Pixel

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Folklore Specialist Tours State Recording Heritage

Billy Skelton - (Jackson, MS) Clarion Ledger - June 6, 1971.

James Thomas

The rich and vivid language of Mississippians, familiar to many in the fiction of William Faulkner and other great writers of the state, is now being collected and preserved in the films, tapes and books of folklorist Dr. William R. "Bill" Ferris Jr. of Jackson, a professor of English and folklore at Jackson State College.

In this contribution to folk literature, the people tell their own stories in their own ways, with and without musical accompaniment.

"I just let them discuss what-ever they remember or think is important about their experiences," Dr. Ferris said.

He recalled that William Faulkner once said that "I listen to people in my head, and they start talking, and I just write what they say."

While Faulkner wrote it from memory, Ferris reproduces it from tape.

The folklore specialist has finished or has in production three books, about a half dozen films and three records.

Dr. Ferris thinks there is "a very basic relationship" between Mississippi's astounding literary output, in particular the work of Faulkner and Eudora Welty, and the fascinating folk-lore in the state.

He called attention to the conversation of the people in Miss Welty's stories and her fine ear for the language of Mississippi folk.

FRUITFUL PATTERN

"I think folklore traditions, both the folk tale and the mu-sic, the superstitions, the whole pattern of life in our state, lend themselves to writing," he stated.

One Objective of the young professor from Warren County is to develop a folklore "awareness" that might encourage more young writers. If these writers could continue "to explore and develop these traditions, we could have a new tradition of literary creation," he believes.

Dr. Ferris thinks it can be consciously undertaken as he said it was in Ireland through the efforts of such writers as William Butler Yeates.

Unfortunately, he said, as people, become more sophisticated and educated they tend to scorn or reject the rural, non-literary traditions, being embarrassed by their own roots in the soil. He thinks Mississippi's culture is the richest around, and he wants to encourage more respect for it.

Dr. Ferris doesn't discredit the "high" culture of the university literary tradition—saying he was drawn to in English literature first and through it he became interested in folk literature—but he pointed out that the "low" culture of oral literature is seldom touched upon.

FOLLOWS LOMAX

One person who did touch upon it was one of his boyhood idols, Alan Lomax, the folklorist who came into Mississippi as a youngster with his father, John Lomax, and later alone and recorded Negro blues, field hollers, prison songs and gospel music a generation ago.

The younger Lomax, who also wrote "Mr. Jelly Roll," a book about Jelly Roll Morton (who played the piano in Mississippi from time to time in his hey-day), is now at Columbia University where he is cataloging folklore from around the world.

Dr. Ferris, reared on a farm in the Jeff Davis community near Vicksburg, became interested in folklore as a youth and made his first recordings on his home place.

He had gone to Negro services at the Rose Hill Baptist Church near his home and be-come interested in spirituals, and while a student at Davidson College, he started recording folk singers.

After getting a bachelor's degree at Davidson, he obtained his master's degree at North-western University and then proceeded to the University of Pennsylvania where he got his doctor's degree. His thesis topic? "Mississippi Folklore," what else?

STUDIED IN EIRE

Along the way he studied for a year at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, on a Rotary Foundation Scholarship.

He met his French-born wife, Josette, while at Pennsylvania where she was studying on a Fulbright Scholarship. She now accompanies him on his journeys across Mississippi and collaborates in some of the writing and recording. Mrs. Ferris is front Etivey, France. near Dijon.

A photographer, musician (guitar), film-maker and writer as well as professor and folklorist, Dr. Ferris, now 29, is the author of "Blues From the Delta" published this spring by Studio Vista, a London publisher. He also is the author of "Mississippi Black Folklore" being published this month by the University and College Press of Mississippi at Hattiesburg.

His summer plans include work on a study of the folk tale tradition in Mississippi which he expects the University of Pennsylvania Press to publish, probably in 1972.

He has been collecting folk-lore of both blacks and whites in Mississippi, with the accounts on tape covering traditions over the last 50 years.

Out of about 200 interviews he expects to select the 20 best ones, with one chapter devoted to each.

He will give a brief introduction and turn 'em loose. Using what he calls the "vacuum cleaner" approach, Dr. Ferris asks his subjects if they have any tales to tell and in-quires about what things were like when they were growing up.

He lets them talk freely, going in whatever direction they desire. He has had no trouble at all getting Mississippians to talk about themselves.

ORAL HISTORIANS

Asked how he selected his story tellers, Dr. Ferris said he has been traveling Mississippi highways since 1964 .and has been able to talk "to people who knew people," one contact leading to another.

