Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Gary Davis
By Kenneth Goldstein for The Record Changer  14:8

In the course of editing several albums for the Riverside Folklore Series I was faced with the pleasant task of finding material for an American Street Songs album to supplement the English, Irish and Scots material which had previously been recorded for use in the series. American street songs, however, are part of a tradition totally different from that of the British Isles. In England, Ireland and Scotland, street songs were almost exclusively secular. In America, street songs were as frequently religious as they were of a worldly nature. The traditions were also quite distinct and separate in their functioning. Rarely will a singer of religious material cross the line to sing secular material, and primarily secular street singers will rarely know more than the one or two religious songs with which they soften up their audiences.

The problem defined itself clearly into the necessity of finding two to represent the secular tradition and a second to represent the religious tradition. Finding the secular street singer was no problem. Riverside had in its recorded archives some 10 or 12 numbers performed by a Carolina street singer, Pink Anderson. which had been recorded by Paul Clayton in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1950. Where would we find a religious street singer to match with him?

Here, too, the solution was quite simple. In 1954, I had the opportunity to attend a recording session of the Reverend Gary Davis, by Stinson Records. One thing stood out clearly at that session. Sonny Terry, the fabulous folk harmonicist, supported the Reverend's singing and playing on his "mouth-harp." The engineering job was a pretty bad one, and the wonderful sounds of the harmonica completely drowned out the equally wonderful guitar playing of the Reverend Davis. I thought at that time that someday Davis would have to be recorded by himself, with a very careful and proper balance set up between his voice and his exciting guitar playing. Here then was the solution to my search for a religious street singer.

With the help of John Gibbon and "Tiny" Singh (a niece of the late Huddie Ledbetter), I contacted the Reverend and a recording session was scheduled for the evening of January 29 of this year. Also present at the recording session were John Gibbon and the photographer Lawrence Shustak whose superb shots taken during that session are seen on this page as well as on the cover of this issue of the Record Changer. As soon as the recording started everyone in the room came to the immediate realization that this was going to be a great session. Gary was at his best, without a doubt. Of the nine songs recorded in a little over two hours, only two had to be re-recorded. I have often followed the principle that good artists, folk or otherwise, are their own best critics. They know what they want to say and therefore are the best ones to decide whether or not they ended up saying it the way they intended. As soon as we played back the first recording, Gary broke into a huge grin. There was no doubt about it. He was listening to himself the way he wanted it to sound.

The music Gary Davis performs is more than just religious material. It is jazz—plain and simple. Daniel G. Hoffman has termed his performance "Holy Blues"...and that it is. The guitar breaks between stanzas. the intricate runs, the blues stanzas, the slurred vocal and instrumental lines, the frequent exchanges between voice and guitar...all are integral parts of jazz. His performances are an exciting combination of the deep religious intensity of earlier Negro spirituals. the subjective identification of the blues, the drive and movement of jazz, and the directed objective of the sermon.

Davis was born in 1896 in Lawrence County, South Carolina, the son of a poor farmer. He took to instruments naturally and could play the mouth harp by the time he was five, could pick a few songs out on the banjo by six, and played the guitar with facility at the age of seven. He remembers playing for a short time in a string band in Greenville, South Carolina, when he was still a young man, and this seems to have been his only group experience as an instrumentalist.

He refuses to talk about how he became blind, or when, but it must have been in his blues singing days as a young man. In any case, the occurrence which caused his blindness probably contributed to his decision to give up his rowdy blues singing ways and to turn to religion. He was ordained a minister in Washington, North Carolina, in 1933, and has since refused to sing anything but religious music (according to his own story). Examples of his blues singing have been preserved, however, though they are available only through discriminating collectors of rare jazz recordings. In recording sessions held in New York City on July 23, 24, 25 and 26, in 1935, he recorded 14 sides for the now long-defunct Perfect label. Of these, he was somehow induced by the Per-fect company to record two sides of blues, together with 12 sides of religious material. (For a complete listing of these recordings, see the Gary Davis discography at the end of this article.)

For the past 16 years he has been living in New York City, during which time he has recorded material for two long-playing records and has appeared, not infrequently, on radio and in folk music concerts. He has more to offer, however, than the average street singer, and he can be seen not only on the streets of Harlem or catering to the religious needs of storefront congregations, but also at small folksong gatherings where his audiences are made up of aspiring young guitarists and singers who hope to pick up one or another of the many instrumental tricks which contribute to his unique style. If readers of this article who own some of the early Perfect recordings of Gary Davis will contact me I should like to arrange to obtain copies made for the purpose of analysis, and I will then, in some future issue, analyze the changes which have taken place in his performance and songs in the more than 20 years since he made his first recordings.


For a complete discography of Rev. Davis, there is a carefully sorted one by William Lee 'Bill' Ellis in his doctoral dissertation, "I Belong to the Band." He was able to match up all the borrowings and re-borrowings that the Rev's recordings went through, one compilation to another over the years.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

130 Year Old Blues Man Buried Near Charley Patton at Holly Ridge Cemetery


In December 1994, the residents of Holly Ridge buried Bill Jones, believed to have been the oldest Mississippian at 130 years old, in Holly Ridge Cemetery—the gravesite of Charley Patton.

Jones took with him memories of two floods, the notorious gangster Jesse James, and Indians living in tents near the Delta plantation on which he was born.

