Friday, September 29, 2017

The Graveside Speech of Miles Floyd


The Graveside Speech of Miles Floyd
At the Dedication of his Grandfather’s Headstone
July 29, 2017
Nitta Yuma Cemetery - Nitta Yuma, Mississippi

"I’m not going to be long, but I had to write this down today, because I knew this was going to be an emotional day for me, especially when they were playing “Corinne Corrina.”

So y’all bear with me on this okay. My name is Miles Floyd, and I’m the step-grandson of Bo Carter. I’m sad to say that during Bo’s lifetime I didn’t get a chance to meet him in person, but I was fortunate enough to meet his son, Ezell Chatmon.

Ezell played an important role in my life, as a youngster coming up. He always said to me—I can remember back in the sixties and seventies—finish school and make something out of myself. Well, I finished school but I’m still working on making something of myself [pause for laughter].

I can remember as though it were yesterday, that they always talked to me about his father and his music. And he always he always told me that once he retired, we were going to set out, take a trip and find out more about Bo and his music. But after Mr. E retired, that didn’t happen.

My mother became disabled and Mr. E spent the rest of his life taking care of my mother, until 1991, and that’s when he got in bad health. What this day means to me, just by me saying thank you was not good enough, I’m going to give you the reason why today is so special to me.

It was the day after Christmas 1991. Mr. E was lying in the bed in the hospital, and that afternoon he opened his eyes and looked at me and beckoned—and that was a happy moment for me—because he was, as they said, unconscious. But anyway he beckoned for me to come his bed, and he looked up at me, and he asked, "Where was my mother?"

I told him she was sitting in the corner, right by your bedside. So, he was speaking in a soft tone. [You see] my mother worries a lot, but what Ezell said to me made my day become sad too. Because he looked up at me and said he wanted me to do three things for him. He knew he wasn’t going to walk out of that hospital. And I didn’t want to hear that but he kept saying, “Just listen.” And I want to share those three things with you today.

I don’t know if it’s appropriate or not, but it’s something I have been carrying with me for a long time. His first request of me was to find his mom’s grave and bury him beside it. His second request was to me to take care of Roberta, which is my mother. I took care of her until 2012 when she passed away. The request is because of you here today. I have been working on this for twenty years. I didn’t know which way to go other than looking at the internet."

Miles Floyd during his speech
Photo: Bill Steber

"But today I want to thank in this order, and this is the way it happened to me, a young man by the name of Patrick Leblanc, [who organized the Crossroads Blues Festival dedicated to Johnny Shines in Greenwood in the early 1990s] who now resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, came to me and my family in 2004, and since that time Pat educated me about Bo. His music his life, everything that a person would need to know. So I thank Patrick Leblanc for that, but he is not here with us today.
The second person I would like to thank is Barry Shrum. That’s him standing right there, he and his wife, from Nashville, Tennessee. Barry is something I call my legal advisor, but Barry I will say this to you today. I’m thankful for meeting you. We’ve been acquainted with each other for going on now two years. I know when you get off the phone with me sometimes, you feel like beating your head up against a wall. But it’s not nothing intentionally okay. Now, the third thanks goes to all of you. I got to give credit to you.

That third wish that Ezell asked me to find out about his daddy, today, you guys fulfilled that third wish for me, my heart is heavy, and I really do thank each of you for making this day possible.

And I told my family when I got here that I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself, get up there and get ready to make a speech, but when your heart tells you to say something, say it anyway. So I’m speaking from my heart. DeWayne, the Mt. Zion organization, all the people who supported this today, I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

Last but not least, my family there. I know it’s been hard living with me these past few years because of my frustrations, but thanks to each and every person who was here today, those frustrations have lightened up. Because I wanted to fulfill Mr. E’s three wishes. 

As I stand here, Bo, I’m proud to be your grandson, very proud, and I can’t wait to get back to Bolton, Mississippi and stand beside your son’s grave, and say your three wishes have been fulfilled. Thank you."