He had met many of them in his work on blues singers, on which he has produced three records.

Dr. Ferris wants to do an entire series on records or per-haps albums of singers and tale tellers, partly to compare styles.

His most ambitious film so far is a 16 millimeter blues film which has been shown at the National Institute of Mental Health meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1969, the American Folklore Society in Los Angeles in 1970 and at the Mississippi Folklore Society meeting at Ole Miss in 1971.

Entitled "Delta Blues Singer: James 'Sonny Ford' Thomas," the film portrait is devoted to the music and life style of Thomas.

FULL EXPRESSION

Dr. Ferris said he chose the blues singer because he rep-resents "the full expression of the richness of Black Delta culture."

Thomas' music, he said, is "gut-bucket blues" which is characterized by an "unsophisticated directness with which it deals with sex and suffering."

Proceeds of the rentals and sales of the movie, he said, go to the family of Thomas, which also includes the singer's wife and 10 children.

Thomas will be seen in the premiere later this year of the Folkroots series on WMAA (Channel 29).

His other films include a number of Super 8 films, one on blues history, one on religious services of black people (mostly of Primitive, Sanctified sects in which tambourines, guitars and dancing in the aisles is com-mon), one on baptizing’s, one on prison work chants, and one on a white basket weaver near Du-rant who makes baskets of white oak strips.

CANE FIFES

He and his wife are working on a 16 millimeter documentary on a small fife and drum band near Como. The fifes are made from canes.

The sound produced by the group is in Ferris' opinion the "most African" in this country and that he thinks it is of special interest to anthropologists.

The study or library of the Ferris home at 2241 Guynes is stuffed with the harvest from his expeditions into the interior of Mississippi, a collection that includes, among many other things, a Mississippi Arts Festival award whining photograph of a white couple. Most Mississippians take their backgrounds for granted, but Bill Ferris does not.

He sees a fascinating world at his back door, and he wants to get it down on film, tape and print before it dissolves into something indistinguishable from the rest of a homogenized populace.

Friday, September 8, 2017

T.J. Wheeler: Blues in the Schools and the Graveyard

T.J. Wheeler's 1990 Blues in the Schools (BITS)

and the Graveyard Tour: Part I
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.] To read more about the headstone of Sonny Boy Williamson II


Since seeing the posts on the early 1990s efforts to maintain Sonny Boy Williamson's (Rice Miller) grave by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund 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. 

Wheeler: Blues in the Schools and the Graveyard - Part 2

Rockin' Jake ____, TJ Wheeler, and the late Tommy Ridgely perform
[in the 1990s] at Club Martgueritaville  in New Orleans, Louisiana.
T.J. Wheeler's 1990 Blues in the Schools (BITS)
and the Graveyard Tour: Part II
Part of the MZMF's True Detective of the People Series
Did you get to read Part 1?

Written by T.J. Wheeler
Edited by T. DeWayne Moore

Thanks to a “seed” project grant from the Ben & Jerry’s foundation, my first national “Hope, Heroes’ & the Blues” (in the schools) tour allowed me to bring the program to a cross section of co-sponsoring blues societies, foundations and clubs across America. Destinations included (1) Portsmouth, New Hampshire, (2&3) Boston & Worcester, Massachusetts, (4&5) Springfield & Chicago, Illinois, (6) Davenport, Iowa, (7) Memphis, Tennessee, (8&9) Clarksdale & Tutwiler, Mississippi, (10) Helena, Arkansas, (11) Atlanta, Georgia & (12) Seattle, Washington.

The mission of BITS, in essence, was to break down the encrusted and malicious negative stereotypes about the blues in the public's memory--black & white and all shades in between. One of my personal missions was the eradication of all notions that "the blues was the Devil’s music” and that "its originators had accommodated Jim Crow, standing passively by as the New South industrialists pushed their products onto consumers using horrid caricatures" of African Americans. An anti-drug abuse theme was also part of the program, which partially came out of the CIA's intentional dispersal of cocaine in black communities. It also addressed the advent of crack cocaine and the damage it was doing in those neighborhoods.

The BITS program itself never depicted country blues artists as saints. I did (and still do) maintain that the actions and music of blues artists was heroic in many ways.

As opposed to only being “crying in their beer” music, the Blues could just as rightly be called music of transformation, music of the survivor, and indeed a music of hope--"the sun is gonna shine in my back door someday." The majority of students (and often their teachers & other adults), however, seemed unable to see what I could see in this music. I identified this disconnect early on. The Blues was and is, and always will be, music that developed not inside the African nor the American consciousness. It is intrinsically tied to the experiences of the formerly enslaved and their descendants--African Americans. That simple fact seemed to get so lost in America. I wanted to get it on home.