Although there was no official documentation, Jones is believed to have been born on Dec. 13, 1863 as the son of a slave at Swain Station, now Longswitch, west of Holly Ridge. Two years ago, Gov. Kirk Fordice honored him as the oldest person in Mississippi.

In an interview around that time, Jones offered this reason for having lived such a long life: "I ate a little, smoked a little, and drank a little, but I left wild women alone.''

Jones described himself as "always working.'' From an early age, he worked on farms and railroads, and he helped build up the Mississippi River levee.

"He worked the levee when it broke in 1908 up at Scott, and in 1927 when it broke in Greenville,'' said Frank McWilliams, an Indianola attorney whose family had been close to Jones for years.

As a young man Jones saw Jesse James kill a man at what is now called James Crossing, 15 miles south of Greenville on Mississippi 1.

Later he lived in Greenville and worked in Dunlieth, where he was a member of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. A farmer, he had his own horse team and played the blues on his banjo.

Jones became an "infamous'' member of the Dunleith-Longswitch community, McWilliams said. Even Columbus and Greenville Railway trains would stop at his house to visit.

"The engineers used to get off and visit with him, and bring him whiskey,'' McWilliams said. "He wasn't but 110 then.''

In 1985, friends persuaded the 121-year-old man to move to Heritage Manor.

Always independent, Jones insisted on doing things for himself.

He participated in ball games, fishing trips, and even visited the casinos in Greenville.

Jones had certain routines he loved -- a cigarette after breakfast, four ``toddies'' a day. He was proud of his collection of caps, which he hung on the branches of a tree in his room when he wasn't wearing them.

Jones was so active and involved, Grissom said, that ``we thought we had him forever.''

Blues Today: A Living Blues Symposium

Blues Today: A Living Blues Symposium

By James VanDrisse - 15 November 2006

On February 16 to 20, 2005 Living Blues magazine presented its annual program for public discussion of Blues music and a Blues tour of Mississippi historical Blues sites as well as live bands. The first day was an option well worth taking; starting at the new Alluvian Hotel in downtown Greenwood, Mississippi. The Alluvian is a luxury boutique hotel too new to be rated, but should be rated in future by AAA as a 5 Diamond, its original art by Delta artists and a lively lobby scene make the Alluvian the epicenter of contemporary Delta culture.

The Delta X'Cursion: 

The Gospel Of The Blues hosted by Amy Evans of Viking Range and guitarist Jay Kirgus whisked us away on the trail of Robert Johnson in a new, ultra clean Viking Range Corp. motorcoach bus. Other luminaries on the bus included Blues historian Charles Reagan Wilson director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. He is author of many books "Judgement and Grace in Dixie", "Southern Faiths From Faulkner to Elvis", "Baptized in Blood: The Religion of The Lost Cause" and co-editor, with William Ferris, of "The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture". Bill McPherson of the board of directors of the states' newly appointed Blues Commission, Prentiss Eastland from Indiana Blues Society on his 3rd year of bus tour, and Leslie Linn who announced the planning of a new B.B.King Museum being built in Indianola, Mississippi asking to contact her for details. 

The mic on the bus worked fine and musician Jay Kirgis played and sang. We traveled to Quito, Morgan City and Money Road just outside of Greenwood to visit the "supposed" final resting places of Robert Johnson, according to myths, and pray for the soul of Robert Johnson in Purgatory. At the most recently dicovered Money Road site we were welcomed inside the Little Zion M. B. Church by Sylvester Hoover, grocer from Baptist Town, and Rev. McArthur McKinley on Piano along with two women singing black Gospel songs. Great!

"The Gospel of the Blues" lecture by Charles Reagan Wilson explained the deep roots and rivalries surrounding the church and Blues music. He told of the conjecture of this being the possible Robert Johnson grave because of a written letter found in a shack near by, where Robert supposedly was moved to shortly before he died, and his asking Jesus for mercy. This letter is redone in stone on the grave marker. My personal opinion is that the most likely site is the oldest marked grave { different colored stone now, however } located at the Payne Baptist Church in Quito where Johnny Shines sang with tears in his eyes when visiting the site, remember Johnny ran with Robert at times. But nobody really knows where. 

Later that evening we enjoyed a soul food supper at Hoover's Grocery, and joined the community in an outdoor Blues concert by The Givens Brothers with Willie Gatewood on electric bass and vocals in the same neighborhood that Robert Johnson stayed during his time in Greenwood. The nights activity concluded with a bus round trip to B.B. King's hometown of Indianola, Mississippi where Leslie Linn can be contacted regarding the new B. B. King Museum project. Shaking a leg at Club Ebony in Indianola, Mississippi and more live Blues with David Durham and the Ladies Choice Band. 

Day two of the tour started in front of the Alluvian and was hosted by Dr. Luther Brown the founding director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning and he serves on the states' Blues Commission, he was helped by Dr. Henry Outlaw of Delta State University. We visited the site of the Emmitt Till "supposed" whistling at a white women in Money, Mississippi before his famous racist brutal murder later that night. We visited Jimmy Rogers birthplace Ruleville, Mississippi and the Fanny Lou Hamer gravesite there.

We stopped at Dockery Farms, the plantation were many Bluesmen once lived and stopped at "the crossroads" one of a few left that existed near there in Robert Johnson's day, according to Jim O'Neal, the most likely spot that Robert Johnson would have been, it is the Old Dockery Road and Ruleville Road crossroads. The Peavine Railroad of the Charley Patton song fame ran nearby parallel to Old Dockery Road a few miles before the crossroads. 