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Beavers Digs in Deep

The above track is track 7 on the last album. He has a new album in the can, but this short review refers to his last album and his general comportment. A review of the new album is coming]

"Everyday starts with the crow," hollered out James C. Taylor at the 1970 Delta Rock Festival. Dale Beavers was not yet six years old, but it was already hard to tell that he had once been deemed the best looking baby in Chicot County, Arkansas. Since 1970, he decided to pick up a guitar in the same vein as his early life hero, Donnie Brown, of the Candy Shoestring, which held a reunion a couple years back. This journeyman axeman came up in the same way as Bo Carter: he got an early taste for "dirty" songs and others relegated him to the bass guitar. Over the years, moreover, he has become somewhat of an "All Around Man," cutting wood and making bread for his distressed spirit as well as making his own way through the crowd. Now he stands out front on his own record.

If someone asked random asshole #3 for a review of Dale Beavers' music, that fella might say it was blunt, straight-forward, unadorned. A self absorbed Nashville music critic, when not sitting at a bar obliviously enraging “blues assholes,” might say that Beavers was the “real deal,” particularly due to the fact that Beavers maintains a strong animus for such polyvalent terms. Beavers might very well dust off the overhand right on the music scene in Nashville, but the assessment would still prove accurate for some whether the object of his ire was out cold on the floor or not.

Dale Beavers on the Jeff Norwood Memorial
Stage at the 2016 Deep Blues Festival
Photo: Bill Steber 
The first time this author slipped the compact disc out of the package and into the small slit in my vehicle’s dashboard, it stayed right there spinning around and around for at least a few days. The first time it started over and began playing the first song, I realized for a second time that it I didn’t want to hit the stop button. It starts off innocent enough—with Beavers, I assume, strumming a single chord up and down at a steady pace, and then the drummer comes in with the classic snare-kick-snare, which brings a bass guitar not-quite-thundering into the mix with the accompaniment of keys, beating hard and straight down onto the ivory, steady, rocking, and true to the rhythm 

It takes a full thirty seconds before the engineer is required to slide up another fader and allow the vocals to inform us of the problem that consumes the mind of Dale Beavers. Not a terribly complicated man, not a man who covets intellectual pursuits in the ivory tower, Beavers has the same type of attitude and concerns as one might expect to find in a host of red-blooded Americans testing the limits of their historically uninhibited freedoms. The sound and tone gives off a fun aesthetic that makes you want to crack a beer and smile at the girl sitting at the end of the bar. It makes you want to dance with her, and it also lets you know that Beavers understands how you feel after getting shot the hell down and squirming back inside that brewskie.

You will not get a whole lot of answers to the big questions this world has to offer, but you will feel good enough about yourself that you will smile at the other woman, who sits at the other end. Or you might even go after the first woman’s short-haired friend. What I’m trying to impart in the short review is that the music is good; it’s not anymore real that the songs on another record. Every asshole in the room will tell you something different if pressed to define the term “real” or “authentic.” So I know why Beavers does not like such terms. He does not bullshit, period. He may not know what the hell is going on, but he will let you know that he's lost. The songs he plays are not meant to be “real” or “authentic,” which makes the record so damn fun to hear more than once. I’m going to put the record back on right now. Do yourself a favor and do the same.

Dale Beavers (guitar) performs with esteemed Columbian 
attorney Portuondo Guapado, (drums) the fifth 
cousin once removed from folklorist Tary Owens.
Photo: Bill Steber
Beavers music is reflective of the blues traditions and artists for whom he worked over the years, but it should be stressed that now as a solo artist, who has stepped out from behind these purveyors of tradition, that he has managed to take on elements of different styles and build a conglomeration that on his record comes across squarely his own. He achieves this sound, in part, by embracing the stripped-bare tone of the mid-Delta from which he came, refusing to dress it up too much, and roundly rejecting the modulation and adulterating digital devices that came to plague so many children of the eighties.  If you see him performing, tell him he's still the prettiest baby from Chicot County. Then you may need to duck and cover. He is Dale Beavers, American, and these colors don't run.  