HH&B informed them that the Blues was the bedrock of so much American, and arguably a good percentage of world music. It's one of the exquisitely American influences in the world of music, and one certainly to be proud of. Instead of starting with the origins of the Blues (such as work songs, field hollers, spirituals, underground railroad, and old string band music,) I started with contemporary popular music, or “back chained” the limbs & branches of the music back to the roots. By starting off with music familiar to the students, it helped me gain the trust of my young audiences. I reaffirmed that their musical tastes were valid, and made my respect for this product of acculturation most visible, which seemed to get them on board mentally for the journey back to the roots of where “their music” came from.

Wheeler at a club gig during the 1990 BITS tour
Randy Labbe was friend and a booking agent from the pine state of Maine. He was a liaison with most of the Blues societies/foundations; he helped set up some gigs along the way to help subsidize the tour, (plus I love playing for adults as well as kids.) Booking the club gigs was also supposed to help in getting the school gigs lined up. If the club owners/managers used their local contacts and booked a school for me, we would list them as a supporting co-sponsor for the tour. Buddy Guy’s Legend’s Club in Chicago and Blind Willie’s in Atlanta both signed on to this arrangement, (to the best of my knowledge.) 

Unfortunately when I arrived in both locations, the schools had not been arranged. In Chicago the bar manager told me “Oh yeah…that’s right. We were supposed to do that weren’t we? Well, don’t worry, you’re going to get paid the same. So relax…less work for you!”

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Kenny Brown: Master Musician

Kenny Brown: Master Musician

By Sue Watson for the (Holly Springs, MS) South Reporter - Aug 11, 2004

Somewhere in the red clay hills near the Tippah River at Potts Camp lives a man who plays the blues.

Kenny Brown, formerly of Nesbit, and living in Memphis until year 2000, moved to his 30-acre estate to get back to the peace and quiet of the country - the roots of the Mississippi blues whether it be in the hills or the delta.

Brown is a fourth or fifth generation blues guitarist who has been influenced and taught by some of Mississippi’s second generation bluesmen living in the red clay hills area of Mississippi stretching from the state line in the north down through the center of the state to Jackson or more.

Now 52, Brown was just a boy when his interest in guitar sparked when he began taking lessons and trying to read music.

Fortuitously, by age 12 he was situated right across the road in Nesbit, from an aging blues great, Joe Callicutt.

“When I was growing up in Nesbit, when I was about seven, the place we lived was across the road from a place where they had picnics, and they usually had fife and drum bands and guitar players there,” Brown said. “I met Joe when I was about 12. I was already playing some and knew most of the basic chords. My brother told me about Joe and went and asked if he could show me some stuff. That’s how we got started. It got to where I was at Joe’s place every day. If my parents couldn’t find me, they would go to Joe’s place first.”

Brown was soon introduced to Fred McDowell, another second generation blues musician by another blues enthusiast, Bobby Ray Watson of Pleasant Hill, Miss., at one of the Memphis Blues Festivals around 1969.

“Right after Joe died, Bobby Ray introduced me to Johnny Woods, a famed harmonica player and vocalist from Marshall County.

Aspiring young musicians have a way of meeting and being influenced or taught by those around them.

Brown met R.L. Burnside, a bluesman. He worked and travelled on and off for the next 30 years in Hernando with Junior Kimbrough.

“I met Burnside when he was opening for a rock band at a little concert in Hernando that a friend of mine was putting on,” he said. “Johnny Woods first took me down to Junior Kimbrough’s house when he lived out on Marianna Road just outside Holly Springs.

It is the way musicians pass on what they have learned either directly or through records and tapes to the next generation that provides continuity to music, guaranteeing it will live on, though it may and does evolve from generation to generation. Or, as in the case of rock and roll, one genre can be the springboard for another.

As with any serious artist, sooner or later they mature, write some of their own music, and cut some records. And they begin to influence the next generation - assuring what is learned and appreciated is passed on.

That’s where Brown is today, out on his own, spreading his wings, and teaching aspirants.

He will be giving formal instruction to his godson, Jocco Rushing, a 17-year-old, with the assistance of a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Brown has taught several other apprentices - a student from Oxford and from Hickory Flat - with assistance from the Delta Blues Educational Foundation.

Brown can’t put his finger on just what it is that sparks interest and fans the flames until a youngster gets enough of a start to continue development.