We then stopped at "Po Monkeys" in Merigold, Mississippi an operating rural juke joint. Then at Mound Bayou,Mississippi the old [black only] experimental town that worked out, and the free hospital [ no longer operating] ,however, St. Gabriels Catholic Convent sisters are still helping the poor blacks in the town financially and spiritually. We cruised down Highway 61 and then past Parchman Farms prison, where Prentiss Eastland mentioned that Elvis Presley's father had done time as well as many a Bluesman.

A party was waiting at Drew, Mississippi for us [ birthplace of Howlin' Wolf ] as the mayor and other dignitaries rolled out the red carpet for the "Blues Fan" visitors with free food and refreshments by the People's Choice Diner at the Farmers Market, an invocation by Rev. Jesse Gresham, and a concert by Terry " Big T " Williams a guitarist from Clarksdale, Mississippi who has performed with Big Jack Johnson and the Jelly Roll Kings. 

Day 3, February 18, 2005 in Oxford, Mississippi for the Blues Symposium at the campus of Ole Miss.. Adam Gussow of Satan and Adam duo fame { the first white guy ever to be on the cover of Living Blues } appropiately introduced Robert Stone for a film screening and remarks about Sacred Steel to the crowd of about 200. Sacred Steel musicians, The Campbell Brothers were there to promote their concert that evening at the Second Baptist Church in Oxford. An even better film screening and remarks followed about "The Blues According to Lightnin' Hopkins" by Les Blank, which included footage of Mance Libscomb and Cleveland Chenier. Kudos to Les Blank! 

After lunch a panel discussion with audience questions on early Blues research with Robert Johnson commenced. This was weak on anything new, with panelist Elijah Wald promoting his new book along with authors of a Robert Johnson book Patricia Schroeder and Barry Lee Pearson the moderator. The panel was fortunate to have co-founder of Living Blues, Paul Garon, also, who did give some incite with the fact that only two of Robert Johnsons' songs mention the word "devil" in the title. Then later that afternoon another Sacred Steel discussion "From Hula to Hallulia" with the Campbell Brothers demonstation of how the steel guitar is played. 

Day 4 started with the keynote address by Samuel Charters who has written 12 books on Blues and insists he is not a scholar but a music journalist. He made his first Blues film in 1952 and he said he began looking for Robert Johnson stuff in 1953. He presented the high point of the whole week, " The Blues ", an old filming he made of J.D. Short, Pink Anderson, Furry Lewis, and Baby Tate. Also, while this films' sound is mostly overdubbed it is a non-commercial gem which includes Gus Cannon playing guitar with Memphis Willie B. and by "hisself" Sleepy John Estes. Kudos to Sam Charters! 

After lunch Jim O'Neal another co-founder of Living Blues interviewed Sonny Payne of KFFA radio Helena, Arkansas "King Biscuit Time". Interestingly, Sonny Payne gives most credit for his sucess to Mr. Max Moore who wrote the script for KFFA radio. This was followed by a panel discussion of Blues Radio Today with William Ferris, local DJ Chip Mitchell, Rip Daniels from WAZD the pilot of American Blues Network the ultra commercial Blues, and the very pius Tommy Couch, Jr. the current head of Malaco Records. Moderated by Steve Hoffman who tryed, but this ended being pointless, in my humble opinion there is no such thing as true Blues radio.

This was followed by the coolest panel of the event, Historical Blues Research with Samuel Charters, Dr. David Evans, David Whiteis, and moderated by Paul Garon. David Whiteis was not as sarcastic as usual although his mordant laugh underlined his advice that a researcher "become a part of the community you are researching". Dr. Evans said it was "a back breaking effort into virgin territory" he contined "nowdays it would take 20 years to be an expert in Blues". 

Sam Charters is embarrassed by his effort in writing the historically acclaimed book from 1959 "The Country Blues" as it was a dissertation that just copied the idea and echoes the 1939 book Jazzman by William Russell along with Smith and Ramsey. He believes black scholars are angry and cites the 1988 Nelson George book and Albert Murray as great black scholars. Continuing he concluded "by and large contemporary 60's Blues and "contemporary Blues today" sound the same, and the study of Blues took place at the same 1960's time.

The stylistic issue, the definition was set in the 60's" However, Sam Charters maintains that the black music of the downtrodden that was once Blues is now Rap/Hip-Hop. He says " Every Blues singer started in the church" and he maintains that "from about 1925 on Blues was not the main force in music for blacks". He said that Choctaw Indians in Mississippi were the first to influence the field hands that started singing Blues, along with the African drumming. In exasperation this man who knows more about Blues than most anyone concludes " I'm having books rejected because I'm white". 

Black radio DJ Sylvester Oliver addressed this from the audience commenting " many black scholars are into other issues". B. B. King recently donated his archives and Prof. Oliver predicts " B.B.'s collection at U-Miss. will sit on the shelf collecting dust". In answer to Sam Charters asking if anyone knew "what is a Blues aesthetic"? " What Moves You" responded Brenda Dixon from the audience. She is the author of the book by that title soon to be released with a New Orleans perspective. 

This great panel concluded with the insouciance of Paul Garon saying " Bonnie Raitt doesn't need me", David Whiteis " It is harder and harder to place serious Blues criticism", Samuel Charters " Ragtime scholarship has been better, music sales in the 1950's to black people was 5% of the market, today its 60%". As hard as that would seem to top that panel, Jim O'Neal did a wonderful interview with David"Honey Boy"Edwards next. 

