Monday, May 22, 2017

Interview with our most recent MZMF liaison Yamit Hagar

I am very happy to welcome Yamit Hagar as the newest liaison to the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund.  She has been doing good work in Israel on behalf of the Blues and we look forward to many other fruitful collaborations in the future. Below is brief interview from earlier this year...

Bringin' Home the Blues: An Interview with Yamit Hagar, founder of the Tel Aviv Blues Festival 
By Jennifer Greenberg - January 2, 2017

40 performances, 20 clubs, 2 days, 1 woman’s dream.

After just two short years, the Tel Aviv Blues Festival will kick off the New Year with its 4thedition, as Yamit Hagar satisfies our ABCs: acoustic blues cravings. Find out what drove the computer-geek-turned-blues-enthusiast to become the musical mastermind behind Israel’s one and only blues festival.

What inspired you to start this project?

It began in 2012, when I invited Robert Belfour to perform at Barby. One thousand people came and another thousand wanted to, but we were sold out, so we had another show. It kept on growing from there.

You mentioned Barby…do all the shows happen there?

Not at all. We have shows in gardens, caf├ęs, cinemas, houses, and clubs like Bar Giyora, Mike’s Place, Hoodna, Bascula…scattered all across Tel Aviv.

How did you get into the blues?

I was working in computers for eighteen years, then I heard Mississippi Fred McDowell on the radio and for that whole weekend, I was hooked. By Sunday, it was obvious what I had to do. I changed my career path right then and there.

And do you play any instruments?

Nope, not one.

Is this something you’d pursue someday?

I don’t think so. So many people are playing the ‘right’ stuff. I wouldn’t want to interfere.

So it’s more about promoting blues in Israel than playing it?

And enjoying it.

That’s a must. And how about the festival planning process? Any challenges?

We’re trying to do it biannually: a summer festival for electric blues and a winter festival for acoustic. The thing is, unlike jazz, which has festivals year-round, we only have one, so we can’t waste a minute. That’s why we’re already into our fourth season.

What do you find the effects to be of acoustic over electric?

I’m a traditionalist. If I could choose, I’d pick acoustic every time. Sometimes, I believe I was born in the wrong era, but then again, somebody has to keep two decades of music alive – Eli and the Chocolate Factory attest to this beautifully with their Louis Armstrong tribute. I believe blues traditions will never change, just like in Israel: modernists may exist, but tradition is never lost.

It seems that atmosphere is key to the festival’s success too.

It is. I spend the entire time hopping from garden to house party to club. Every venue is a new experience…I love it! We also give away T-shirts to wear on site.

Let’s be honest, free T-shirts are the best part—

And the free shows, guitar and tickets to the Mississippi Juke Joint Festival – which I’m guilty of attending annually.

What is the Israeli blues scene like in contrast?

In the last few years, the vibe has changed. Some musicians are performing in Hebrew, some in English, some are playing cover songs, but in general, there is more support from the media, which helps boost the scene.

And this is mostly in Tel Aviv?

No, no. I know incredible blues musicians up north and down south. We simply had to find one city to bring everyone together and Tel Aviv was centrally located.

How’s the local talent this year?

Out of 40 shows, we’ve got 38 local musicians…so you tell me.

Is there anything that sets this edition apart?

The Cinematheque is hosting a film & lecture series with journalist Sharon Kantor, and will even be screening a blues reality TV show, which I’m very excited for.

Any closing remarks?

Come to the festival. See all the shows, explore, remember that it happens twice a year…just come. That’s all. Because once you’re exposed to live blues, there’s no going back.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Time Travelers Explore Past

Time Travelers Explore Past:
An Exciting Way To Learn About MS History 
Blues Born in the Delta 
By Bill Bailey (Greenwood, MS) Commonwealth April 13, 1987 

As the saucer skimmed through the air, Finny said, in our search for the spirit of Mississippi, we've toured a lot of Mississippi sights. I've told you many tales and legends about Mississippi. And you've learn-ed about some true 'noble crazies,'. It's all part of our unique spirit. "Now, let's take it one step further." Hover-ing over Oxford, Finny pointed to a tall, old building with a cylindrical tower. "We're on the Ole Miss campus and that's Barnard Observatory_ One of the most unique things in our state is housed there." The building looked old-timey, maybe haunted, thought Jeff, remembering Waverly. "What's in it?" he asked. 