“I’m not sure what it was,” he said. “I was always interested in music, especially guitars. There’s a place I play in Taylor, The Taylor Grocery Catfish place, where families come in. And I’ve noticed lately that the ones who pay the closest attention are the real young kids. I love playing there mainly for that reason. I’m sure a lot of times it’s the first time these kids get to see someone performing up close.”

Brown explained how he was drawn to Potts Camp.

“I have some friends who live down here and had been coming down riding horses. I liked it here a lot and I was living in Memphis for a while. I was ready to get back to the country.”

Jocco moved in with Brown for a couple of years. Like when Brown was young, music could be heard coming from somewhere in the red clay hills.

Jocco has moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to be with family and there is not as much music being made on the porch near the Tippah River on Brown’s 30 acres now. He continues to enjoy riding horses and keeping chickens and some dogs. He will work with Jocco again, formally.

“He is teaching me, too,” Brown said.

He and the Burnsides are all now out on their own, he said.


“I am doing my own thing since R.L. retired,” Brown said. “He (R.L.) is going to be 78 in November.”

Brown said he still visits Burnside at his Wall Hill Road home off Highway 309, when he can.

He is now rated as a Master Artist, by the Mississippi Blues Commission.

He will continue on his own or with other artists as a part of the evolving blues of the red clay hills of Mississippi and the Delta Blues.

“We still carry it on - the Burnside and Kimbrough kids,” he said.

Coming up for Brown is a chance to write or play for some movies. He has been talking with producer Robert Muggie about a “Native Sons” series being filmed at Ground Zero, the food and music hall in Clarksdale, Miss., owned by actor Morgan Freeman and Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett.

As with all blues vocalists and musicians, the attraction to the blues is because it comes from the heart, Brown said.

For more about Kenny Brown visit www.kennybrown.net. or www.fatpossum.com.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Frank Little’s Blues: Hey Y’all Here I Am

Frank Little’s Blues: Hey Y’all Here I Am
By Connie White – Clarksdale Press Register – Nov 4, 1979


It was a grey morning with drizzly rain and dark cloudy skies and Frank Little was walking, walking down U.S. 61, going from the Delta Blues Museum to Wade Walton's barber shop on Fourth Street.

Little had flown in for a visit with friends and his 67-year-old mother who still lives on McKinley Street.

In the barbershop, Little talked with his friend Wade Walton. The memories were punctuated with chords from blues songs, songs the two had played together when Little had first moved to Clarksdale.

"I used to play for quarters on the corner," Little said, strumming Walton's electric guitar. "In fact I made some quarters on the corner right there when I first came."

Little pointed out to the corner of Fourth and Issaquena Streets.

"People used to say 'play that guitar for me boy and I'll give you a quarter,"' Little said accenting his words with strummed guitar chords. "Well a quarter was a lot of money back then."

"You know a young black kid wan-ting to go to school and buy a hot dog or something," Little said. "Somebody say 'play me a tune' and, man, I'd light into it.''


"I lived down by the Ellis flats on Sunflower Street back near the jailhouse," Little said. "That was back when if they threw you in jail you knew you were in jail."

"When I moved here I got attached to Ike Turner, to Wade Walton, you know, and that started really my interest in the blues," Little said.

Little still holding the guitar picks the first chords of a song. "You remember that one Wade," he said.

Little went into military service in 1960 and got out in 1967. He made his home In New Jersey and only comes to Clarksdale once a year now.

Little played In special service bands during his years in the service and began playing with the big blues bands in 1967.

"I play with the Duke Anderson Orchestra," Little said. "We play something like the high society quarters so to speak, play for the governor and the mayor."

"I had the privilege of working behind Aretha Franklin's sister Norma, and Judy Clay who did Storybook Children," Little said leaning back in his chair and picking out a few more chords.

"I played with Gloria Gaynor when she first started out in Newark, New Jersey," Little said. "You can't touch Gloria Gaynor now. I bet she's even forgot that I was once her guitar player back in 1968."

Little is giving himself two years to pull in that same kind of success. He even has his own record label now; the label's name is Shucks.

"Do you ever say that — Aw Shucks — when you make a mistake?" Little said starting to laugh. "I do."

Little is pleased with his label rights, and the protection it will give royalties from his records. But he admits he made a mistake with the producer of his last single. "I made a mistake by picking the wrong producer for the last two songs that I cut," he said. "He didn't have the capital to push the record like it should have been." "I'm looking for another producer to push the 25 tunes that I have ready for an album," Little said. "Because of the way the economic situation is now it's hard to get the investor, the producer, to throw the money out behind you," Little said. "Because many records are going to the warehouse and stacking up."