- T. DeWayne Moore

[The below track is track 1 on the album--described at the top]

Monday, September 25, 2017

Kill "em and Burn It All, Or Don't and Act Normal

Wade Walton: Blues of a Most Conservative Bent
By Jessie Haynes - 1976

Although he usually sings to himself, his blues echo in the hearts of his listeners. He uses this method of self-expression to drive away the blues and to relieve his mind of them.

He opens up this emotional safety valve that imprisons feelings of anger, hurt and resentment, simultaneously enriching his music as he releases the disappointment and frustration without physically harming a soul. He should but won't engage in violence to free himself from oppression.

His name is Wade Walton; his business is barbershop blues. "Blues is a very hard thing to explain," he said. "I play my blues when I am in all kinds of moods. I feel them (blues) myself, then I feel out to other people. Many :times when I play the blues I am in distress and usually crying. If tears are falling and someone is watching, I play the guitar behind my head and slowly wit walk away."

Welton sings the lyrics of "I'm a Crosscut Saw." "This is one of the songs that kept our `Saturday Suppers' going," said the 49-year-old barber and one-time blues composer, singer and instrumentalist. Walton relives his blues-singing days frequently in his store-front barbershop in the upper Mississippi delta town of Clarksdale.

"When we had our 'Saturday Suppers," he reminisces, we'd let everybody know at whose house it would be held. Then when we got to that particular house, we'd take down the r big bed in the front room, giving us ft room to move around. We'd sing the blues, play our instruments and things of that nature. The dance popular at 4 that time was the two-step. They'd bring out the corn whiskey and the home brew, and the Saturday Supper was on its way.

"We sang songs such as Sugar Mama, Country Blues, Shaken On Down (another one of his favorites) and Crosscut Saw, which Albert King recorded about eight years ago in rock and roll form," Walton said.

Walton's Rose Barbershop is located -I- in the minority business section of Clarksdale, It's one of the neatest businesses on the block. The windows and other areas of the shop are dense • is with large green plants, which creates another hobby for Walton—greenthumbing. "I love my plants" he said.

Amazing Minnie Artwork

Friday, September 22, 2017

Interview with Mississippi Fred McDowell

By Barry Foster, an undergraduate at Bowling Green University in 1971 in the Journal of Popular Culture 5:2 (1971).

During the current blues revival, there have been certain traditional bluesmen to rise to the forefront. Mississippi Fred McDowell is one of them. Fred is the innovator of the "slide" or "bottleneck" guitar, and has played and visited with such current superstars as Johnny Winter and The Rolling Stones. 

BF: How long have you been playing the blues? 

FM: Well, I'll tell you, off and on—I started when I was a boy about 14 years old. After I learned how a little bit, I quit, you unnerstand, because I wasn't interested in no guitar much no how. So I quit . . . my mother she asked me to quit playing because she wanted me to go to church, you unnerstand. So I quit playin, and when I got started back again I was just about grown, you see, and—it's about six years ago 'fore I got more interested in a guitar than I was then, you unnderstand, see, 'cause there have never been no-body down through my home—you sec my home is in—you see everbody calls me Mississippi Fred McDowell, but my home is in Tennessee. Rossford, Tennessee where I was born and raised. But after my mother passed, well I have a sister lives in Mississippi, you see, and she and I stay close together that's why Pm down there now, you unncrstand. I likes it okay, it's good. I like that better than I do my own home, now.

BF: How did you develop the "bottleneck guitar"? 

FM: How I come by that, I was a small boy—my uncle was a guitar player and he played with a beef-bone not a bottleneck —a little round bone come out of a steak. He filed it real smooth and he played with it on this finger (pointing to his pinkie), sec I play it with my ring finger and that's why I said if I ever learn to play the guitar that's what I'm going to get me, a bone. But I didn' get a bone, I started out learnin' how to play with a pocketknife. Well, you see you can't make a chord with a pocketknife—see, you got to hold it this way (between his ring and small finger). When you're playin' the guitar—see you ain't got no action with these fingers here at all (pointing to his first two fingers), you see. So I discovered that bottleneck, an' made it myself.

BF: What do you think of people who have modified the "bottle-neck" guitar style, say like Johnny Winter? 