"It's the Center for Southern Culture," said Finny, "Just as we're trying to understand the spirit of Mississippi, the people at the Center are trying to understand the spirit of the South. And since Mississippi is at the heart of the South, you might say their search and ours are basically for the same thing.

"Of course, we are just flying over the surface of things. They, however, are digging deep into everything that is Southern and studying these Southern qualities closely. 

The staff at the Center does a number of projects to help us understand ourselves and to help us preserve our history and culture. They have courses, conferences and lectures about the South. Also. they write books and make records and films about the South. They are interested in the accomplishments of Southerners such as some of Mississippi's great writers and singers. And they put a particular emphasis on the accomplishments of blacks and women because sometimes they have been neglected. 

One of their current projects is a 1.000-page book called "Encyclopedia of Southern Culture It has articles on everything from Paul 'Bear' Bryant to grits and barbecue anything Southern. About 800 writers have contributed to it and it should be available in 1987. 

"The fact that this unique Center is located in Mississippi is another clue for us in our search. Our tremendous interest in 'what is Southern' and in our pact is part of the spirit of Mississippi It shows our pride in our heritage. "

Another source of pride is the worldwide reputation which the Center of Southern Culture has. The famous composer and jazz performer Quincy Jones even visited the Center recently to do research for his musical score for the movie 'The Color Purple'. By the way, Jones is another outstanding black musician who grew up in Mississippi. 

"Dr. Bill Ferris, director of the Center, is known all over the world as a blues scholar. Because of its influence on so many other kinds of music, Dr. Fer-ris says blues is the single most important form of popular music America has produced. 

Dr. Ferris hosts a blues radio program each Saturday night at 10 on public radio, FM 90.3. His nickname is 'The Blues Doctor'," said Finny. "The show is fun as well as educational. 

"The Center has the largest blues music collection of records and materials in the world, including 5.000 records from blues singer B.B. King's personal collection which he generously donated to the Center. 

"You keep talking about blues," said Billy. "Exactly what is the blues, anyway'" 

"The blues," said Finny, "was born in the Mississippi Delta when poor black sharecroppers sang about their problems while working in the cottonfields. Blues music has a painful, hurt quality to it. It is the music of the lost, lonely and downtrodden." 

"Certainly it is another clue to the spirit of Mississippi that the music we gave birth to - the blues - was born by sharecropping blacks out of poverty. sadness and helplessness. It is a triumph of the spirit that some black Mississippi singers turned something bad into something good. They found their way out of their downtrodden, poor condition through their music. Blues singers like B.R. King found a silver lining with their music in the black cloud of poverty and pain. 

This creative music came straight from the heart. The fact it had such a tremendous impact on so much of the music world is a credit to our state. The blues is a part of our heritage we can be very proud of. even if we're not proud of the poverty and harsh conditions which helped cause it. 

Our state is one of the most rural. Many of its citizens have been and still are poor. It is a state which has had great dependency on cotton farming. Also it had racial problems which grew out of a segregated, agricultural society.

"Singing about their troubles, often expressed in terms of 'women troubles', helped give poor Delta blacks the strength to survive. This undefeated spirit of survival in the face of great hardship is a part of the spirit of Mississippi we need to hold onto. 

"At one time many blacks thought blues was 'low down', that it was the devil's music'. Whites thought of it as 'cotton patch music.' But today blues music is appreciated as having had a great influence on country, rock and roll, jazz and popular music. 

"Mississippi is proud of its blues heritage today and finally appreciates what it gave birth to," said Finny. "There is a unique museum in Clarksdale, the Delta Blues Museum at the Carnegie Public Library. It helps its visitors understand what the blues is. Also, it traces the link between the blues and other forms of popular music. 

