Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Name Says It All

If you don't know who Patrice Moncell is, you really must be hiding under a rock 
By Leslie R. Myers - Clarion-Ledger - Aug 1990

Patrice Moncell is turning heads, packing houses and earning accolades in Jackson night clubs.

If her golden voice or rainbow-dyed hair don't grab you, this rhythm & blues singer's name should send up a red flag.

Mississippi's own  Moncell prodigiously was named after Broadway and Metropolitan Opera superstar Patrice Munsel. Moncell too dreamed of becoming an op-era singer, but the freedom offered on an R&B stage won her over.

"I enjoy the energy in a club — feeding off the people there, their energy," Mon-cell, 27, said. "When I get onstage, I'm a free spirit.

"I like it. I love it.”

"I guess I've become addicted to it," the Meridian native said.

That works both ways.

"Patrice seduces the audience is what she does — with high energy, lots of ener-gy," said Rose Anderson, owner of Casa-nova's night club in Jackson. "She packs the house here, full houses. The crowd?  It's wild.

"She's the hottest thing in the South."

Anderson — the new co-host of Black Gold, a dance music show on Jackson's WLBT-Channel 3 -- added, 'Patrice can sing anything — blues, R&B, anything anybody else sings. I haven't seen anything like it."

For nearly nine years, Moncell has sung in such Jackson night clubs as Soop's, Sundancer, Subway Jazz Gallery, The Dock, The Place, Scrooge's and Simply Raw. She also has opened concerts for Gladys Knight and The Spinners.

For nearly four years, she has had her own band, The Company.

Nowadays, Moncell performs Wednesday nights at Casanova's and Thursday nights at Name of the Game. She occasionally appears at Jesse Robinson's Place and at Hal & Mal's, all in Jackson.

"She radiates," said Hal & Mal's co-owner Malcolm White. "Patrice comes onstage and the audience immediately attaches itself to her.

"She has great stage presence and versatility . . . marvelous range."

This summer, the local music industry took notice.

Moncell swept up two top awards —Female Vocalist of the Year and Local Entertainer of the Year — at the 1990 Jackson Music Awards.

"I was totally shocked. I had no speech planned," Moncell recalled. didn't think I would get anything. "I was stunned at both awards."

When in doubt, Moncell sings. For one impromptu acceptance speech, she leaned into the microphone and belted What's Goin' On to a cheering audience. Based on crowd reaction, Moncell was the runaway hit soloist of the night.

Born Patrice Moncell Gathright, she graduated from Meridian High School in 1980. She attended Meridian Junior College, where she was the first black female in The Variations. She earned a lead vocal spot in the contemporary pop group.

In 1982, Moncell moved on to Jackson State University to major in music with an emphasis in operatic vocals. She became ill in 1983 and had to quit school.

Patrice Moncell became her stage name in 1983 when, Gathright mistakenly was omitted on the credits of her first and only single record, Take Me to the Mountaintop, on the Soop's label. The song remains in her club act. She recorded an album, but it never was released.

Since college, Moncell has made a living as a songbird. "I've been very blessed," she said.

She has penned "15 or 20" songs, but has performed only two. She is saving the others for her future.

Patrice at the 1991 Jackson Blues Festival
Her biggest onstage ally is "spontaneity."

"I'm liable to do anything on-stage, except strip," she said of injecting comedy into her act. "I'll say anything. I try to make them laugh. "I step a little out of bounds, then 1 like to come back inside. I'm not into vulgarity," she noted. "I step out just enough to leave it tasteful."

Her hairdo is part of the live surprise. "My hair has been 100 different colors. It's a way of expressing my-self," she said. "That's one thing women come to see me for. And men like it; they think I'm a big freak.

"As a matter of fact, yesterday I got up, looked in the mirror and thought, I don't like it anymore. So I shaved the sides and back off, not the top. I color the top a lot."

Moncell mixes her own dyes for the desired special effects. "My hair has been blue, forest green, orange, flaming red, platinum, fuchsia and cinnamon," she said. Now it's sun-shine yellow and brown. But I want it pink, hot pink."

This all sets the stage for her life’s theme: music.

"My friends tell me to 'shut up' sometimes because, even when I'm not performing, I'm singing all the time," she said. "That's my hobby. That's my everything."

Since childhood, Moncell has idolized world opera legend Leontyne Price of Laurel.

"When 1 was little, my mom used to say, 'Patrice, why don't you be quiet sometimes?' But my great-grandmother would say, “Why don't you leave her alone and let that baby sing? That baby is going to be singing all her life.”

That prediction came true. But all of Moncell's dreams have not.

"I want to be a major recording artist," she said of pursuing an R&B career.

"I want to sing and I want everybody to share it with me…I know that sounds really silly, 'but that's the way I feel. "And I still want to sing with the Met."

Clarion Ledger, July 14, 2015.