Little will be speaking on the subject of commercial blues, giving pointers to young artists or any blues enthusiasts Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Delta Blues Museum in the Myrtle Hall Library on U.S. 61.

Besides talking about the different problems facing blues artists, Little will play some songs and possibly be accompanied by Walton. "People are not buying blues records like they were at one time," Little said. "You're taking a chance when you produce a blues record or a blues album — you're taking a chance."

Little is looking for a producer to "take a chance on him." But he says if he doesn't make it in two years he will go into the song writing end of the business.

Sitting in the barber shop though, looking out on the corner where he used to earn quarters playing tunes, the dreams of big success come back. "If I run into the right producer," Little said laughing. "They'll put me on T.V. and I'll get my teeth fixed good."


"I'll be saying 'hey y’all here I am,"' Little said. "Shucks." 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"The Blues Traditions in Clarksdale and Coahoma County"

The Clarksdale Press Register -- May 31, 1979 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Carnegie Public Library of Clarksdale and the Mississippi Committee for the Humanities recently presented a program on the history and background of Delta blues. One of the main features of the pro-gram was a scholarly address by Dr. David Evans, director of regional studies in ethnomusicology at Memphis State University and author of several books and articles on Delta blues. The speech was recorded by Michael O'Keefe, director of instructional television in the Clarksdale City Schools, and was transcribed by Mrs. Joan Stevens of the Clarksdale Press Register staff. The speech is reproduced here, some minor editing having been done to adapt the spoken remarks to the printed media.

"The Blues Traditions in Clarksdale and Coahoma County" 
Transcript on an address delivered by David Evans on May 17, 1979 
at the Carnegie Public Library's Myrtle Hall Branch

It isn't really an easy topic to speak about because in a place like the Delta you have had so much movement over the years; it is nothing to travel from one county to the next or one town to the next—up the line, first on the railroad, then later on the paved roads, Highway 61, etc. So probably every blues singer of any renown in the Delta has at one time or another played in Clarksdale or Coahoma County. Of course there have been many blues singers with national reputations who have played here in Clarksdale. It is a pretty large town and has been a center for the surrounding area.

Bessie Smith was the greatest of all the blues singers. She unfortunately died outside of Clarksdale on Highway 61 in an automobile accident. But the music that she sang didn't really have much to do with any indigenous tradition in Clarksdale. She was from Chattanooga, Tennessee; she went up to New York. There were many singers like Bessie Smith who had a national reputation who would pass through Clarksdale and other parts of the Delta over the years.

What I am going to try to talk about this evening is the blues singers who were raised here in Clarksdale—who learned their music, made their music here in Clarksdale and Coahoma County. Some of them later did go on and obtain national and in some cases international stature in the field of blues and popular music. 

Blues itself is a relatively recent form of music in American history. Our earliest evidence for anything that is recognizable as the blues, that is the blues as music, comes only from the 1890's. Much of this documentary evidence is centered very close to this part of the South. 

For example in 1903, W.C. Handy—famous blues composer—recalled en-countering blues for the first time. Handy was the leader of a band right here in Clarksdale, and his band would travel through the Delta. He recalled encountering a guitar picker in the railroad station at Tutwiler, just a little way down the line, singing the line called "I'm going where the Southern cross the Dog," about two railroad lines crossing at Moorhead Mississippi. 

A little bit later his orchestra was playing Cleveland and during an intermission a local string band came on. This is still in 1903. Rather than playing the kind of music that Handy's band was playing, which was the nationally popular music of the day, this local group played the blues and other kinds of folk songs and the crowd just went wild and started throwing money up to these local musicians. Handy and his men just stood there with their mouths open, wondering how this kind of music that had never been written down could get this kind of response. Handy wrote in his book that this incident was the beginning of his rebirth as an American composer. 

From that point on, still being based right here in Clarksdale, Handy began notating and arranging the blues and other folk songs that he heard around him. Of course. a few years later he moved up to Memphis and by 1912 he began publishing his songs—"The Memphis Blues," "The St. Louis Blues" and many other fine compositions. All of the arrangements were based on folk tunes that he had heard—many of them right here in Coahoma County. 

Also in 1903 another very important event happened; this is more of a scholarly nature because it was one of our first contemporary accounts of the blues. Charles Peabody, an archaeologist from Andover, Massachusetts, was excavating an Indian mound out on Stovall's Plantation, and he happened to notice that his workers who were black were singing songs while they worked and also when they were coming and going from the camp where they were staying to the Indian mound where they were digging. 

