popular of the ballads.

LOMAX BELIEVES the blues was born in the Del-ta because of the isolation of the big groups of former Africans on large plantations. In their work and play they used music as a link to their past.

They had brought the "beat" as well as the body movements of the dance when they were uprooted from their homeland. In a new environment they applied their innermost emotions in a natural adjustment to a completely new way of living.

Even the dull. tiring, sweating task of hoeing a cot-ton patch became a dance and the hoes sounded a beat as they, almost in unison, were swung to the ground in a musical cadence. The words just came naturally. They expressed their resentments as well as their desires.

IT WAS THE SAME if they were choppin' down trees. There was a beat to the striking of the axes. When called upon to carry heavy loads, their labor became lighter as they virtually danced in step to a home grown ballad.

Those songs have lingered, but today the old words are giving way to new ones, and the younger generation is learning different verses while the melody lingers on.

Lomax had decided, from more than 40 years of study, that the blues had come from the cotton fields along the Mississippi River. He had recorded some of the music, as his Mississippi-born father had before him, but they had not filmed it, and they had missed some of the original lyrics.

NOW, WITH 40 HOURS of filmed music, the Archives of American Folklore, which Lomax' father, John A. Lomax, founded at the Library of Congress, is richer. It already had dozens of tapes and records made by the Lomax team since the 1930s.

Alan Lomax can hardly remember when he was not interested in folklore.

His father made it his life's work, beginning with the cowboys along the Chisholm Trail. Later, he brought a young Alan with him to Mississippi and other Southern states to record the folk music of prisoners in several penitentiaries.

That was in 1933.

Since then, Alan has combed the world for its folk-lore and has recorded more than 4,000 songs in 400 cultures.

He spent years in England, Ireland and Scotland, and found that this music had been continued in America by the people of Appalachia.

THEN HE TRAVERSED Spain, Italy and on to the Near East, Far East, Central and South America, tracing patterns of music from varied sources, but finding each had its tendrils deep into another area.

From this, Lomax "invented" cantometrics and choremetrics, which today are the world's lone systems for classifying songs (canto) and dance (choreo). From his home base as a member of the faculty at Columbia University in New York City, he teaches these systems and continues the research that the family has pioneered. He shows how the music and dance of one people jumped thousands of miles to be found in a new environment, enjoyed by a foreign populace.

Musical instruments for the blues, Lomax has found, were home made. Most often they copied those that had been made by the Africa natives and used hundreds, even thousands, of years earlier.

The drum, of course, is recognizable anywhere. So is the pan (cane) pipe, which is universal.

THE DIDDLEY BOW is perhaps the unique instrument for American music although it is copied, after a manner, from a one stringed instrument used in Africa.

The Delta diddley bow had these parts: a piece of broom wire, a snuff box (the round one, not the flat one, about an inch in diameter and one and a half inches long) and the broken neck of a glass bottle.

To make one, the wire was nailed to a wall and the snuff box was placed under the wire. Then, running a finger up from the bottom, one flicked the wire until the proper pitch was found. At this point the wire was cut to that length, fastened to a board, the snuff box used as a bridge.

To play it, the strummer put the neck of the bottle around a finger on his left hand and used it to slide up and down the wire to change pitch. The right hand was the "twanger." With both hands in motion, each moving about as speedily as the other, the music burst forth.

WITH A PAN PIPE fife and a drum or two, it was an orchestra. Othar Turner's fife and drum band has played at many places over the states.

Later, of course, the guitar and the banjo were added, but these were not originals.

In the era between 1905 and the 1930s, Lomax believes the blues had not only their heyday but also their introduction to others outside the Delta.

Rivermen, as they were known, were without families. Homeless, they moved about freely looking for work. They carried their dancing patterns to their new jobs, and sang as they labored. In the evenings, they looked for the love and other emotions that had escaped them in the drudgery of their daytime tasks.

Their journeys took the blues to the outside world and opened the way for its acceptance as a new form. From there on it was the birth of the blues for all America — and the world.

BACK IN THE DELTA. however, where it had all begun, it was still the home grown, completely unique musical form that had come into being a hundred years before. The environmental changes had altered it only slightly, reformed it into a new vehicle for a people's message.

As Lomax' film proves it now, the blues is still a North Mississippi phenomena — and one he enjoys. Watching the anthropologist with the fringed beard as he played back the tapes of his show, we wondered how he had ever stopped recording. He gets so wrapped up in the beat, so hip with the tunes it is with obvious difficulty that he sits quietly to edit the material. We fully expected him to jump up, imitating the dance and joining in the choruses.

His father, born near Clarksdale, was one of 21 children in the family which moved to Texas when he was but two years old.

THEIR TEXAS HOME WAS ON the Chisholm Trail and the cowboys passed by regularity. John Lomax was fascinated by their songs. By the time he was ten he had written down the words to dozens.

When he finally was able to enter Texas U. at the age of 32, he was so ready for an education that he graduated in two years. From there he went to Harvard and found a grant awaiting that let him tour the West with one of the early recording cylinders.

When he had all the cowboy music he felt necessary, he started with the blues. And this is when and where Alan came into the picture.

Now, 40 years later. Alan has no peer, at home or abroad, in the field of folklore.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Really the Blues - Mezz Mezzrow (1946)

If you get the chance and you either have or have not read Really the Blues (1946) by Mezz Mezzrow with Bernard Wolfe, pick it up! Mezzrow, in his life-affirming story, is a man who followed his passions no matter what. While the title may confuse, the book is not about the country blues or what you may consider blues. Born in 1900, Mezz Mezzrow was a white Chicago musician, who plays New Orleans-style jazz, which includes some blues songs. He discusses how white musicians were “out of the gallion” when it came to playing the blues, but it is of no great consequence to him.

He runs around with--and plays with and even mentors—several of great musicians. He performs in speakeasies for gangsters, and he immerses himself in underground African American culture. Along the way he almost single-handedly turns Americans on to cannabis, which remained legal in the states. Speaking in the pre-Beatnik slang of the day, this book marked the beginning of counterculture in American literature. Some examples of slang from the 20s and 30s, were terms like 'wig-trig': idea; 'tall': intoxicated on marijuana; 'knock a fade': go away, leave; and the 'Head Knock': God.

In the Introduction to the book, Ben Ratliff takes some air out of the image that Mezz gave himself. But you can't help but not care if Mezzrow was tootin' his own horn a bit.  The book is a great description of the first few decades of the 20th century in Chicago and New York, and a great book to read in the context of the current inabilities to understand the polyvalent concept of race in America.

Feature Story

Tommy Johnson's Grave: Ode to Singer Took Years of Wrangling

By Therese Apel – (Jackson, MS) Clarion Ledger – February 5 & 7, 2013. Click HERE for the follow-up article showing it was not vanda...