Asking Honey Boy about his time with Robert Johnson and good naturedly asking him about his {Edwards} telling people he was Robert Johnson and the gambling and drinking back then. " One time on Johnson Street in Greenwood, Mississippi I was walking with Robert Johnson in front and in about 5 or 10 minutes so many people, at Bugg's Cafe, in 1937 all fall played with him" Honey Boy also talked about Little Frank Haines and a man just known then as Wolf, who was a better guitar player than Big Joe Williams his cousin. 

Then in the evening we attended the concert out in the country in a barrelhouse juke joint near Abbeville. Honey Boy was better than usual with his "Mississippi timing" for the sardine like packed crowd along with Michael Frank on harp on some songs we heard "Boy Blue", Going Down Slow", and the Jimmy Rogers song "Thats Alright" done so well he had to repeat it again the second set.

by James VanDrisse

Looking for Real Delta Blues? Go to the Very Juke Joints Folks Advise Against

Looking for Real Delta Blues? 
Go to the Very Juke Joints Folks Advise Against

Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Mobile Register (AL)
February 15, 1995 

LARKSDALE, Miss. Write it down. Jim O'Neal's general rule of thumb for finding the raw, nitty-gritty, gut-bucket blues in the Mississippi Delta:

"The places where people will tell you not to go are precisely the places you should want to go. Incidents do occur but if you don't mess with somebody (or somebody's mate) then they're not likely to mess with you either...However I will adopt this motto: If I get killed in a juke joint, I promise not to recommend that anyone else go there..."

Ah, sage advice from O'Neal's "Delta Blues Map Kit," written for outlanders who come to his Rooster Blues recording studio and record shop asking for directions to a state of mind: the blues.

In the packet you get a map to Sonny Boy's grave and Robert Johnson's alleged death and burial sites, a guide to blues festivals and clubs, advice about offering honoraria for private, front-porch concerts and blues trivia. Lots and lots of trivia.

"This area is Jerusalem, Mount Zion to blues fans,'' O'Neal says. "Outsiders used to be afraid to come to Mississippi, but that's changed some."  Acknowledged by those who know as a protector of the true blues, O'Neal first spent 20 years in Chicago. He recorded blues artists and helped start Living Blues magazine. In 1987, he returned to the South he grew up in Mobile and to the birthplace of the blues.

He set up shop on Clarksdale's Sunflower Avenue in a former ice cream parlor built to look like a riverboat. There once was a big ice cream cone between the smokestacks.  O'Neal asked a few local bankers for help, but they took one look at the pony-tailed, low-key entrepreneur under the ice cream cone and just said ``No.''

"They'd give someone money to plant cotton, but not to plant the seeds of the blues,'' O'Neal says, smiling.  It's been a struggle, but O'Neal has managed.  "I just wanted to make enough money to pay the bills,'' he shrugs. ``Still do.''

He explored the Delta, sought out and recorded artists who otherwise might have played the rest of their lives in obscurity. And the kind of obscurity the delightfully slothful Delta affords is some more kind of obscurity. 

O'Neal worries about two things. One, that popularity will change the music. (''It changed in Chicago while I was there.'') And he worries that, once discovered, all the musicians will leave. "I didn't want to see the blues dry up at the source. After all, it's an export business.'' But that hasn't happened yet. A new generation is coming up, too, ready and able. When legendary bluesman Son Thomas died, his son, Pat Thomas, started singing his father's music. 

Lonnie Pitchford, for instance, is 39 and has a new CD that includes an update of Robert Johnson's ``If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day'' and other classics. Today Pitchford is helping with a construction project at Rooster Blues Records. The messy, friendly shop seems like a family affair. [Lonnie Pitchford died only a few years later in the prime of his career]

There are bins of blues, jazz, reggae, rock and gospel, handsewn mojo bags, books and those map kits, ``which,'' O'Neal notes, ``we will gladly exchange for cash, stamps or Charley Patton 78s.''

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Willie Brown Headstone in Prichard, Tunica County, Mississippi

Scotty Peeples and the Nowell Memorial Funeral Home erected the monument
on the afternoon of February 23rd, 2011. Photo: T. DeWayne Moore

Photo: Ellis Darby 2011
As a first year master’s candidate in 2009, I published an article in the West Tennessee Historical Society Papers titled “'You Know That I’m Getting Tired of Sleeping by Myself': The Influence of Blues Legend Willie Lee Brown,” which, if nothing else, highlighted the abandoned cemetery in Prichard, Mississippi in which his remains were thought buried in the 1950s. Soon thereafter I became embroiled in the legal case surrounding access to Warm Springs Cemetery in Copiah County, Mississippi—the final resting place of Tommy Johnson. At the same time, unbeknownst to me, some people had gotten their hands on a copy of the journal and been inspired to mark his grave in Tunica County. 

The following text comes from a 2011 article in American Blues Scene:

"Our good friends at The Delta Blues Blog wanted to give back to the blues, and coordinated a benefit in Florida, with all proceeds going to purchasing, engraving, and placing a headstone for the legendary and mysterious bluesman Willie Brown. $2100 was needed to purchase the headstone. A number of greatly talented blues musicians donated their time and energy, including Lee Pons, Sean Chambers, Ed Wright, Damon Fowler, and The Backwater Blues Band. Concert T-Shirts were made and blues t-shirts and merch were donated by, Legends Guitars in conjunction with Dean Guitars donated a beautiful guitar, the Legendary Blues Cruise donated tickets, author Allen Whitley donated a signed copy of his book, Where Southern Cross The Dog. Mary Lou Sullivan, who we interviewed last year, donated a signed copy of her Johnny Winter autobiography Raisin’ Cain.