Peabody had a little bit of training in music and had an interest in those songs, being an anthropologist himself, and he wrote down some of the lyrics and in a few cases even the tunes. Unfortunately, he did not say much about the instrumental music other than to note that the men did play guitars and harmonicas in the camp and on their way to work. Some of these songs look very much like the earliest kind of blues that we know about, so Peabody published his articles in the 1903 edition of The Journal of American Folklore, and it is a very important reference for blues in general, especially for blues in this area. 

It was not until the 1920s though that we get much further evidence for blues in Coahoma County. In the year 1920, the first commercial blues recording was made--Mamie Smith's record "That Thing Called Love," followed up by a record called "The Crazy Blues." Many other commercial records records followed those on various labels during the 1920s. 

By 1926, male blues singers began recording in large numbers. Until that time, it had been mostly women who performed mainly in northern cabarets and theaters. By 1926. men—many of whom were from the South—began recording. 

Quite a few Mississippi blues singers recorded in the late 1920s and the early 1930s, thanks largely to the field trips that some of the companies would make—Memphis was one of the main stops—and then there would be talent scouts in Mississippi, men like H.C. Speir, or Ralph Lembo, who ran a furniture store in Itta Bena, and they would scout out local blues singers and bring them to the attention of the record companies. 

For many of the Mississippi singers, we know exactly where they were based. Undoubtedly, many of them played in Clarksdale people like Freddie Spruell, and others like Charley Patton are known to have played here. Some of them are very obscure and little is known about them-others have been written up fairly extensively. But also in the year 1927 Gus Cannon. a banjo player who is still living in Memphis at the age of about 97. recorded a song called "The Jonestown Blues." Cannon earlier in the 1900s spent quite a bit of time living at Jonestown and making music there and elsewhere in the Delta. 

Then in November 1929 perhaps the first known resident of Coahoma County recorded some blues. This is a man named Henry Sims, who was a fiddler and he backed up Charley Patton, who was from Merigold and Cleveland and that area down around Bolivar and Sunflower counties. Patton was a very famous singer and guitar player and made over 5o recordings between 1929 and his death in 1934. In his 1929 session in November, he brought Henry Sims with him. 

Sims was from Farrell. Mississippi, a few miles from here, and Sims backed Patton on most of his songs and then Sims recorded four songs of his own singing and playing the fiddle with Charley Patton backing him up on guitar. One Sims recording is called "The Farrell Blues."

In the following year, 1930, a man from Lyon, Mississippi--Eddie House, better known as Son--recorded some songs. Charley Patton, who played the guitar in his last piece, had another session in 1930, and he had met Son House up in Lula and brought Son with him up to Grafton, Wisconsin to record for the Paramount Record Company. and House recorded nine sides that we know of. Only six of them have been recovered on records. The other three are known to have been issued, but nobody knows of any copies of them, including one called "The Clarksdale Moan."

The six House recordings that still exist were all two-part records and they are all very, very fine recordings. One is a piece called "My Black Mama." 

Son House could probably be considered the granddaddy of Clarksdale blues.

He is still living in Rochester, New York, at the age of about 79, and he is no longer playing actively. But he was rediscovered so to speak in the 1960s and had quite a good career for several years until he got kind of sick. He made an album for Columbia and several other pieces--I think another album on a European label. He has been interviewed extensively; I interviewed him myself in 1964 shortly after he was rediscovered.


Son House is important, and not only because he is a very fine blues singer and one of the first from this area to be recorded but also because he was a major influence on one of the other great singers from the Delta, a man named Robert Johnson, who lived up in Robinsonville. Johnson made 29 recordings in 1936 and 1937. He was killed in the following year; otherwise he undoubtedly would have gone on to even greater fame. But several of Johnson's recordings show the influence of Son House. 

Robert Johnson also sang about places in the local area such as Friars Point, which is the setting for one of his songs called "The Travelling Riverside Blues." Then in 1941 another singer from Clarksdale named Tony Hollins recorded eight songs in Chicago, for the Okeh label. One of these was quite a big hit at the time, a piece called "The Crawling King Snake." It not only has Troy Hollins singing and playing guitar, but also a washboard player with him and someone playing a one-string bass. Tony Hollins made several recordings in the late 1940s and then seems to have dropped out of sight as far as recordings are concerned. There are rumors that he is still living in Chicago--perhaps he still has some relatives here in Clarksdale, or maybe he has moved back to this area. If he is still living, he would certainly be worth trying to locate.