The Delta Blues Museum is a fun way for us to learn about this important part of our heritage. There are records, books, videotapes, photos, slide-and-sound programs and memorabilia for people to enjoy and learn from. Its director, Sid Graves, says he encourages Mississippians to visit the museum. just as visitors from Europe, other countries and other states are doing. 

"Also, there are several blues festivals all over the state," said Finny. "The biggest, the Delta Blues Festival. is at Freedom Village near Greenville. Big-name blues singers and musicians come from far and wide to perform there each summer.

Then there are others, such as the B.B. King Blues Festival in Indianola," said Finny. 

"You keep mentioning B.B. King. I've heard of him, but I'm not really sure who he is," said Jeff. 

"Well, we'll just have to go visit him then," said Finny. '•He was born Riley B. King. not B.B., in 1925 on a cotton plantation between Itta Bena and Indianola, Mississippi. Of course, he has been called by such nicknames as 'King of the Blues', 'Bossman and 'The Main Man'. When you talk about bluesmen who rose over hardships and poverty in spite of all obstacles. B.B King is a prime ex-ample.

"He had a rough time of it growing up, with his parents separating when he was five. He hardly knew his father, Then his mother died when he was nine. 

"But let's go back and see him and his mother before she died." 

B.B. King takes blues road from poverty to fame 

So off the saucer flew through time to Kilmachael [sic], Mississippi. Below them, Finny and the boys could see a boy walking hand-in-hand with his mother. They were singing while they walked to church. Both were smiling ''B.B.'s mother was the first influence on Pus music. He and his mother, a Christian woman, sang spirituals together often. whether it was at church, in the cottonfield or wherever."

Setting the dial for 1934. Finny and the boys spun forward a few years. Emerging near a cabin, they walked up to the window. Looking in. they saw young B.B. at the side of his mother's bed. Her voice was shaky but urgent. "Riley. if you are always kind to people, they w ill be kind to you." She added. And you will be happy In life " 

Returning to the saucer, Finny said, "B.B - or Riley as he was called then - would never forget his mother's advice about life She died later that afternoon.

"Perhaps those last words were part of the reason B.B. grew up to be so kind to people. A man of great generosity, he has played at prisons for inmates And he has made special efforts to tell black children about the blues so they will know about their blues heritage. He has held free programs for many black schoolchildren in order to spread his blues message and instill pride in them.

"In some ways B.B. stands out in what can sometimes be a cutthroat music world. He has been fair in his business dealings and has been honest He keeps his promises and places great value on sticking to his word. To some extent. the person he became goes back to that day when his mother gave bun her deathbed advice. It was her version of the Bible's Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

"Riley lived with his grandmother for a while. But a few years later she died. His childhood sweetheart died when he was 11 Then he lived alone working for the white f .mils which his mother had worked for. It was a lonely, rootless world for a young, poor black to grow up in. 

"He would walk 10 miles to and from a one-room school, which had about 50 students and one teacher for grades one through eight. He milked cows and worked hard after school. The teacher. Luther Henson. was an important influence on Riley, as he taught his students to work hard to improve themselves and helped them to believe in themselves. Before it was ever popular to teach black history. Mr. Henson taught Riley and his classmates about blacks who had made great achievements. 

At age 14 Riley went to live with his father, working on a plantation near Lexington. As he said later, he worked from 'kin to caint.' That is. he worked from early in the morning when you can first see daylight until late in the evening when you can't. For these long work weeks. he was paid about $7 to $10 a week. 

"One important influence on his music at this time was a Holiness preacher who played the electric guitar at the Church of God in Christ. Riley was fascinated with the guitar and attended church regularly The preacher soon took an interest in Riley and helped teach him how to play it. 

"One story has it that Riley wanted to play so badly he made a one-string guitar .out of a piece of wire off a broom and used a board off his house to make the soundboard. The string was pulled tight between two nails. Another story tells of his getting his plantation boss to buy him an $8 guitar through the Sears and Roebuck catalog and to take the money out of his wages for him. The young Riley had a hunger to learn to play the guitar. It was like he was born to play the instrument that would be his ticket out of poverty.

"At this time. with the blues being considered the 'devil's music'. King started singing spirituals in a quartet. But soon he started hearing blues in the juke joints of Indianola and a new world opened up for him.