The Soul of an old "Son"

"When I found out he was alive, or could be alive, I started looking into it. John Mooney gave me his phone number in Detroit, and I called the number. A woman answered. It was like finding out Superman is real and alive and not just a comic-book character." - Richard Gardner

A lengthy discussion between several of the people who
knew him and their musical searches for the legendary bluesman
By Jeff Spevak – Democrat & Chronicle - August 2015

Gardner and an old Son
Teenage preacher, itinerant laborer, five-time husband, alcoholic. Even two-time murderer. Son House's life took a bewildering series of turns, but the one that resonates to this day is bluesman.

A slide-blues player, frequently howling about the choice between God and the devil, creating an unholy cacophony with his National Steel guitar. Blues scholars consider him one of the founding voices of the blues, making his first recordings in 1930.

But in 1943, he simply disappeared.

To Rochester, where he abandoned music until a trio of young record collectors — Dick Waterman, Nick Perls and Phil Spiro — tracked him down in 1964, living in Corn Hill. An unlikely resumption of his career followed.

He recorded, with tours ranging from Europe to the Charlotte coffee shop, run by House of Guitars founders Armand and Bruce Schaurbroeck. House spent his final years in Detroit, where he died in 1988 at age 86. Maybe.

Journey to the Son: A Celebration of Son House starts Wednesday, with a reading that evening of the new play with music, Revival: The Resurrection of Son House, commissioned by Geva Theatre Center, and written by Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Keith Glover.

copyright Dick Waterman
c. Dick Waterman
Glover says he wrote Revival as a theatrical experience, not necessarily a biography; you'll have to hear the details on the two murders from Daniel Beaumont, who wrote the excellent Preachin' the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House. He'll be at the four-day festival, in a calendar filled with workshops, lectures and music, including performances by Grammy winners John Hammond and Chris Thomas King.

And it will resonate with voices, people talking about Son House and his times. It is easy to find people in Rochester to tell you about Son House.

Joe Beard, longtime Rochester bluesman, was born and raised in Mississippi. When he moved into a Corn Hill apartment in 1964, by coincidence, his neighbor turned out to be another Mississippi native. "I didn't know too much about Son House at all. He saw me carrying a guitar, we became good friends. We did lots of things together. He started telling me all these stories about his life. About him and Charley Patton, all those guys. I didn't think much about it."

Dick Waterman, a young blues enthusiast who would later become Son House's manager, that same year was told by bluesman Bukka White that he'd just seen the long-missing Son House the previous week in Memphis. "We were three Jewish guys in a yellow Volkswagen Bug at a time when George Wallace was running for president, so it was kind of a tense time. Bukka White lied to us — well, he was mistaken, any-way — Son House wasn't in Memphis. But we met an old man whose son had once been married to Son House's stepdaughter. He gave us the phone number of his ex-wife, who was living in Detroit. Son House did not have a phone, but she had the number of a friend in Roches-ter. We called him and asked if he knew Son House, the blues singer who had recorded for Paramount Records, and he said, 'Why, yes, I just saw him at 10 o'clock this morning.' I asked if he could get him to the phone the next morning. I talked to his wife, Evie, and said, 'Is he the blues singer who recorded for Paramount Records?' She said, 'Yes, he is.' I said, 'Don't go anywhere, we're on our way.' "

Joe Beard: "He never really made much out of himself, to be a famous person, he wouldn't do that. He never said, 'Well, I did this, I did that,' he never spoke like that. Never bragged on himself and how good he was.... He was a nice guy and all. As far as him being what he was, I didn't know until all this happened."

Dick Waterman: "He really hadn't played in a long time. He was physically healthy, and had been working for the New York state railway but was now retired, and he and Evie were living a quiet life. We gave him a guitar and he said he needed a little primer, so we went to the liquor store and Evie started clucking around, 'He's going to start drinking again.' We had a couple of slugs. His guitar playing was rusty, but he had his voice, it was right there."

Dick Waterman in 1971
Brian Williams plays upright bass with many Rochester bands. He was a college student when he first saw Son House. "It was '65 or '64, I was a student at the time, and when I came home from school on vacation, I would go into New York City and catch various folk groups. For me, Son was the most amazing performer I saw. When he sang, it was like he was possessed. No one sounded like him. Within five minutes of seeing him for the first time, I knew this was it. I would see him at clubs like the Gaslight, or maybe the Philadelphia Folk Festival and the Newport Folk Festival. I think he was on the same year as Dylan went electric."