In the early 1940s, John Lomax and son, Alan---working for the Library of Congress---came to the Clarksdale area to record some folk music. They had a colleague called Louis Jones and the three of them together spent quite a bit of time in this county and recorded some very fine music. [John Work from the Nashville HBCU Fisk University was also shown to have been involved in this field trip.]

They relocated Son House who had actually moved a little bit north up to Lake Cormorant and then in 1942, in Robinsonville, recorded about 20 pieces from Son House and some also from his partners Willie Brown and Fiddling Joe Martin up there. Brown and Martin were from other parts of the Delta and not from Coahoma County. They also made some recordings of a new teenage blues singer out on Stovall's Plantation, a man named McKinley Morganfield, who shortly thereafter moved to Chicago and came known as Muddy Waters. Well actually he was known as Muddy Waters even here but the Library of Congress recordings are registered as McKinley Morganfield. 

They recorded fourteen pieces by Muddy Waters, some of them with a string band of the Son Sims Four. Son Sims was none other than Henry Sims, who had recorded with Charley Patton in 1929. The Son Sims Four included Muddy Waters on guitar and singing. Percy Thomas on guitar, Son Sims (or Henry Sims on fiddle and Louis Ford on mandolin and also doing some singing.)

They then recorded another man, Charley Berry. who sang some unaccompanied songs and then also played guitar with Muddy Waters.  In fact, I would be very interested in knowing if Charley Berry is still around. He was apparently quite a young man at the time and may still be in the area. He was a very fine singer. 

Another man who recorded in this project in Clarksdale was David Edwards, also quite a young singer at the time. He recorded 15 pieces as well as some talks and toasts and quite a bit of interview material. And then a fine pianist, as recorded in Clarksdale and Friars Point, a man named Thomas Jones, better known as Jay Bird Jones.

Bird Jones had earlier recorded in Memphis in, I believe, the late 1920s. One of the pieces he recorded on the project in the 1940s was called "Keghouse Blues." He also accompanied a woman in singing one song. 

Some of the material has begun to be issued. almost all of the Muddy Waters material is out on an album on the Testament label. Some of the David Edwards material just recently came out on an album on the British Fly Right label. 

Muddy Waters recorded "The Country Blues" in 1942. It is a version of the same song that Son House recorded as "My Black Mama." Muddy Waters is still active in Chicago and has made many albums and I understand he tours this area occasionally. I know he was in Memphis on Labor Day weekend and probably gets down here at least once a year, one of the great figures in contemporary blues. The Son Sims Four recorded in the same session with Muddy Waters. This was right out at Stovall. One piece is called "Joe Turner Blues." This is one of the oldest traditional blues that is known. Many' blues singers consider "Joe Turner Blues" to be the first blues, the daddy' of them all.

Joe Turner was the brother of the governor of Tennessee in the 1890s and his name is actually Joe Turney. He was in charge of taking prisoners from the courthouse where they had been sentenced to the state penitentiary in Nashville. Of course the song about him drifted over to the other parts of the South, including Mississippi, and undoubtedly many of the singers did not have any idea who the real Joe Turner was. Some of the details still remained in the songs, such as the line "he come with 40 lengths of chain. . .They tell me Joe Turner is in this town." He is obviously somebody to beware of. 

David Edwards' music at this time begins to demonstrate a synthesis of some of the styles that were being issued on commercial records. Most of what you have heard up to this point represents pretty much a local tradition here in Clarksdale and the Delta without showing a great deal of influence from the blues tradition in general. 

David Edwards was a young man; he undoubtedly listened to records, perhaps traveled around quite a bit. I know he did after these recordings, and he absorbed quite a few influences into his music and synthesized it. David Edwards is still living up in the North--I think in New York or maybe Chicago. He recently per-formed at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Archive of Folk Song in Washington, D.C., just a few months ago. So it was a great honor for him and of course I think also for the Clarksdale blues tradition. 

Edwards recorded one piece called "Worried Life Blues." This song itself was derived from a commercial phonograph record that had been issued a few years earlier. Edwards is a very fine, in fact a spectacular guitar player. 

There was a kind of hiatus in recording during the Second World War and of course a lot of people moved around. Many musicians from this area, including Muddy Waters, moved North to take advantage of the opportunities in industry that the war created. Others were in the army and served overseas. But the recording industry picked up in the late 1940s and on into the 1950's with the proliferation of many small independent labels and many of the people operating these labels would record almost anything that happened to appeal to them. They did not know much about the history of the blues--they didn't care-they just recorded what they liked. As a result of this a lot of very interesting and very fine music was recorded. 