FM: Well, I tell you, nothin' but it's good. See, Johnny Winter, me and him plays together a lot, and he really can use it and also J. B. Hutto, Muddy—but they all don' play with a bottleneck, they play it with a bar, you see. But it sounds good to me, I like I don' care who's playin' it, just like those words I put on "I Don't Play No Rock'n' Roll," see a lot of people think just because I play blues that I don' like rock'n'- roll but it's a mistake. You see—that's just a good hit for me on my album, you understand, 'cause I like all music, I don' care who's playin' it. Whatever you play, you feel it and if it sound good to you, it sound good to me too, you understand. That's the way that goes.

BF: Then you like the electric things that BB King has been doing. 

FM: Sure, sure yeah. You see, I used to play acoustic all the time 'till about three years ago.

BF: Do you write most of the songs you do, or are they traditional blues handed down, or exactly what?

FM: I don't write any songs. I makes my own words—just a sound to my music, I don't write no songs. 

BF: So once you've done them, they're gone. Like the things you did tonight we'll probably never hear again. 

FM: Who won' hear it again? Well, here, you know, when you play music, man—this is the way I play, I play what I feel. See, I sing these different words with feelin' to them 'cause I feel them myself because of this—see, you come up, probably you don' know what a hard time is, see I do. See, you get to thinkin' how you been used, you unnerstand, now that's where the blues come from. Now the blues, where it first started from, when I was comin' up as a boy they didn' call what we's singin' now the blues, you know what they call it? They call it the reel, well they change that name from the reel, to the blue, that's what that is. 

BF: Do you think that a lot of the feeling is gone out of music? 

                 Copyright Gary Tennant 
FM: No, it's comin' back in. You take like four years ago, and I'm from Mississippi, see, I live about 40 miles on this side of Oxford, but I played at Ole Miss at the university there about every other month, and it's gettin' popular there. See, they don' care nothin"bout the rock'n'roll, they call me an' say we'll get you on such and such a night. They done fell in love with the blues, they changed from what they were. And they seem to enjoy it better. 

BF: Do you think the blues has had much of an effect on rock music? 

FM: Yeah, it's taken a big turn. That's correct. That's true. Because they're gonna pay more attention, and they're gonna listen more to it than they did when rock was first startin' out. Still, you're always gonna find somebody who likes rock-'n'roll. Because, you know why? Because its a fast piece, and it's a fast dancin' piece and you can do more things with it. All of it's good, hell, I like it all. 

BF: Do you think the volume of rock, in decibels, has hurt it at all? 

FM: Yeah, 'cause you see, last year, I was in Ann Arbor, I came from Toronto with John—I went up with him in the bus, an' come back in the car with him. Well that Sunday there's a rock festival, a blues festival over there where they give it the year before last. (At this point, Fred relates a story about a killing at the festival and expresses the feeling that this had a lot to do with the cancellation of another Ann Arbor Blues Festival) 

BF: Well there are going to be some blues festivals this summer somewhere aren't there? 

FM: But not there (Ann Arbor). I don' know, I would tell you yeah-I know we're going to be into soinethin', I don' know what the hell it is, that's week after next in Philadelphia, I don' know what that is. Then we're supposed to be in Washington, D.C., I know that's a blues festival, goin' to hold it there in that hotel where they had it last year you unnerstand. 

BF: Since the last Ann Arbor Blues festival, a lot of the traditional blues men have passed on, do you see this as an end to tradi-tional blues, or will there be people to carry it on? 

FM: Yeah, I'll tell you, yeah because they likes it, they're just like me, and I don't think they're gonna change (talking about J. P. Hutto, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, etc.). 

BF: Do you see any difference in Chicago blues and urban blues? 

FM: Yeah, because I'll tell you, see, I play jus' a straight thing, but they get so many different beats, sorta halfway into rock and halfway into blues. An', you see, it's not their own tune, now you take Elmore James—everybody plays blues in Chi-cago, they got his lick in there, they got his run. Now they change the words, an' they change .the beat, but that's still his sound, you see. An' you can't find now, you can't find a one, —'cause I been with him, an' I've traveled with him in Germany and I've traveled with him everywhere, on the busses, and they have tried it and they've tried to play it but they can't do it. 'Cause they don't know how the guitar's tuned. 