Dick Waterman: "I had him in August of '64 at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and from there, I two-finger typed an incredible number of letters, trying to get him shows. I was seeing for the first time just what Son House was like. He was always low-key, the butt of his own jokes, but when he set the slide down on the neck of his guitar, it was an electric, riveting performance. He'd go on with one song for five minutes, eight minutes, 10 minutes. After he finished the song he'd slump back in his chair and say, 'Well, that's a piece of the blues for you.' "

Brian Williams: "In 1967, I moved to Rochester, and I had no idea Son House was around here until I met John Mooney and Joe Beard. John and I would go over to his house and try to get him out, much to his wife, Evie's, consternation. She knew he would ask for primer. He'd say, 'Have you got the primer?' And she knew he would come back liquored up. Sometimes we just did it on the front stoop of his house. Mooney would always bring the guitar, Son didn't have a guitar. If he did, he would have pawned it in order to get money for booze."

John Mooney is a Louisiana singer and guitarist who was raised in Honeoye Falls but dropped out of high school to play the blues. Last year, he released Son and Moon, a tribute album to Son House. "Joe Beard and Red Palmer and I had been playing together in '70, '71, and Joe said, 'You're doing a bunch of his stuff, do you want to meet him?' I said, 'Yeah, sure.' I took a little half-pint of brandy, figured we'd have a little nip. He handed me back the bottle without anything in it. That was the first thing I learned about Son House, don't hand him the bottle first. I started going to Son's house every other day. We couldn't play the blues in his house, that was the rule, Evie was real into the gospel church. So we sat on the front steps or went to the park."

Joe Beard: "I was in a band, Friends of the Blues. I was the bass player, and John Mooney started playing guitar with us. And that's when I introduced him to Son House. He used to go with me to my gigs. His wife didn't want him to come home drunk; she was very particular about who he went out with. I was one of the people she didn't mind he went out with. Yeah, sometimes he'd play. 'John the Revelator,' he would always do that."

Nick Langan is a Philadelphia cardiologist, originally from Syracuse, who has played keyboards, accordion and harmonica in Mooney's bands for years. "In the summer of '71 or '72, I went to Record Runner up on Marshall Street in Syracuse and there was a sign in the window, 'Son House in Thornden Park Today.' I had all my harmonicas in the car, and made a beeline over there. I asked his manager if I could sit in and pulled out my harmonica and played. He said, `OK, you can play the whole gig.' It took a long time to tune his guitar to the harmonicas. He was doing his thing, and I tried to not get in his way. He was pretty quiet, but he must have liked what I was doing because if they don't, they'll ... turn to you and say, 'Thank you very much,' and send you on your way. He was a voice of authority, powerful, testifying with every song, so it sounded like he was pouring out his soul. Big-voiced, powerful guitar and soul-felt songs."

Rockin' Red Palmer, a Rochester blues-harp player and singer. "I met him through John, I used to go up to Son's house. We had a band with Joe Beard, Friends of the Blues, and we brought him to the Fairport Village Inn a few times. Ninety percent of the time he was a solo artist; we'd have him open up for us. That show we started out with the Little Walter instrumental 'Juke,' and Son was sitting at a table with his wife, and as soon as we got to the second measure, he stood up and started boogeying. We had one show there, and the place was full of bikers, where Son had gotten a little inebriated and Mooney tried to help out and tune his guitar." Brian Williams: "But Son didn't really care if the guitar was tuned, he started retuning it. Making it, quote, `Better.' He just basically tuned it out of tune."

Rockin' Red: "There was a bar, the Wine Press, up by Norton Street, I was playing with John Mooney, and I think Brian Williams. I remember Son playing there, doing 'Grinning in Your Face,' a cappella, with hand claps and stomping. It was the perfect blues performance." John Mooney: "He'd get into a groove and he would sing verses I'd never heard before, throw in verses from all over. Mix and matching. He'd be on the same song for half an hour." Dick Waterman: "The drinking? That worried me 100 percent. He had a mean drinking problem, but he couldn't play without it. He had tremors in his hands if he didn't get a drink. I carried around some of those small bottles of liquor that you get on airplanes and filled them with some big bottles I kept in my car."

Joe Beard: "Son, he lived a lot, but it was not something that I would say was bad. In a way, he was sad. His big thing was the devil. That's why he became a preacher, he was afraid of going to hell."

Dick Waterman: "After 10 years of guitar playing, from 1964 to 1974, he started to go mentally; he was losing his recollection. He'd sing and the audience would clap, he would look at me, run his fingers over the strings on the neck of the guitar to see what key he was in, so he could remember what song he had just played. It was getting very awkward. I could see he had to stop playing."

Joe Beard: "A couple of months before he did leave, he was living in the Tower apartments by then. I never heard anything from him after he left."

Richard Gardner owns Brighton-based Upstate Resume and Writing Service and once had a blues radio show on the old WGMC. He blogs for the Democrat and Chronicle and recently published a book, Finding Son House: One Searcher's Story, describing how he and a friend, Mark Sampson, found Son House in 1981 after the ailing, 79-year-old bluesman moved to Detroit to be around family members. "I was a depressed divorce who took comfort in the suffering of others. I got into the blues to the extent I started a blues show. I knew nothing about the blues or Son House until my own problems, kind of like a baptism of fire. I wanted to see the man. I'd listened to his music, I was blown away by his attitude. When I found out he was alive, or could be alive, I started looking into it. John Mooney gave me his phone number in Detroit, and I called the number. A woman answered. It was like finding out Superman is real and alive and not just a comic-book character."