"After a brief stint in the Army where he began to sing the blues, he returned and began to play and sing the blues at nearby Delta towns in the joints and on the street corners.

"At 21, he made a courageous move. He left the farm and hitchhiked to Memphis. carrying his beat-up guitar. He stayed with his blues musician-cousin, Bukka White. He soon began to sing medicine commercials on the black radio station. WDIA. He sang a little jingle, 

Pepticon, pepticon, sure is good. 

You can get it anywhere in your neighborhood.' 

"This was a long way from the kind of down-and-out, heart-tugging lyrics that made him famous, like 

'Nobody loves me but my mother. And she could be jivin' too.' 

But it was a start, he was on his way. He began to play at night clubs. Soon he became a disc jockey for the radio station and got to sing his songs on the air. Since he needed a catchy name. they called him Riley King, 'the Beale Street Blues Boy'. After all, he played lots of Memphis' Beale Street music. Soon the nickname became 'the Blues Boy', which later became simply B.B. And that's how he got the name B.B. King. 

"B.B. began to make records and had his first big hit in 1954, 'Every Day I Have the Blues.' The poor black son of a sharecropper who would have seemed to have all the cards stacked against him was on his way to stardom. 

"A big part of the B.B. King legend is his closest companion - Lucille." 

"Who was she?" asked Billy. 

"She was and is his guitar," laughed Finny. 

"In fact. there's an interesting story about how she got her name. It was back in the 1950's when B.B. was playing for a dance in Arkansas. A fight broke out, knocking over some kerosene and causing a fire. At first B.B. ran out of the building with the crowd. Suddenly he remembered he had left his beloved guitar behind.

Risking his life, he ran back into the burning building to save the guitar. The two men who were fighting died in the blaze. Can you guess the name of the woman they were fighting over'!" 

"Lucille," said Jeff. 

"Right you are," said Finny. "And it is fitting that B.B. would give his guitar a person's name because the way he plays her, she has her own voice and personality. He can make her cry, howl, whine, sound smooth and sweet or angry and brassy. She expresses the moods of the blues On his guitar case, it says. 'My name is Lucille. Please handle me with care.  

"In the 1960's when rock music became big, the Rolling Stones band and some others began to look for how rock got its start. They traced it back to the blues. B.B. went on tour with the Rolling Stones and it turned out to be a big break for him. Following that. he began to make some television appearances. Today his eyes-closed style of singing and playing is known around the world. as is his shiny friend, Lucille.  

In 1970 his biggest hit to date, 'The Thrill Is Gone', received a Grammy Award for best vocal performance of the year. He has won many other awards for albums and as a blues performer. 

"But the awards his mother might have been proudest of are probably those for his service to his fellow man, such as the Humanitarian Award he received for his performances in the prisons. 

"Yes, B.B. has come a long way from the cottonfields near Itta Bena and Indianola, Mississippi, a long way from the days of his $8 guitar. He is recognized today as the 'King of the Blues'. He stands as a great example of what hard work and never giving up on one's dreams can achieve even when the odds are great against you. 

"Well-dressed and polite. B.B. King and his guitar, Lucille, have brought respectability to the blues, which once was considered 'low down'. Along the way, he has been very kind to many people and the rewards have been great. His mother would be awfully proud." 

Study questions 

1. What is the Center for Southern Culture and what does it do? What are some of the projects its staff does? 

2. What is the blues? How was it born? 

3. In what ways is blues a 'triumph of the spirit'? 

4. How is blues looked at differently today than in the past? 

5. What was the message B.B. King's mother gave him on her death-bed? How has he applied this message in his life? 

6. How did Riley King get the name B.B.? 

7. What is the name of B.B.'s guitar? How did it get its name? 

Activities for students 

1. There are some more clues to the spirit of Mississippi in bold print in today's lesson. Name some of these clues which help make up this unique spirit. 