Good Shepard Church in 2009

The turnout was wonderful, with roughly 150 in attendance. Between website donations and the benefit, the entirety of the funds were secured. After the money was raised, a great deal of work went into erecting the monument. Gayle Dean Wardlow, David Evans, and other blues scholars were enlisted to determine the most appropriate wording on the headstone. Ellis Darby, of Tunica served as the local liaison, verified the facts, and the guided overall effort, which included securing a local memorial company. Scott Peeples, who runs The Nowell-Memorial Funeral Home, is personally responsible for ordering and erecting the headstone. These two are owed a great debt for their efforts.

The Delta Blues Blog had this to say:
All said and done, we finally got the headstone erected. It was a wonderful journey, and we are quite proud to have been a part of it. We are humbled and overjoyed to have been able to give back to the music that has given us so much. It truly was a pleasure working with all the people involved.
American Blues Scene would like to extend our most sincere gratitude to Jason at The Delta Blues Blog for his many efforts and long hours of fundraising and coordination in placing a headstone for such an important figure in musical history. We were fortunate enough to be involved with the effort nearly from it’s inception to now, and the Delta Blues Blog has selflessly gone far above and beyond the call of blues duty in their efforts, and deserve a massive thank you."

Photo: Tim Sexton June 2018

Tuscaloosa names Street for Blues man Shines

Tuscaloosa names Street for Blues man Shines 
By Tommy Stevenson - The Tuscaloosa News - Dec 2009

HOLT — Caroline Shines arrived home last week to find what she says "is the best Christmas present I can think of." Her street off Crescent Ridge Road had a bright new sign designating it Johnny Shines Street, after her father, the late and great blues musician who lived in Holt for the last 20 years of his life before his death in 1992. 

"It's both a Christmas present and birthday present, since my birthday is Dec. 26," Shines said last week as she, also a blues singer, got ready for a gig at the NorthRiver Yacht Club, where she and the Debbie Bond Fabulous Blues Band were to play for the annual Jim Walter Resources Christmas party. Johnny Shines, a member of the Blues Hall of Fame, played slide guitar and was inspired by Robert Johnson, the great and tragic blues man of the 1930s with whom Shines often traveled.

Shines was born in Frayser, Tenn., and like many black musicians of his era he eventually migrated to Chicago where he cut some classic blues records in the 1940s and 1950s. He moved to Holt in the early 1970s and was still playing locally when he died at the age of 76, less than a week before his 77th birthday. "He had a show booked for the Train Station (a former Tuscaloosa music venue) the next week when he died," said Caroline, his only child. It was Caroline's idea to rename what had been 11th Street, the only place she and her father ever lived in the Tuscaloosa area, Johnny Shines Street. But to do so she had to secure the approval of every resident and property owner on the street before the Tuscaloosa County Commission, which has jurisdiction over unincorporated Holt, would give its approval. 

"I walked up and down this street for weeks," she said Friday. "I even had to get court re-cords and get on the Internet to track down some property owners who live out of state and write them letters. "It took a lot of time, but it was worth it." 

The commission approved her request in August, but com-mission clerk Lisa Whitehead, who Caroline says "was a tremendous help at every step of the way," said the Johnny Shines Street signs did not arrive until earlier this week. "They had to be special ordered, and I guess there was some sort of backup at the state highway department," she said. "But they got here, and we got them up as soon as possible." 

Bond, one of the founders of the nationally-recognized Alabama Blues Project that teaches after-school music classes and tries to bring attention to blues musicians with Alabama ties, said she is thrilled the street where Johnny Shines spent his last years now bears his name. 

"We can't let our rich heritage in the blues be forgotten, and we've got to not only preserve it, but keep it going through the young people," said Bond, who often backed up Shines on guitar. Bond said the blues project also wants to raise money for a monument at Shines' grave in Cedarwood Cemetery south of Tuscaloosa. 

"Two or three times a year we get people from all over the world contacting us and wanting to know where they can find Johnny's grave," she said. "Sometimes I think there is more reverence for the blues in Europe than in the United States, where it was born. "But at least now we have a Johnny Shines Street we can show blues tourists," she said. 

The Grave of Johnny Shines - Tuscaloosa, Alabama

(Jackson, MS) Clarion Ledger, Apr 21, 1992.
For more about Johnny Shines please click HERE

© T. DeWayne Moore 2017
© T. DeWayne Moore 2017
© T. DeWayne Moore 2017
© T. DeWayne Moore 2017
© T. DeWayne Moore 2017

© T. DeWayne Moore 2017
© T. DeWayne Moore 2017
© T. DeWayne Moore 2017
© T. DeWayne Moore 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Unmarked & Whisky-Soaked Career of Barrelhouse Pianist Willie Love

The Unmarked & Whisky-Soaked Career of 
Barrelhouse Pianist Willie Love

The Greenwood Commonwealth, Feb 27, 1929.

Duncan, Mississippi, a tiny town, just South of Clarksdale on Highway 61, was wiped out by a tornado in 1929.  