Dick Waterman: "I don't think I've ever told this story before. But Bill Graham, the famous promoter, had some shows at the Fillmore with Delaney & Bonnie. And Eric Clapton had had his years with Cream, and his years with Blind Faith, and he just wanted to come off the road for a couple of years and play behind Delaney & Bonnie, be a rhythm guitarist, because he liked them. And they told Graham how much they liked Son House. So Graham thought, what better opening act could he get for them than Son House? So he offered Son major money, $500 for 15 minutes, five or six nights. But Son had fallen drunken into a snowbank and frozen his fingers. So I had to turn it down. Bill called me and said, `He's got to do it.' And I told him, 'Bill, it's not the money, he's got frostbite, he can't play.' Ultimately, Son got back his ability to play, but he lost an incredible career opportunity."

Richard Gardner: "We knocked on the door and his wife came to the door. I'm sure she was thinking, 'Another middle-aged white guy wanting to talk to my husband.' It was a sterile environment; there were no clues or suggestions that he ever did anything in his prior life. Nothing other than sit in that La-Z-Boy rocker, other grandfatherly things. A handmade afghan, pictures of grandkids. We wanted to see old whiskey glasses or a battered Bible from his previous life. Mark and I were probably one of the few times fans spoke with him where there wasn't a lot of swearing and alcohol and music in the background. He was suffering from dementia, but otherwise seemed OK. He was not at the top of his game in terms of remembering, but he remembered instantly who John Mooney and Joe Beard were. He could not remember any country he had played in. Right away he fired off 'Africa,' because it started with an A."

John Mooney: "I went and saw him in Detroit a few times. They were missing a lot of their day-to-day friends; when you get older you lose that support group, things slow down. Dementia started coming in. It would take him a few minutes to recognize me. Eventually, I called Evie and she said, 'Don't come out of your way to come here. He doesn't even recognize people.'

Dick Waterman: "Most of the dates for his birth say he was born in 1902, which would make him rediscovered at 62. But I think he was born well back into the 1800s. I'd ask him, 'What were you doing during World War I?' and he'd say, 'I was grown up and married by then.' He at various times gave me hints he was born in the 1880s. Which would make him into 100 when he died."

Richard Gardner: "I felt like a disciple going to see Christ. My life changed, I got out of my bad stuff. I became, I don't want to say better, but I became a different person, more understanding of the world around me. I could see he was not just a performer, he was a very unique person out of which came this enormous music that spoke for so many other people besides himself."

Brian Williams: "What did I learn from Son House? That middle-of-the-road performances are middle of the road. That's why I enjoyed so much playing with John, he has a lot of that music-is-possessing-me characteristic of when he is playing. That idea of don't be afraid to push it to a new limit."

John Mooney: "A lot of my playing style was developed around the way he played. In a lot of ways, it's the Delta style of Son, mixed it with Louisiana, what I call second-line blues. He had certain ways of playing a National Steel guitar to get it to sound a certain way. Like in banjo playing, what they call frailing, where you hit the strings on the downstroke, using the backs of your fingernails. It's more of a brushing kind of rhythmic playing. I incorporated that, and just these little idiosyncrasies. In the juke joints where he learned to play, it's got to be rhythmic, people want to get up and dance."

Richard Gardner: "His wife told me over the phone to not bring a guitar, so we brought two, for props for photos. He picked one up and started tuning it to an open G, then he went away to a different place. He was no longer in the room with us. But he couldn't play."

Burl "Jaybird" Coleman and his Grave Troubles

Produced by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund

Coleman was a very popular musician around Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama. His recording career, by comparison, was perhaps a modest success. In 1950, the military veteran passed and his grave received a marker from the federal government. Some years back it became dislodged from the burial site and forgotten in an abandoned section of Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Bessemer, Alabama. We plan to remedy the situation this summer. Click the Donate tab above to contribute to our ongoing efforts...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Grave of Willie Foster

The Grave of Willie Foster
The Harmonica King of Holly Ridge
Bill Johnson, March 2003

For those who love the blues; many have felt the mystical touch of Willie Foster, who put a human face in this music that chronicled the history and the people of the Mississippi Delta.

In an uncanny artistic way, he touched thousands over a short span, yet became a legend in his own lifetime. But like so many great blues legends, Foster, who died on May 20, 2001, had a wealth of friends and' family, but was poor in finance.  His band, Willie Foster & the Blues Upsetters, served as ambassadors from the Mississippi Delta around the world. And like so many of the area's blues treasures, Foster was grossly underpaid, underappreciated,  and all but unsung.