2. Write a couple of paragraphs, telling the life story of B.B. King. Be sure to write it in your own words. 3. Play some records or tapes of B.B. King and other blues singers in class. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

The MZMF at the Bentonia Blues Festival

The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund will have a booth setup at the Bentonia Blues Festival in mid-June to answer questions, distribute material, and solicit donations to help us maintain the graves of blues musicians in abandoned cemeteries as well as mark the grave of Belton Sutherland, of Camden, MS. In addition, we plan to conduct some maintenance on the existing markers of blues musicians buried in Bentonia and search a few cemeteries for the existing markers of the surrounding area's more obscure students of the Bentonia School of Blues. This video explains some of our past endeavors as well as some of our plans once we get to Yazoo...enjoy and we'll see you in June...

The Grave of Lucious Smith

Sid Hemphill and Lucious Smith recording for Alan Lomax in 1959
Lucious Smith (b. Nov 28, 1881, d. May 18, 1980) was a banjo player from Panola County in  northern Mississippi.  He was interviewed in Worth Long and Alan Lomax's film The Land Where the Blues Began.  He often played with Sid Hemphill, with whom he is featured in a collection of field recordings, Sounds of the South (Atlantic SD-1346).

Click HERE for a rare interview with the master musician

He is buried at Shiloh Methodist Church Cemetery in Sardis, Mississippi.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

T. J. Wheeler Testifies about the Grave of Sonny Boy Williamson II

"Don’t Start me Talkin'": T. J. Wheeler Testifies about the Grave of Sonny Boy Williamson II
Written by T.J. Wheeler
Edited by T. DeWayne Moore

[Editor's Note: In a reversal of the status quo, the author does not identify most folks as African Americans. Except for Jake Jacobs, his personal acquaintances in the Sonny Boy Blues Society, and himself, everyone referenced is African American--unless otherwise noted.]

Since seeing the posts here on the early 1990's efforts to see that Sonny Boy Williamson's (Rice Miller) grave and overall resting place was kept clean as well as kept up,. I've been promising to pony up on my recollections of that effort. I've been partially procrastinating on doing this, because it would take a while to fully explain & express not only my facts but also my feelings. So I'm going to have to do this in drips & drabs. Here is the prelude.

In the spring of 1987 my good friend and harp man Rockin' Jake Jacobs took a 61 Highway (and byways) sojourn from NOLA to Memphis. We made a few stops along the way, as well as in Memphis, visiting our friend James "Son" Thomas, Wade Walton, visiting the late Bukka White's family (in Memphis) doing a gig set up by Joe Saverin on Beale and a follow up meeting with his fledgling non profit org., known then as the W.C. Handy Blues Foundation. 

Neither of us felt the trip would be complete if we didn't make a stop in Tutwiler to pay our respects at Sonny Boy's grave site. Who say's you can't teach an old dawg new/old tricks about even older prejudices? After spending about 20 min. in the town graveyard (which we assumed would be the logical place to start looking for a grave) checking various graves, many of which also had pictures of the deceased inserted in the headstone, like the one in Sonny Boy's) we came to a mutual conclusion. Not only was it unlikely we'd find Sonny Boy's grave, we'd be surprised if we found any Black persons grave.

This certainly was not my first time in the South. 

Throughout the 70s, I had made many trips including about four months in Memphis in 1974, hanging out daily between Bukka White and Furry Lewis's house. I had just about kicked myself for being so naive...racism was so imbedded in so much of the South that people could not live together under the rule of Jim Crow; they couldn't even die and be put to rest in the same graveyard together.

After the realization that Jim Crow segregation extended into the afterlife, our search literally and figuratively became more grassroots.

I remembered Furry Lewis’s words from well over a decade before, in response to my question for directions to Sleepy John Estes’s house in Brownsville Tennessee. “Just take that right hand road," he informed, "and then just ask the first person you see how to get there.” Though I had my doubts at the time, I followed not only his advice but a young boy on a stingray bicycle (who was the very first person I saw) all the way to Sleepy John’s house.  With nothing to lose, we tried the same tactic in Tutwiler. It was a tall, thin elderly gentleman walking with his young grandson, hand-in-hand, down the street that first appeared.  Bingo! He knew right where it was, gave us directions and wished us luck. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Preaching the Blues - 1970s Documentary

Democrat and Chronicle, Aug 27, 2015.
Ron Mix had suspended this documentary after the 1974 Toronto Blues Festival for lack of money, but he gave some of his footage to another young Rochester resident named Mark Brady, who transferred some of the 16mm footage to a cheaper video format and added some sequences on Grieg Street and Genesee Street to create a 30-minute black and white video documentary about House that aired on the local public television affiliate in 1978.