It was here that Willie Love was born, the son of Willie Love Sr. and Anna King, on November 4th, 1906. He was raised as a field-hand, but nothing whatsoever can be discovered about his early life or the influences and events that inspired him to become a musician. It is highly probable, however, that he, like so many of his contemporaries, did not leave his plantation home until he was at least 30, for he is not remembered by those active before the Second World War.

1910 US Census - Duncan, MS
Whatever the case, he was a proficient blues pianist, specializing in slow numbers of the Leroy Carr-Roosevelt Sykes variety in 1938, when he bobbed up on the scene, for the first remembered time, as a member of the Tunica-based Silver Kings Band, led by drummer Barber Parker. This was the band in the area at the time, but Willie'd quit by 1940 to work solo as house-pianist for gambling joints in the vicinity of Indianola, before drifting into Greenville, a town that became a permanent base until his death.

It was in Greenville that he befriended Sonny Boy Williamson (Alex 'Rice' Miller) and from 1942 onwards was a regular visitor to Helena, across the Mississippi River, to broadcast with the King Biscuit Boys or gig in the locality. This gained him a measure of recognition and he was quick to form his own combo, The Three Aces, drawing on the Silver Kings Band for personnel. With men like Barber Parker or guitarist G P Jackson he travelled around the Delta during the mid-forties, becoming a very popular attraction at juke-joints and plantation dances.

By 1946 he'd found regular employment in Greenville itself and has been described by Burl Carson, a long-time resident of the town, as, 'The best piano player in this town then. A little more uptown (in sound): a little more classy.' Willie played his classy blues in more respectable clubs like the Casa Blanca or took weekend jobs in the country at Lake Village, Arkansas: Arcola, where he performed at the Harlem Club; Drew, with its Matinee and '49' clubs; Leland and Belzoni. Little Bill, a guitarist from Lake Villages, Charley Booker and bassist Willie Dotson were all regular accompanists.

Willie Love in the 1940s
Station WGVM opened up in Greenville during 1948 and Willie, sponsored by local businessmen, went on the air for 30 minutes every morning. The show was hosted by disco-jockey Eddie Williams and Charley Booker, Elmore James and Rice Miller made appearances when in the area. The programme greatly added to Willie's reputation, but he left Greenville within a year to help Rice form a new band in West Memphis.

He found employment with station KWEM at West Memphis in 1949 and began to broadcast with his Aces, advertising the Broadway Furniture Store. Joe Willie Wilkins, Rice, Oliver Sain (drums), Willie Nix and Forrest City Joe all worked with him at one time or another and he even married Sain's mother, becoming the 17-year-old's step-father. Willie, like most of the others, lived at the 'Williamson' home and would leave from there in the evenings to fill bookings in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.

Willie Love’s prodigious thirst had earned him the status of both legendary boozer and physical wreck. Around to 1948, Love had married the mother of a teenaged aspiring drummer by the name of Oliver Sain, and the three lived together in Greenville for a time. In an interview with Steve LaVere, Sain, who later took up tenor sax and arranging for Little Milton Campbell (among others), recalled gigging with his step-father around West Memphis in the late 1940s, along with Sonny Boy Williamson and Herman Parker, a young vocalist/harp player who styled himself as Sonny Boy Junior—and eventually simply Junior Parker. Sain recalled that both love and Williamson embodied the classic traits of old-time bluesmen, drinking and womanizing to the hilt. Once, when Sain and Parker were having difficulty collecting their sidemen's wages after such a gig, Sain approached Sonny Boy with his concerns: 'I went to Sonny Boy to complain about the fact that a lot of times, when you finish a job, Sonny Boy and Willie had already drunk up the money, days ago, man! The club owner says. 'There's no money, they come and got yours, too!' So I went to Sonny Boy and was explainin' to him and I said. 'Man you know, I'm finding that when y.all drink like that, we don't wind up making anything, Junior and I don’t, because we don't drink.' So he said, 'Well, I guess y’all gonna have to start drinking!”

He had a good thing going but was quick to leave West Memphis after Rice's sudden departure, asking Willie Nix to look after his radio spot. Willie returned to Greenville and settled down with his wife at 236 North Street. He managed to pick-up where he'd left off and began to play Nelson Street jukes like the Silver Dollar Cafe. By late 1950 he'd met and teamed up with Rice again and was taken off to Jackson to meet Lilian McMurry of the newly-formed Trumpet label. At first, he recorded as a sidesman only, but, on April 7th, 1951, went into Jackson with his own combo—Otis Green (sax), Lonnie Holmes (guitar), and Alex Wallace (drums)—to cut his initial sides. One of these, 'Take It Easy Baby', an uptown-jump number, indicated that the Aces were bang-up-to-date with their material.

It was back to the studio in July, but Willie's best recordings were made during a mammoth December session with Bill Holford of ACA handling production. The sensitive guitar work of Joe Willie Wilkins did much to help 'Nelson Street Blues', a personal tribute to Greenville's 'action' strip, become a well-remembered success and, perhaps, Willie's most famous number, but each of the eight titles cut on that occasion is a mini-masterpiece with excellent lyrics.

Willie had always been a heavy drinker, in the best blues traditions, and it was at this stage that his kidneys began to play up, causing him a great deal of pain. He was also having personal problems, probably because he spent so much time away from home and sometime in 1952 his wife left Greenville for St Louis. He quickly followed, even making a trip to Detroit to gig with Baby Boy Warren, an old friend, but was sick and unhappy and by January 1953 was back in Jackson on his own.