In March 2003, Danny & Sharon Peeples hosted a fundraiser at the Walnut Street Blues Bar in Greenville to help pay for the memorial stone that now marks his grave in Holly Ridge. Sponsored by Billy Johnson and the Leland Blues Project, the event featured blues artists from across the Magnolia State.

Leland blues legend Eddie Cusic, who participated in the evening of down-home blues tradition, said in an interview Thursday that he felt it was definitely a worthwhile cause. "Foster was one of the best that's gone in recent years," Cusic said. "I am proud to help out in any way."  Other Delta blues artists featured on the bill include Little Bill Wallace, T-Model Ford, Jason Leland, Eden Brent, John Horton and the Special Occasion Band. Mississippi Slim, Jay Kurgis and many more.

Chestrene Foster, Foster's widow, stated, "It's real nice. Speaking of the stone. I would like to thank everyone in advance, and especially Mr. Tom Robertson of Holly Ridge for leading the way and stepping forward with kindness and finance.  He's really appreciated."  

[Tom Robertson, whose family has owned Heathman plantation for many years, donated the land on which Charley Patton and Willie Foster's graves sit in Holly Ridge. Bill Robertson also spoke at the Patton dedication in 1991, a memorial that his family remains fiercely proud of to this day. Foster grew up in Holly Ridge and came home to rest only a few feet from the grave of Patton.]

Beverly Reginelli, who operates the Holly Ridge Grocery, said she remembers when Foster and his band played for her brother, Butch Reginelli, at Chevy's in Indianola from 1987 through 1995.

"And in Holly Ridge, this is where Willie was born and raised out here," Reginelli said.
"Some of us can recall Willie, playing just outside in front of the store."

The memorial for Foster was unveiled in March 2003 at Holly Ridge Cemetery, and it was followed by a blues tribute at the Holly Ridge Grocery by a few more indebted blues musicians. 

Longswitch/Holly Ridge Cemetery in the 2010s
© Shein Die

Deep In the Blues

Story and photos by Bill Steber
For The Tennessean, July 18, 1993.

The year was 1903.

W. C. Handy, legendary musician, arranger and bandleader, slept on a bench at the depot in Tutwiler, Miss., waiting for a train that was nine hours late.

Late in the night, Handy awoke to see a ragged man beside him, his clothes in tatters, toes sticking out of his shoes. The man was deftly sliding a knife across the strings of a guitar as he sang about "going where the south-ern cross the dog."

Handy described it as "the weirdest music I had ever heard."

After asking about the lyric, Handy was told that the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad, known locally as "the Yellow Dog," crossed the Southern Railroad at right angles in Moorhead.

The man was simply singing music about where he was going [, or perhaps about a labor camp that convict leases called “Yellow Dog” that was still slowly constructing the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley rail line. (article forthcoming)]

But the event, the first documented account of what we now call "the blues," was momentous to Handy, who soon became possessed with the new music and was later credited with being its "father" after introducing it to the world.

The blues legacy is felt profoundly throughout American music, but if you want to go where it all began, you've got to head south of Memphis, deep into the Mississippi Delta, on Highway 61.

Exiting the Memphis loop onto 61, the familiar blanket of Tennessee greenery disappears. The vast, arid soil of the Mississippi Delta fans out all around.

You feel as if you've stepped back in time.

For an intense, four-day excursion from Nashville, leave early on a Thursday, arriving in Memphis before noon. You may want to tour the Memphis Music and Blues Museum (97 S. Second Street) to wet your blues whistle. Memphis is a treasure trove of blues history and really deserves a weekend of its own to fully appreciate it.

Head south on Highway 61, the fabled route of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. Here you'll begin to see a plethora of sites associated with blues performers who, from the turn of the century to the 1940s, laid the groundwork for rock 'n' roll.

The unmarked grave of Memphis Minnie, one of the first female blues guitarist/singers, is at the New Hope Cemetery in Walls. Clack's store in nearby Lake Cormorant was where first-generation bluesman Son House recorded his field sessions for the Library of Congress in 1941.

Fans of Robert Johnson, surely the greatest Delta guitarist, should stop in Robinsonville to view the Abbay and Leatherman plantation where he spent time as a youth, learning music by playing a guitar string nailed to a fencepost.

But the contributions of Johnson, whose death at 27 in 1938 cut short his legacy, live today in contemporary rock music. From the Rolling Stones' recording of Johnson's Love in Vain in the mid-60s to several cuts on Eric Clapton's latest album, the Grammy-winning Unplugged, his influence continues to grow.

Deeper into Tunica county past Lula, make a right onto Highway 49, and cross the Mississippi river into Helena, Ark. Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnny Shines, Robert Nighthawk, Roosevelt Sykes, and many other '30s-era bluesmen are closely associated with this town.