Grave of Hank's Musical Mentor Found in 1998

Grave of Hank's Musical Mentor Found
By Rick Harmon - Montgomery Advertiser - 1998

A handful of people gathered Wednesday before an unmarked grave in Lincoln Cemetery for a quiet ceremony to honor Rufus "Tee-Tot" Payne, the black musician who Hank Williams said was not only his friend, but his musical mentor.

Amid ant hills and pine straw, Payne's son, Henderson Payne, and his younger. sister, Ruby Mae Price Womack, heard The Rev. Dr. James E. Cook of Chapel AME Zion Church and Indian Hill Zion Church in Greenville say a service for their father — almost 60 years after the musician died and was laid to rest in a pauper's grave in the black cemetery

"We could be standing on his grave now," Womack said, looking at her feet. "At least we finally know around where he is buried."

Historians had long sought the location of Payne's grave site, as had Hank Williams, who had set aside money for a marker to honor the man he said taught him his musical style.

Henderson Payne, who stood before his father's grave site for the first time Wednesday, had also tried to find his father's burial place.

I down came Womack three or four times trying to find it," said Payne's 78-year-old son, who was 19 and living in Kokomo, Ind., when his father died in 1939. "But no one knew where (the grave) was."

Fans should have less trouble finding the area in the future. Lloyd Geeslin, who owns the Oakwood Cemetery Annex where Hank Williams is buried, has had a commemorative marker created that will be placed at Payne's grave. Geeslin has offered to have another marker for Payne placed by Hank Williams' grave.

There was some disagreement about whether a second marker should be placed by Williams' grave, since it might give people the wrong idea that Payne is buried in Oakwood or take away from the other marker which will be at Lincoln Cemetery.

But Henderson Payne said he was leaning toward having both markers.

"I'm thinking of my daddy be-cause I knew him well enough to know what he would want," Henderson Payne said. "They were al-ways together. Wherever he went, people would say 'there's Tee-Tot and that white boy again.' They were always close, and I think he'd want something to show that they were close now."

Geeslin said he'd like the second marker near Williams' grave because people should realize the link between the two men.

"Wherever you find Hank Williams, you find Rufus Payne," Geeslin said. "Rufus Payne was why Hank's music was so different, why Hank could step on stage and make people go crazy."

Montgomery historian Mary Ann Neeley, executive director of the Landmarks Foundation that oversees Old Alabama Town, said the discovery of the location of Payne's grave site was an important one.

"People have been searching for his grave for around 30 or 40 years," she said. "Hank Williams is one of the subjects we are asked about most frequently at Old Alabama Town, and I think this will increase the interest in Rufus Payne, and who he was."

Who Payne is a question that has long intrigued Montgomery historian Alice Harp, who located Payne's grave after a four-year search.

Harp, who had researched such area blues legends as Big Mama Thornton and Johnny Shines, said l the key in finding the grave's location was doing often tedious work in checking through records and going beyond musical lore to historic fact.

She said it's always been known that Payne had a huge impact on Williams' music.

"I've heard a radio interview in which Hank Williams was asked who his influences were, and he said 'Rufus Payne was my only musical influence,' she said. But Harp said it appears the relationship between Tee-Tot and Williams was longer and more important than was realized.

Many sought the location of Payne's grave in Greenville, where according to Williams' lore, Payne was a street musician who taught Williams to play when the country singer was a boy.

But Harp sought the grave in Montgomery because she discovered information that convinced her Williams had brought Tee-Tot to the city to join him.

She said a 1939 city directory showed Rufus Payne living on South Bainbridge, just a few blocks from the boarding house that Williams' mother, Lillie, ran on South Perry Street.