BF: With your new album on Capitol, and Columbia's releases of old blues material, do you see a coming traditional blues re-vival? 

FM: On my album "I Do Not Play No Rock'n'Roll," that cat that plays bass . . well that white boy, that's the first time lie ever saw me, and the first time I ever saw him, he's backin' me on that bass—and he's good. 'Cause he can play any kind of thing that you want to hear, and he knows exactly what beat to get, and what to play. 

BF: Did you know Bessie Smith, or did you ever hear her sing? 

FM: No, I heard her, but not in person. I ain't gonna tell no lies and say yeah, I know her—no I don' know her. 'Cause I was small when Bessie—See, Bessie was singin' with W. C. Handy an' them at that time you see, an' I wasn' nothin' but a little boy. But I can remember this, see, W. C. Handy had a home band, he had a few guitar players with him you unnerstand, that played with the band, and they used to run a train that they called "The Excursion," that was on the Fourth of July, that's for the white people, see, you'd have a picnic on the Fourth day of July where they'd get them bands, from Mem. phis, and they'd get that train to bring trainloads of people to Rossford, Tennessee—that's my home, and we'd slip down there stand around there and sit on the fence—you couldn't go over there. 

BF: How do you feel about people that have taken the blues and covered it with white artists and studio musicians?

FM: Well, some of them have been sold for a lot more money, but you take like last year, you take Johnny Winter, see Johnny has a good manager, and Johnny had stuff that some of the people, they'd really like it, you unnerstand. Well, he come in to a good pile of money. Well everybody at that festival, they didn' pay him much attention 'cause they didn' like what he did. Well hell, they was wrong. They were tellin' me, "You know who should have had that money? Y'all, you an' Muddy an' them, Of s'posed to have it." No, I didn' neither. If we shoulda had it, we woulda got it through by our manager And if people—like he made that hit, that was his hit, not out one you see. But they couldn't see it that way, they wouldn't have much to do with him. Me and him, we went aroun' an' got drunk—damn 'em, he had that money in his pocket. 

BF: Who are your favorite blues artists, that is, who has most in-fluenced your sound? 

FM: I like BB, I like Lightnin', I like the 'Wolf, I like all of them, really. 

BF: It must be nice to play a club where you`know that your audience really knows the blues. 

FM: Yeah! You know one thing? Ever since I've been here, they listenin', but a lot of time, you got to talk to people, and get them to unnerstan' what you doin'. Now I have been that-a-way, see, I'd get good applause, but they just didn't unnerstan' what the blues was all about until I stopped and talked to them. Tell that the words mean this, and to listen at the words and listen at the guitar, and every word that I said. Then I'd play one or two more pieces, you could tell the difference, they'd start gettin' with the music, 'cause they'd be gettin' to unnerstan' what you doin'. Now you hear me sing, that guitar will say every word I sing, see I learned how to play like that. I can't play a guitar without singin' to it. That's just my way you unnerstan', you see. I don't out-play nobody, and I don't try to out-play No-body, 'cause that's nothin' but shit, you sec. When you ask somebody to play with you, and run off and leave them, that just makes them feel bad. I wan' to ask you a question, do you think a white per-son can play the blues as well as a colored person? 

BF: No way. 

FM: You wrong, see, I had this person ask me in Seattle, he said Muddy said that a white person couldn't play the blues like a colored person, but if he can't play the blues like a colored person, what do you want with that harp player with him? That's all he's playin' is the blues, and he got him back there playin' with him. I'm going to tell you this, see, I've done traveled as much as Muddy, and I saw these two brothers, and Muddy or no damn body could have beat them playin' the blues to save your life. I don't give a damn where you come from. See, know music man, and there were two guitar players, and this other boy played this here thing that you lay across your lap. . . . 

BF: A dobro. 

FM: Yeah, boy, that son-of-a-gun would bust your heart with that there thing, those boys behind him with that guitar. Boy if you think they couldn't play the blues—boy, you wrong! tell you and Muddy both that. 