Stop by KFFA radio (1360 Radio Drive), originator of the now-famous King Biscuit radio show which launched Sonny Boy William-son, Robert Jr. Lockwood and Little Walter to fame. The local blues society is creating a museum at the boarding house where Sonny Boy lived — and died — at 4271/2 Elm St. Nighthawk's final resting place is in Magnolia cemetery.

Delta harmonica legend Frank Frost, featured in the movie Cross-roads, spends time in Helena, occasionally at Eddie's diner (corner of Missouri and Walnut).

After crossing back to Mississippi, continue south on Highway 61 into Clarksdale, birthplace of John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, Junior Parker and Sam Cooke. Spend Thursday night at the Riverside Hotel (615 Sunflower Ave.)

The Riverside was the site of the black hospital in Clarksdale until the 1940s. In 1937, Bessie Smith was in a car accident outside Clarksdale and, seriously injured, was admitted to the hospital. For $35 you can stay in the very room where she died.

Mrs. Z.L. Hill has run the hotel since she opened it in the early forties. It's now mostly filled with male borders (she takes no women — says it would "cause trouble"), but she keeps two rooms open for guests, including Bessie's. She'll spend a long afternoon with you telling about when she cooked for Sonny Boy Williamson when he re-turned home late from gigs, or when she decked out Ike Turner's band with new ties before they went to cut Rocket 88 in Memphis. For a reservation, call 601-6249163.

On Friday morning, drive down Sunflower Avenue to the Stack-house/Delta Record Mart (232 Sun-flower). Owner Jim O'Neal is the best source of information on the Delta and its musicians to be found. For $7.50 (or $4.00 with another purchase) it's worth your while to buy his Delta Blues Map kit containing complete info on all the Delta sites. Order for $7.50 from Stack-house/Delta Record Mart, 232 Sun-flower Ave., Clarksdale, Miss. 38614.

From there, drive over to the Carnegie Public Library and visit the Delta Blues Museum with its spare, but enticing, exhibits and helpful staff. Other Clarksdale sites include the homes of W.C. Handy and Ike Turner, Wade Walton's Barber shop and the various juke joints on Fourth Street. All of these and more are covered in the map kit.

Before leaving Clarksdale, go the eight miles out of town on Oakhurst Avenue to the famous Stovall plantation to see the ruins of Muddy Waters' cabin. Waters, the link that carried the blues from the Delta into the electric age, ran a small juke joint and developed his blues at Stovall before leaving for fame and fortune in Chicago. It's to be moved soon to the Delta Blues museum, so catch it quick.

Head south from Clarksdale on Highway 49, stopping briefly in Tutwiler to see the marker commemorating W.C. Handy's "discovery" of the blues. The depot is gone, but the tracks and foundation remain.

Below Tutwiler, two miles off Highway 49W, you'll find the grave of harmonica great Sonny Boy Williamson in a grove of overgrown honeysuckle behind an abandoned church. The tombstone, elaborate compared to most bluesmen (who usually don't get one), has a photo-graph inset and tributes such as rusting harmonicas strewn about. For directions, consult the Jazz and Blues Lovers Guide to the U.S.

Continue south on 49W past Parchman pentitentiary, once home to Sonny Boy Williamson, Son House, and Bukka White, who immortalized it in Parchman Farm. It's not, however, recommended as a vacation destination, so keep on driving to Highway 8 at Ruleville.

Turn right onto Highway 8 to-ward Cleveland and about halfway down on the right (behind Dockery gas station) is Dockery Farms, home of Charley Patton. Many con-tend that the blues was actually born on this farm in the late 19th century. Patton, the earliest "star" of the blues, learned the music here from an older man named Henry Sloan. Dozens of early bluesmen, including Howling Wolf, Tommy Johnson and Son House went to Dockery to learn from Patton.

Turn back south on Highway 61 at Cleveland and head to Greenville for the night, where you can find some of the best living blues in the Delta. Watch for posted bills as live performances are, unfortunately, sporadic and unpredictable. In and around Nelson street is where most of the action is found. Check in at Perry's Flowing Fountain (816 Nelson St.) for tips on entertainment, cold drinks, and good company.

Nelson Street and other similar Delta locales where juke joints are found may seem forbidding on the outside, and should be approached with common sense, but most are completely safe as long you're just looking for good music and good times. A word of caution: Never give anyone a ride for any reason, leave the harder vices alone, and if you're a woman, don't go by your-self. You'll find most people will go out of their way to be helpful.

A surprising number of musicians live in the Greenville area and with a little footwork, you can meet the local legends. If you want a private performance, expect to pay a little in return since many musicians make their meager livings only through their music. Watch for Willie Foster, Boogaloo Ames, Shubby Holmes, Mamie "Galore" Davis, John Horton and the Special Occasion band, Eugene Powell, T-Model Ford and James "Son" Thomas.