But Payne's final resting place is only one of the many mysteries about the man who taught Hank Williams about music.

No picture is known to exist of Tee-Tot, and both Harp and Payne's relatives say written information about the musician may be both incomplete and inaccurate.

"We're not talking about a man who sharecropped, wore overalls and sat on the curb and sometimes f played some blues," Harp said. "Payne was a professional musician."

She said although Payne did sometimes play on street corners, that was because he played almost everywhere. She said he usually dressed in coat and tie, wore a tuxedo jacket to play piano at the par-ties of wealthy whites and played not just blues, but country, jazz and Cajun music that he learned growing up in New Orleans.

"He was an educated man who insisted that his children also be educated," Harp said.

Henderson Payne said blues wasn't even his father's favorite type of music.

"He liked playing hillbilly music more than he liked playing the blues," his son said. "When he played hillbilly music he got paid. When he played the blues, he played for free."

Harp said she has already sent in the paperwork to have Payne's grave designated a historic site.

She is continuing to research Payne, an endeavor in which she said Hank Williams Jr. has been very supportive.

Harp "is glad that Payne is finally getting the credit that his father always wanted him to have."

The Montgomery Advertiser, Dec 31, 2002.

Alabama Bluesman is Last of Line

Alabama Bluesman is Last of Line
By Henry Willett - The Montgomery Advertiser - 1978

Near Tuscaloosa in the town of Holt, Alabama, lives Johnny Shines, a man who represents what seems to be a disappearing generation of traditional bluesmen. Born in Memphis, Tenn. in 1915, Johnny Shines were brought up in a musical family. His mother's family were all church people, and he remembers there always being music and musical instruments around the house. "There were tambourines, a fiddle, a bass, bones, all kinds of instruments; but we being the youngest of six kids, all the instruments were gone from the house by the time I got old enough to do anything with them."

"When I was nine years old I decided I didn't like home, so I left and headed South `til I found myself working in a groundhog sawmill in Louisiana. That was the hardest work I've done in my life." It was in Louisiana that Johnny Shines received his earliest exposure to downhome Mississippi Delta blues.

At the age of sixteen he bought his first guitar." It was a six dollar Black Regal. It took me about two months to buy it." He pretty much taught himself to play. "I learned from a lot of people ...Charlie Patton, Son House, my half-brother Willie Reed... Robert Johnson was my biggest influence. One time in Arkansas I was watching Howlin' Wolf play. He stopped playing to go shoot dice and I took that guitar and started playing. Soon I had that whole place howlin'. They started calling me 'Little Wolf.' But Howlin' Wolf said that was the last time he'd leave his guitar' laying where somebody could get ahold of it."

At the age of sixteen, Johnny Shines got married and settled in Memphis. "I was directing the church choir, and one day I said, `You'll just have to find yourself a new director, because I'm going back to the blues."'

In 1934 he met Robert Johnson, and they traveled together for a number of years." Those was rough times. I remember sleeping in corn-cribs... playing in clubs for a dollar a night and all you could drink. You didn't just play for a few hours. You played until they quit dancing. Sometimes we'd play on the street for nickels and dimes."

And he remembers tales of his travelling with Robert Johnson. "Once we were near Decatur, Ill. There were only two black people in the town and no one hardly ever saw them, so we were a curiosity. They charged 25 cents for people to just come in and look at us. Robert Johnson died in 1938 in Mississippi. Some people said he'd been voodooed or mojoed or poisoned by a woman. I suspect he died from a stomach ailment. He was an awful heavy drinker."

Shines moved to Holt in 1969. In a sense, it was a returning home to Alabama. His ancestors were from near Tuscumbia, and he remembers his grandmother telling him stories of slavery days in that area.  

Johnny Shines supposes he'll be singing the blues until his dying day.

