Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pensive Blues Still Ring in Yazoo County

Pensive Blues Still Ring in Yazoo County
By Johnny Langston - 1972

About five miles outside Bentonia, in the middle of a cotton field, is an old, white washed house that used to be Jack Owens' cafe. It was opened only on weekends, like tonight, and also, like tonight, was usually filled with the soft blues of Jack's guitar and the harmonica of his partner, Bud Spires.

The main room is now a kitchen, but the crowd of people, including those who have come to hear Jack play, bring back its old atmosphere. Along one wall is a wood stove which, as soon as it is fired up, warms the room, and Jack begins playing "Cherry Ball."

Bud Spires, Jack Owens, and Tommy Lee West warm up their spirits with "Catfish Blues."
A short, stocky man whose wide grin reveals four gold teeth, Jack Owens has been playing the guitar and singing blues "ever since I was a baby crawlin' around on the floor,"' His harmonica accompanist, Bud Spires, has been wailing with Jack so long that "if he can pick it, I can blow it."

Together they make the kind of music that the Southern black man is famous for—a soft but hard-driving blues that speaks from the bottom of his emotions.

Mostly, he sings about love. About losing his best woman and getting drunk on Saturday night, or chasing after the younger and prettier girls.

Jack plays an ancient National guitar which is made entirely t except for the neck) of steel covered with peeling silver paint. "About 40 years ago a group of us had a band," explained Jack, "but as time went on, we went our separate ways, some died, and some got married, and I was just left with the box."

Last summer a representative of Testament Records in Los Angeles, Calif., was traveling through the Delta and recorded some of Jack and Bud's blues on a record titled The Mississippi Blues of Jack Owens and Bud Spires.

Guzzling some "nerve comforter" (a half-pint of Jim Beam) Jack and Bud are just getting warmed up, but it's getting late and time to go. "When are ya'll gonna come back. Why not tomorrow. Well, before you leave, I want to play you a song off my album."

And a few minutes later, outside, on the quiet, moonlit Delta, "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl" can still be heard.