[Leaving Greenville East on Highway 82 to start your Saturday, pull off at Holly Ridge to see Longswitch Cemetery, which contains the graves of Delta blues' founder Charley Patton, harmonica player Willie Foster, local blues stalwart Asie Reed Payton, and storied undertaker Joseph “Cootchie” Howard. The grave was unmarked until 1991 when a headstone was erected by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund with the help from ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty.]

Indianola, the next town heading east, is the home of blues legend B.B. King. The town's favorite son has a street and park named after him, and you can find his hand and foot prints in the concrete at 2nd and Church. Also on Church is the Keyhole Inn, one of the jumpingest jukes in the Delta.

Next stop, Moorhead, where "the Southern cross the dog." Like its sister location in Tutwiler, a plaque marks the spot.

Spend the rest of your Saturday in and around Greenwood exploring the legend of Robert Johnson. To successfully feel your way through this greatest of blues mysteries, arm yourself with a rudimentary knowledge of the man (gleaned through any number of books), good notes from the film The Search for Robert Johnson by John Hammond (available for sale or rent from Tower Video), and a good cassette of songs by the master himself. Johnson, a hard man to pin down in life and in death, has at least three reputed burial sites.

After a good night's sleep in Greenwood, start your Sunday on a positive note by driving out of town north on Highway 7 to pay your respects to Mississippi John Hurt, a primary influence of bluegrass legend Doc Watson, at St. James Cemetery in Avalon. Hurt's grave is nestled in a peaceful woodland setting appropriate for Sunday morning contemplation. Consult the Delta Blues map kit for directions. [If you can find a copy still in existence]

Finally, pick up Interstate 55 at Grenada and quickly head north, getting off on Highway 4 at the Senatobia exit. Drive into Holly Springs and spend the afternoon at Jr. Kimbrough's juke joint located about 11 miles west of town on Highway 4. Jr. usually has live music on Sunday afternoons, often per formed by himself or the great R.L. Burnside. Both musicians are featured in the acclaimed documentary film Deep Blues, which is expected to be released soon on video. [It's out now, and click here for more on the graves of musicians in the hill county]

Although the blues is not the same driving force it was in the Delta prior to World War II, it's still a living, viable art form heard and felt in the sun-bleached cotton fields during the day and in the sweat-soaked juke joints at night. With a little patience and perseverance, the nuances of this often overlooked land and its music can be understood and appreciated.

The Mississippi Delta is often a harsh place with unbelievable poverty, still scarred by the dark legacy of slavery, but from this bitter history has emerged a music and a people with a mysterious beauty that is at once indefinable and irresistible. ■

Learning about the blues

For your reading and listening pleasure, here are some recommendations to help you get acquainted with the blues. Choice books include: • Deep Blues, Robert Palmer. • The Jazz and Blues Lovers Guide to the U.S., Christiane Bird. • Searching for Robert John-son, Peter Guralnick. • Bluesland: Portraits of 12 Major American Blues Masters, Pete Welding and Toby Byron. • The Land Where Blues Began, Alan Lomax. • Juke Joint, Birney Imes. • Blues Fell This Morning, Paul Oliver. • Blues Off the Record, Paul Oliver. • Big Road Blues, David Evans.

Musts-haves for your library of blues recordings include: • Deep Blues: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Atlantic. • Blues Masters, Vol. 8: Mississippi Delta Blues, Rhino. • Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings, Columbia. • The Slide Guitar: Bottles, Knives and Steel, Columbia. • Blues in the Mississippi Night, Rykodisc. • Son House: Father of the Delta Blues, Columbia. • Charley Patton: Founder of the Delta Blues, YaZoo. • Masters of the Delta Blues: Friends of Charley Patton, YaZ-oo. • Muddy Waters: The Com-plete Plantation Recordings, Chess. • Muddy Waters: Sings Big Bill Broonzy/Folk Singer, Chess. • The Roots of Robert John-son, YaZoo. • Big Joe Williams, Classic Delta Blues.

And, if you'd like to see and hear, there are videos: • Search for Robert Johnson, with John Hammond. • Crossroads. • Masters of the Country Blues: Son House/Bukka White. • The Glues, Various Artists: VidJazz 13. 

Mt. Zion Memorial Fund Preserves 'Holy Ground' Landmarks

Mt. Zion Memorial Fund
Preserves 'Holy Ground' Landmarks 
By Panny Mayfield - 1990 

In the first EVER newspaper article written about the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund (Panny Mayfield, Clarksdale Press Register, November 24, 1990), founder Skip Henderson makes it plainly known that the obelisk
near Morgan City was never intended to mark a grave.

"It's a great shame Mississippi has endured an unfair reputation," for events that happened 60 to 80 years ago. These are "faded snapshots people carry in their mind. There’s more violence in two days in New York City than in a whole year in Mississippi." 