BF: At least I know I'm in good company when I'm wrong.

Juke Joints: Cradle of the Blues

Cradle of the Blues
By Donna St. George
Philadelphia Inquirer March 23, 1991


The Big Star is a tin-patched roadhouse at the edge of a bean field, a wood-frame one-room juke joint where beer is served in quarts and tissue-paper flowers fill vases on rickety tables. On weekends in the Mississippi Delta, the Big Star beckons across miles of flat farmland.

It’s late on a Friday, the night is cold and the Wesley Jefferson Band is burning up the place. Thirty people are crowded on the dance floor, shoulder to chest to back, shaking and bobbing and swaying. The room is loud and alive. The plywood floor feels ready to collapse.

This is where life's hard edges are eased for an evening in America's poorest countryside. Even if a crop is killed or a town is crumbling, even if people are unemployed and dirt poor, juke joints keep going in the Mississippi Delta. They falter and fold, open and reopen.

Juke joints carry on today much as they have since just after the Civil War, when they were established as a black alternative to white roadhouses. In them, people drank moonshine, rolled dice, danced to music. They were one of the few places a blues artist could play and one of few public places where blacks were treated with dignity in the segregated South.

Juke joints remain a gathering place within small isolated communities, a world maybe 50 people share regularly: more crowded when crops are ripe, more desolate when land is fallow. They are the black equivalent 'of the white honky-took. They are the secular equivalent of the store-front church. And in the birthplace of the blues, they are its cradle.

Even as times change — and some shun juke joints for more sophisticated clubs in bigger towns, where they can hear more rap music and disco — new generations in the Delta continue to find solace in its road-houses of old.

For some, confined by money or miles, that's because there's no choice.

For others, like Jimmy Holmes, it’s because the connection goes deep. ‘

Holmes is a college-educated, second-generation juke-joint owner who for six years taught community-college sociology and biology classes. The Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, 25 miles northwest of Jackson, has been owned by his family since he was born, in 1947. It is a cinderblock roadhouse, painted Olympic blue, with two windows, a bare concrete Moor, a stained pool table, two arcade games and six Formica tables-for-two. Bags of chips and cookies are neatly stacked on shelves behind the bar, near big jars of pigs' feet and pickles.

It's late on a Saturday night as Holmes, in a suede jacket and slacks, talks softly from his seat on a ripped black-vinyl bar stool.

Two men are leaning back in folding chairs beside a room heater made out of a four-foot segment of oil pipeline. Blues are bellowing from a 25 year-old Seeburg jukebox that is lit with 1960s neon moons. One woman is dancing with her image in front of a horizontal mirror on the wall. Several young people are lined up at the bar to hear rap music on a color television.

Judy Holmes, Jimmy's older brother, reminds everybody that his favorite song is No. 115: "Hattie Mae" by Artie "Blues Boy" White. His smile widens when someone pops a quarter in the jukebox and punches his number. Jimmy Holmes says whenever rap music is placed in his jukebox, he makes sure it's replaced by blues.

This is a quiet evening. It's rainy and cold. The place really jumps when the blues are live. Most of the time, that means the performers are Jack Owns, an 85-year-old guitar player, and Bud Spires, 59, a blind harmonica player. They are inseparable old-time bluesmen — as hard to come by on some nights as a good-paying job.

"When they play, you can't hardly get in," enthuses Robert Hicks, 35, a millworker who stops in the Blue Front a couple of times a week and counts himself as one of its best pool-shooters. Jimmy Holmes grew up helping his parents run the road-house; he's operated it since 1970. He may return to teaching in the fall, he says but he'll never leave his juke joint. Now it's part of him.

Some of his customers are loyal regulars of the Blue Front; others stop for a beer on their way out to a fancier club. When someone in town is looking for somebody, they often stop to ask Jimmy Holmes.

"Ninety percent of the people come by some time during the week," says Holmes, a thoughtful man of 43 who is known as "Duck" to his customers.

"People bring in all kinds of problems," he says. "It's almost like a family unit. In a juke joint, almost everyone knows everyone or is related. You could fill up this place right now and there wouldn't be two strangers."