By late July 1953, Willie's condition had seriously worsened, and he was drinking all the more to try to kill the pain in his failing kidneys. Lillian soon learned of his crisis. One day outside the Record Mart she came upon her old friend 'Slim,’ (Bobo Thomas). sitting on the curb, crying. He was grieving for his idol Willie, who he said was suffering terribly. The McMurrys quickly dispatched their family physician to check on Love, and he was ordered to report to the Baptist Hospital in Jackson for treatment. 

Lillian recalled, “I’d tried to warn Willie about drinking too much, but he just wouldn't listen. We paid our private doctor to care for him and catheterize him or he'd have burst. At first, we really thought Willie would get well." But years of constant gigging, partying, and juicing had caught up with the forty-six-year-old bluesman. Lillian remembered that his final Jackson session at Ammons's had been a disappointment, and felt that his health was the problem. The March session had produced "Worded Blues" and "Lonesome World Blues," both masterful performances from a purely aesthetic standpoint. The overpowering sense of gloom and doom disappointed the producer, for she always had related better to the happier, upbeat elements. In "Lonesome World Blues" he sang
I start to go to Memphis
But I didn't know in my mind
Seems like everybody wanna mistreat me all the time
And I believe, l believe I’ll go back home
Seem like everybody everybody wanna do me wrong
On August 19, Lillian went to see Willie at the hospital. She found him in the last throes of his struggle, but he found the strength to express his gratitude to his benefactress. "Miss Lillian," he said, "you and M. Willard were better to me than my own people." By 9 p.m. that night, Willie Love's trials were over.

The McMurrys sadly arranged for funeral services to be held at Collins Funeral Home at 418 North Farish. Willie was laid out in an open casket in his sharpest suit, surrounded by flowers and friends. He had been a beloved symbol of good music and good times to the Mississippi blues community, and the funeral was crowded with cronies like Sonny Boy, "Slim," Little Milton, and others who came to pay respects and share a last glimpse of their fallen buddy. No doubt some few of his old lovers came in black dresses, and no doubt his lines, "Give my body to the fishes, my soul to the Lord above," were recalled. DRC paid the expenses for the funeral, minister's fee, and burial, and regretfully closed the books on one of the greatest barrelhouse piano players of the era. The legacy of his Trumpet recordings preserves the memory of the quick little man with the white spats and lively patter, who could dance and play circles around his blues, but was at last consumed by them.

Though Willie Love had friends around at his funeral, he was quickly forgotten after his burial in Jackson's Elmwood Cemetery. In the 1970s, a few researchers managed to glean the few facts that make up this biography. Hopefully, someone else may be able to dig up more about his life and eventually turn in a story that really does him a justice.

Although the records for the funeral home that buried Love in Elmwood Cemetery sit in the Amistad Archives in New Orleans, a tiny stone was bought in 2017 and not placed on the grave. Believing it was going to get stolen due to its extremely small size, which one man can easily carry away, it could not be left on site. Rather than purchase a heavy stone and search the records to make sure the location was not within them, they bought the tiny stone, took it home, and simply claimed to have found his grave. Also a purported good faith search for the family came up empty.  They took a really nice promotional photograph though in which they look amazing.  In the end, however, 

Willie Love's grave remains unmarked. Maybe someday someone will dedicate a memorial that really does him justice.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Biography of Charley Patton (Part 2 of 2)

The Biography of Charley Patton (Part 2) 
By Grammy Award winning author David Evans - 11/3/05

To read Part 1 - CLICK HERE

Charley’s popularity among whites, however, was established well before he began his recording career. He was in great demand as an entertainer, and apparently he was reluctant to turn down any request, sometimes booking himself twice in one night. This practice occasionally got him in trouble when crowds wanted to hold him over. There were also problems when whites wanted him on a night when he was already booked to play for blacks. Charley’s niece recalled an incident in which his engagement for a black dance in Blaine was cut short by a rifle toting white man who needed his services at a white dance atop a bridge: 

And Uncle Charley sat on that bridge and played for them white folks until about five o’clock the next morning. All them white folks was all on that bridge dancing. Uncle Charley was sitting there making music for them. They done broke up this other dance, and then they put their dance on the bridge. I’ll never forget that...He used to have some tough times. He couldn’t be but one. They tried to make him be two folks and play so much for this one and so much for that one. 

THE IDEA of a white man in the Delta hijacking Charley Patton from a black dance to play for whites is enough to boggle the mind. It would be as if a white New York cop hijacked James Brown from a show at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre to perform at a policemen’s ball. Like the cop, the man in Blaine undoubtedly knew he could get away with it. What is rather incredible is that he wanted Charley so badly, that all the other whites wanted him, and that Charley entertained them until five o’clock in the morning. One wonders if Charley or any of the whites attached any significance to all this. Were the whites drawing Charley into their world for a night? Or was Charley drawing the whites into some inscrutable world that fascinated them but which they didn’t really understand? Was he secretly pleased that the people “were trying to make him be two folks?” The fact that he played on a bridge only seems to add some special symbolic meaning to the whole affair. 