For more on Shines, click HERE

Longtime Blues Preservation Organization Garners Prestigious Oakley Award

Mt. Zion Memorial Fund wins the Oakley Award 
from the Association for Gravestone Studies

The MZMF erected the marker for Charley Patton in 1991
The award winning work of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund continues through the July 29 dedication of a memorial to eminent recording artist Armenter Chatmon (aka Bo Carter), of the Mississippi Sheiks, at the abandoned Nitta Yuma Cemetery in Nitta Yuma, Mississippi - To learn more and support this, please click HERE or GoFundMe

We are also currently working with St. John MB Church in Camden, MS to erect a memorial to Belton Sutherland, who folklorist Worth Long and Alan Lomax featured in the film The Land Where the Blues Began. To learn more, please click HERE or GoFundMe

Ruth and Moore first collaborated on the discovery of
the military marker of Son Simms in 2014, but Ruth's
coimetromania extends much farther back and connects
to his love for older photographic processes.
The Board of Trustees of the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) has unanimously approved the nomination to award Euphus Ruth a Fred Oakley Award both for your dedicated photographic investigation of the rural and abandoned graveyards throughout the Mississippi Delta. In addition, to your creative work, T. DeWayne Moore, who nominated you, convinced the board that your work with the Mount Zion Memorial Fund extends the necessity of this award. There you have provided important research, identification and preservation of prominent African American musicians' graves. The unearthed and restored markers and newly identified graves have helped to renew several African American burial grounds in your area. Indeed, you are an inspiration! 

We thank you for your work for and on such important historic and fragile cemeteries. Your award will be presented at the annual conference of the AGS at the University of Alabama this spring. 

With kind regards, 
Anne Tait Chair Awards Committee

Roosevelt T. Williams: The "Grey Ghost" Walks Again

Roosevelt T. Williams: The "Grey Ghost" Walks Again
By George Papajohn - 1989

Nobody knows you, yes, when
you're down and out
In your pocket, not one penny
And your friends, you have not any

Roosevelt T. Williams, Texas' 85-year-old "Grey Ghost," knows these words to be true. He knows them the way he once knew the freight trains of the Southwest that carried him from one show to the next, the way he knows how to walk onto a stage, or into a club, or a houseparty or a roller rink, sit down at an unfamiliar piano and in no time have the place jumpin', the tips jar janglin'.

On this sultry San Antonio Sun-day, the piano is an electric Yamaha—not the acoustic one that had been promised—and Ghost's manager and friend, Tary Owens, the architect of the Ghost's unlikely late-life comeback, is a little nervous. The Ghost, though, is taking it in stride as he heads into the sunshine for the Bowie Street Blues festival stage.

"That's okay," he said. "I'll do the best I can. If they don't like it, they can put some cotton in their ears." That isn't necessary. By the time the Ghost plays "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out"—one of his favorites among the 300 or so songs in a repertoire the piano professor has built in more than 60 years of study—the early-afternoon crowd of 300 gathered on a grassy incline is his.

There's no tips jar, but after Ghost's one-hour stint as opening act, Owens sells all eight copies of Grey Ghost records he has on hand, and the newly won fans are lining up for Ghost's autograph. Not bad for a man who didn't have a record re-leased until he was 83, who saw national fame pass him by four decades before, who only three years ago was not only down and out but believed by many to be gone for good, a true ghost at last.

"People are treating me like I'm 28 or 29," be said, painstakingly scrawling his given name and his nickname on a record jacket. "Here I am been half ready for the grave., But I ain't goin' yet." Tary Owens was not the first white man, or even the first Owens, to try to bring the Ghost to a larger audience.

In 1940, folklorist William Owens discovered the Ghost playing at a roller rink in Navasota, Tex., recorded some of his songs, including an original called "Hitler Blues" and wrote about his find. Other publications, including Time, followed up, and Alistair Cook used "Hitler Blues", in a BBC report on the impact of the war on American music.

"We had made permanent the work of 4 genuine folk poet and musician," Owens, who is not related to Tary, wrote in 1983 in his book, "Tell Me a Story, Sing Me a Song."

Piano men: Lavada Durst, Grey Ghost, Erbie Bowser. Photo by Clay Shorkey.
But his attempts to promote the Ghost were unsuccessful. "He was a black blues singer and there was not much of an audience for a black blue& singer, I was told at radio stations," Owens wrote. "The waste of imagination? Of talent? No one cared the to give him a chance."