These comments are from a telephone interview with vintage guitar dealer Raymond "Skip" Henderson of New Brunswick, N.J. Henderson, who is featured in the Nov. 12 issue of Newsweek Magazine in a Prominent article "There's Blues in the News" will be in Clarksdale this weekend. 

An avid blues enthusiast who first came to Clarksdale a number of years ago at the urging of ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons to visit the Delta Blues Museum, Henderson is personally responsible for a blues preservation campaign of his own. 

Its focus is the blues giant Robert Johnson immortalized as the modern-day Faust who sold his soul to the devil at the "Crossroads" to play the guitar. Although much of Johnson's life and death in 1938 is a mystery, his intense music is legendary. The recent remastering of his records by Columbia Records has been a surprise best-seller, sky-rocketing on the Billboard charts and drawing national media attention. 

Describing Johnson's music in the recent Newsweek article, Columbia producer Lawrence Cohn says "There is so much emotion there, I find it .disturbing." What New Jersey blues fan Skip Henderson finds disturb-ing through all the hoopla is the possible exploitation of blues sites in Mississippi. 

What New Jersey blues fan Skip Henderson finds disturbing through all the hoopla is the possible exploitation of blues sites in Mississippi.

In awe of 10 counties of Mississippi which Henderson says produced the roots of America's major musical culture, he labels the landmarks, "holy ground." 

In his business he's witnessed European and Japanese collectors zapping up American-made guitars. "They're a active and rabid group of collectors." 

"One night I sat straight up in bed," he said. 

What if some obsessed collectors found about the lien on Mt. Zion Church where Robert Johnson is supposed to be buried, bought it and put up a gift shop advertising 'See Robert Johnson 's grave." 

The threat of this potential desecration sent Henderson into action.' 

Through Clarksdale attorney Walker Sims, Henderson organized a non-profit corporation to raise donations to pay off the church's indebtedness. 

According to Sims, CBS Records has pledged $10,000 and a number of smaller donations have come in. 

Mt. Zion Church, pastored by the Rev. James Ratliff of Hollandale, has services once a month. Sims says it is located in a bean field in Leflore County between Morgan City and Itta Bena. 

Donations to the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund: Inc. will pay off the church's debt for repairs, plumbing work, and pews, Henderson says. Funds also will be used to clear the cemetery and put up a marker. 

"The marker an obelisk will not claim to be Johnson's grave site. It will be an historic marker placed near the highway," says Henderson. 

Although Henderson admits he may be viewed by many of the congregation as someone "who walked off a spaceship" he's looking forward to attending church services there. 

"I'm trying to return something to the people of the Delta. People will come to realize the area's vast richness." 

On his visits here Henderson says he has been struck by the state's poverty, but also by its "great beauty." "I'm taken by Mississippi." 

Donations to the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund Fund may be sent to P.O. Box 1114, Oxford, MS 38655. OR

Thursday, April 27, 2017

RIP Calep Emphrey

We are deeply saddened by the news that Mr. Calep Emphrey, Jr. passed away. Mr. Emphrey was one of the best drummers, and he played with Mr. King for over 30 years. He also played with Little Milton, Albert King and others prior to joining Mr. King’s band, and played in his own band in his hometown, Greenville, Mississippi.

We remember that B.B. King fondly referred Mr. Emphrey as a fellow Mississippian as well as a fantastic drummer on the stage.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to Mr. Emphrey’s family, band members, friends and fans.

Calep Emphrey was born in 1949 in Greenville. Mississippi, and he started out playing the French horn—megaphone, baritone horn, and a lot of brass instruments. He started playing with the high school swing band—the Coleman High School Band.  The high school band director Wynchester Davis had a band called the Green Tops, which went all around the state. He went on to play in a concert band in college at Mississippi Valley State, where he was a music major in the late 1960s.

Professionally, he started off with Little Milton about '69 in Greenville. Milton used to hang around there a lot. So he needed somebody to fill the drummer position and he called Calep, who admitted, "I couldn't make no money with the French horn. [laughs]."
"I did a thing in WattStax with him. I did a couple—three tunes on an album. We also did WattStax Two. I left Milton and went with Freddy King. He was paying more money. Yeah, and I left Freddy King and went to Albert King. Albert gave me a call and I was with Albert and then B.B. gave me a call. The bass player recommended me. His bass player at that time was Joe Turner. Big Joe Turner. they called him. I knew him from the Little Milton days. We used to play together there. The drummer [before me] was—his last name was Starks, but everybody called him "Jabo," his nickname. He used to play with James Brown. I've been with B.B. since '77. I jumped right into it. I studied it and listened to it. Yeah, I'm still nervous. [laughs] I'm a musician. I try to play all four corners. Compared with the Mil-tons and the Albert Kings, [the B.B. King Band] is more fulfilling because you get a chance to play a lot of places ordinary musicians don't get a chance to go—a widespread audience." 

The Delta Democrat Times, Jan 17, 1975
The Delta Democrat Times, Jan 14, 1977