The ultimate reasons for Patton’s extraordinary popularity in the Delta are hard to pinpoint. Clearly, Fahey was right, in a sense, in stressing Patton’s role as a consummate entertainer. He could give an audience what it wanted in the way of repertoire and style, and he did many tricks with the guitar, snapping the strings, playing it behind his head and between his legs, flipping it, tapping on it with his fingers, and so forth. But there were plenty of other blues artists who could do tricks and gave audiences what they wanted. Many, like Willie Brown, may have been technically better and more versatile guitarists and were often judged so by their peers. Others, like “Son” House, had better natural voices. But there is something special that seemed to set Charley Patton beyond the others in his own day and which still exerts a great power through his records almost seventy years after his death. There is a special quality of timing in his singing and playing that is hard to define but immediately arrests the attention. Beyond this there is a sense of absolute conviction in his singing and playing. To a greater degree than the others, over a longer period of time, on a more regular basis, and equally in front of black and white audiences, Charley Patton was able to plumb the depths of feeling contained in his blues, spirituals, and other folksongs. Even when he garbled his words or meaning or made mistakes on the guitar, as he occasionally did, the feeling is there: one of overwhelming intensity. It is a feeling that Palmer has aptly called deep blues, a phrase used by blues artists themselves as their ultimate aesthetic criterion for the music and its performers.32 And despite his occasional mistakes and shortcomings, his records reflect a feeling of intense pride in his work. He may have considered his recording sessions to be just another job, he may not have rehearsed his songs as much as he should have, but underlying this casual approach and willingness to please all audiences there was a strong oneness and wholeness of character and talent in a man that people were trying to make into “two folks.” 

ONE OF THE most unfathomable aspects of Charley Patton’s life is his actual personality. As already noted, several writers have painted a rather negative picture of the man. This picture, however, is not consistent with the great respect that was accorded to him. His nephew states that he was “friendly with everybody.” Rev. Rubin Lacy, a former blues singer, who knew Charley in the Delta around 1929 or 1930, stated, “I thought he had fine ways and actions. He wasn’t no bad man.... He had a good record. He stood good. He had no bad marks on him. Oh yeah, he was a nice guy.”33 Some of Patton’s alleged failings might be taken another way. For example, “Son” House has stated that he was tight with his money.34 On the other hand, this might be viewed as an inclination to save or not spend his money foolishly. Unlike most blacks in the Delta, Charley had money throughout the year, and there must have been many “friends” who approached him for loans. Knowing from his father how the credit system worked in the Delta, Charley probably wisely chose not to “furnish” his friends for the year. 

There is no doubt that Charley Patton drank liquor. Possibly he could have been classified as an alcoholic. The nature of his profession meant that he would always be in an environment where drinking was a normal form of behavior. He must have had many drinks offered to him. But for all the reports of his drinking, there are none that have him “sloppy drunk” or unable to perform at his best. The main reports of heavy drinking come from the last two years of his life, when he knew he had heart trouble. Possibly in these years his consumption of alcohol was no greater than it had been earlier, but he was simply less able to withstand its effects. His sister Viola stated that “he hardly drank at all.”35 Reverend Rubin Lacy’s comment was simply, “Well, his drinking, a lot of us fellows did that.”36 Perhaps the situation is best summed up by Tom Rushing, a former deputy sheriff of Bolivar County whose specific duty it was to arrest the makers of moonshine whisky. Rushing said, “He seemed to be a more or less sober man. I don’t think, probably he would have ever gotten where he did if he’d been fighting that hundred proof corn whisky.” 

Charley Patton’s argumentativeness seems to have been confined mainly to his relationships with women. These relationships will be examined shortly. His relatives have stated that he was friendly, and most other musicians agree with this assessment. There are consistent reports, however, that Patton argued frequently with Willie Brown. Brown was an outstanding artist and technically may have been a more accomplished guitarist than Patton. He was not as charismatic, however, and perhaps doubted his ability as a singer, preferring to accompany other artists. Charley was undoubtedly aware of Brown’s ability and may have felt threatened. Other blues musicians in particular rated Brown highly and tended to compare his playing favorably to Patton’s. Patton was proud of his popularity and may have resented Brown’s reputation among their fellow musicians. He and Brown are said to have argued mainly over musical matters. Perhaps, though, their arguments were more in the nature of “lovers’ quarrels.” Patton and Brown did, after all, perform together off and on for about twenty years, the longest partnership in either musician’s career. Patton had partially taught Brown, as he did many other musicians to the end of his career. Even after Brown moved to Lake Cormorant in the northern part of the Delta around 1930, he continued to play frequently with Patton. Patton was furthermore responsible for calling Brown to the attention of a record company, something he did also for such artists as Henry Sims, “Son” House, Louise Johnson, and Bertha Lee. 

Patton’s attitude toward and treatment of women may not have been exemplary in all cases, but they become a bit more understandable when one realizes two facts. One is that Charley clearly believed that the Patton family deserved his primary loyalty. His niece and nephew both have said that he was very generous and helpful to his parents and sisters. As a corollary to his attitude that he should help the Patton family, particularly its women, Charley evidently believed that his own wives or girl friends should be self-supporting. He made good money himself and must have thought that he deserved a woman who did the same. “Son” House has said that Patton was the kind of man who liked to have a woman who worked in the white folks’ kitchen. In this way he wouldn’t have to pay for her food, as the woman could bring home enough left-over food from the kitchen to feed them both.37 House may have been generalizing from the particular position of Bertha Lee, Patton’s last wife and apparently the only one House knew. However, even if this was generally the case with Patton, his attitude is quite understandable. As someone with a cash income, Patton was automatically a highly desirable mate. Charley Patton was in a position to have plenty of casual affairs with women, but for his steady woman he probably wanted someone of economic standing similar to his own.