A lot of people got a chance to record who otherwise never would have. One of these was a young man from Clarksdale who was living in Detroit in the late 1940s and named John Lee Hooker. He had a style that was very different from anything that had ever been commercially recorded previously. If he had tried to record in say the early 1940s for one of the big companies like Columbia, RCA or Decca, he probably would have been turned down as just being too strange, too weird. But he did record for a number of independent companies in Detroit and then later in Chicago, and his songs proved to be very successful.

In fact. John Lee Hooker is still going at it after some 30 years in recording. He made numerous albums, probably recorded hundreds of songs, traveled overseas and had a very successful career for himself. I do not know if he gets back to Clarksdale very often to play, but he is a native of Clarksdale. One of his biggest hits is a piece called "Boogie Chillun." 

Also in the 1950's another young man from Clarksdale who had a band that was quite active in the Delta was named Ike Turner. He began recording for Sam Phillips in Memphis. the man who discovered Elvis Presley. and who recorded many other fine musicians. Ike Turner not only recorded for himself, but he backed up many other singers and acted as a talent scout for Sam Phillips. Later he got with Bahari Brothers in Los Angeles, who had the Modern record label and he recorded and worked for them. 

One of Ike Turner's best known recordings was done about 1950 or 1951, a piece called "Heart Broken and Worried" and issued on the Chess label from Chicago. 

Many of the ones who recorded from Clarksdale by the 1950s were living in other parts of the country--Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles. One man called Eugene Fox recorded in Los Angeles under the professional name of Sly Fox and recorded eight pieces in 1954, some of which were fairly good hits. 

Starting in 1960, researchers began coming to Clarksdale looking into the history of the blues, trying to see whether there were many musicians here who were carrying on in the tradition of people like Son House, Muddy Waters, Son Sims, David Edwards and some of the others we have discussed. One gentleman whom researchers began encountering was the man sitting right next to me, Wade Walton. Mr. Walton recorded an album for the Prestige Bluesville label and has cooperated with the other researchers in the last 19 to 20 years, leading them to other singers in the area, and I think from this point on, it might be best to let him fill in a little bit about the blues scene in Clarksdale in the last 20 years and perhaps what is happening in the blues field right now. 

WALTON : I once recorded with Ike Turner and Raymond Hill. Raymond Hill is still in Clarksdale, and Jackie Vincent he is still here. Raymond Hill played with Ike Turner and Eugene Fox once played with them back in the 50's. 

QUESTION : Are many of them still active in music?

WALTON: Well, I would say that Jackie still plays; Raymond, well he plays but is really not active. Sometimes they call him out and on special occasions they play. Back in the 50's and 60's, it was in 1961 that I recorded for Prestige Record Com-pany, I did two LP's with Prestige. 

QUESTION : Who are some of the actives blues singers here besides yourself?

WALTON: C.D. Ville, Frank, Jack is still playing-Jackie Vincent; Frank Frost-he lives up at Lula and he plays locally every Monday night right down on Fourth Street. Frank Frost has recorded an album for the Jewel label out of Shreveport, La. He also made some recordings for Sun in Memphis but I don't believe they ever came out. 

QUESTION: What about Sam Cook?

WALTON : Sam Cook? He was from around Lyon, Mississippi? Was he? I didn't know that. Of course he sang with the Soul Stirrers. They were down in Houston, Texas. I didn't know he was from here. I figured he was from Texas. 

QUESTION : Who wrote "Walk Right In" and wasn't he from here? 

EVANS: No, he was born in Red Banks, Mississippi. He was the man I mentioned who sang "The Jonestown Blues" recorded in 1927. He spent some time around herein 1910, 1915, sharecropping in this area. But he is living in Memphis now. I think he is 97. [He] plays a banjo and he led a jug band in the 1920's. 

CLOSING REMARKS (by Sid Graves, master of ceremonies) : 

I would like to say that the library has started a Delta Blues Museum, while we feel this an an important part of our history, we would like any individuals who have knowledge and in-formation about the blues, blues artists to let us know. We would like to arrange oral history and video tape interviews so that we can get this part of our record of our local history because it s not only important locally but all over the world and we would like everybody here to help us collect items that relate to the blues--photographs, records and memorabilia and interviews and people's names so that we can begin to interview these people and work with people like Dr. Evans and Dr. William Ferris, whose book "Blues in the Delta" was published last year. Dr. Ferris has agreed to be our museum consultant. Also we hope all will help us to make this something because it would really attract a lot of people from all over the country if not further if they knew it was available. Clarksdale and Memphis are really the blues capitals of the nation and internationally considered that way.