Friday, January 27, 2017

Jontavious Willis, Blue Metamorphosis, & "Columbus GA Blues"

"Life is the blues. Not necessarily all good. Not necessarily all bad. It's a feeling that can't be faked." - Jontavious Willis - His first recorded album, Blue Metamorphosis, is available now on his website. He's also got Jock Webb on there, which should have an effect similar to telling Jules from Pulp Fiction that Winston Wolf is coming. Do you feel better about grabbing a copy of his debut knowing about the appearance of Jock Webb? [grinning] "Shit, yeah! That's all you had to say!"
Track #6 - Columbus GA Blues - Upon reading the title, it comes to mind that the city along the Chattahoochee River was home to Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, one of the earliest and most influential blues singers of the 1920s, whose home is now a museum due to the determined campaign of so many people over the years, namely local preservationist and outspoken advocate in the black community, Florene Dawkins. Though the song does not refer to either of these self-assured, talented, and guileful personalities, Willis is singing about some woman in Columbus and smashing that guitar with his open hand, talking about no hard feelings for the city but deuces to the rest of y'all...
When I left Columbus, Georgia
Left my ole girl in her doorway cryin'
I would still be in her arms
If she didn't take up cheatin' and lyin' 
I shoulda,...shoulda noticed
When that talk was all around
That you were just like a virus
And catching all over town

If you still got a jones and need to get a little taste, check out this extended, laudatory video review by Brock Lightning. He examines the liner notes, plays a few clips and waxes nostalgic about his personal knowledge of the Georgia-native.


Dizzy Gillespie at Thomas Wiggins' Grave
outside Columbus, Georgia, May 1979.

Columbus also boasts one of the most significant, meaningful stories of honoring an African American musician during the black freedom struggle. Some local historians located the grave of Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins on the old Westmoreland Plantation just outside of Columbus, Georgia in the 1950s. The state erected an historical marker near the site in 1954. In late 1975, the 34th Medical Battalion at Fort Benning took up the task of marking his grave as a Bicentennial Project--a national celebration that failed to invoke patriotic sentiment in most black folks, who considered the American ideals of freedom and equal treatment under the law at best an absurd hypocrisy. Armed with a handful of donations, project officer Bill Walton approached Ed Stovall, of Columbus Marble Works, who told him, "Give me what you have and go out in the yard and pick out any tombstone that you like. I will engrave it and place it on Blind Tom's grave. I am happy to be able to help in a project like this."  He installed the marker, and it remains on his grave, despite a very convoluted and tangled web of affidavits and burial records, which suggests his remains never left Brooklyn, New York.  It, nevertheless, attracted Dizzy Gillespie in 1979.

The grave of Ma Rainey was marked already with a flat stone when local music lovers erected the upright marker, only one of the many memorializations of the blues singer since the 1970s.  The controversial decision to stabilize her dilapidated home is the subject of a forthcoming article in a series on early blues tourism efforts and the black freedom struggle... TDM