It's a similar sense of belonging that keeps people coming back to the White Rose Cafe in Tutwiler, Miss.

It is a rose-pink stucco roadhouse, marked by a neon Miller sign, in a town that, like many others in the Delta, has been declining for many years. Florence Seawood, 68, a lively woman of firm ideas, has owned the White Rose for 28 years with her husband, Claude.

The Seawoods run an old-time juke joint, with two jukeboxes full of blues. The bar looks like a lunch counter; the mint-green walls are adorned with cardboard beer signs. Business is slower than it used to be, Florence Seawood says. But her customers are loyal, she says as four middle-aged friends laugh and talk at the table beside her, crunched beer cans piled before them like a centerpiece.

Suddenly inspired, one of them, Bill Goss, 45, takes Seawood's hand.

Under yellow, blue and red crepe-paper streamers, across the linoleum floor, Goss and Seawood twist and sway to Clarence Carter's "Dance to the Blues." By the time the song is over, six other people have joined them.

"She's the one that taught me how to dance," Goss gushes as everyone in the White Rose applauds. "I've been coming here for five years, and I feel like I'm at home."

Delta life has long found expression in its juke houses — through music and art and dance, through love and fighting.

It shows in the color and designs of juke joints, which often include brightly painted reds, yellows and blues; some are adorned with more intricate paintings of women or animals, as was portrayed by Birney Imes in his recent book of photographs, Juke Joint.

Every now and then, expression comes in violence —ginger that erupts in rock-throwing at one juke joint, a beating outside another.

From the early days, though, it was the music of juke joints that most evidently expressed Delta life. Such legendary bluesmen as Robert John-son, Charlie Patton and Muddy Waters played in Delta roadhouses, singing about cotton and catfish, poverty and heartbreak. These days, down-home Delta blues artists are fewer, and the old blues arc less popular among blacks.

But a good blues band still jams a juke joint.

At the Big Star in Merigold, where strings of Christmas lights blink color onto the bare walls, people are applauding loudly.

The Wesley Jefferson Band is in high gear. People are dancing fervent-ly, some from their chairs. Hands are waving through the air, heads nodding. The bare wooden floor is shaking, heaving.

“Play the blues!” one woman screams.

The band veers into the lonesome swoon of "Sweet Sixteen" by B.B. King.

The place is throbbing, but the quiet-mannered lead guitar player is holding a blank gaze above the crowd.  He's in a fix: His wife, from whom he has been separated, has shown up on the same evening as his new girlfriend. One woman is watching him, the other watching her.

Roosevelt Buckner stands across the room, smiling. He's the warm, robust factory worker who owns the juke joint and whom everybody calls "Stool." Most weekend nights, he spins 45s on a record player behind the bar.

"I don't make enough to pay my light bills," he admits in a reflective moment, "but 1 like being here."

Delta Man Sings 'That Ole Blues' And Touched By Spirit Of The Lord

Leon Pinson: Fame Not Elevating Lifestyle, Income
By Janet Pardue - Clarion Ledger - Feb 22, 1976

CLEVELAND — Songs of Jesus and the promised land drifted through the Mississippi Delta more than a century ago. Today, many of those same songs composed by slaves ring through downtown Cleveland when the Rev. Leon Pinson plugs in his electric guitar and "sings with the spirit of the Lord." 

On any Saturday. he might be set up on the sidewalk here, performing traditional spirituals with a gusto that sometimes spreads to passersby. "Every once in a while someone will jump in with me," grins Pinson. He feels "if it ain't got no spirit about it. I just ain't gain' nowhere."

Pinson, with little money or education, has shaped his life around his music. Spinal meningitis as an infant rendered him almost totally blind and crippled. yet he grew up singing spirituals at churches in his hometown of New Albany and at outlying Guntown and Booneville. Now 57, Pinson has his own following in Cleveland, sings on a Sunday morning radio program and twice has represented Mississippi at the Smithsonian Institution's folklife festival. But recognition has done little to elevate Pinson's lifestyle.

Sometimes people donate a little something when he sings, but he says that money barely pays the monthly water bill. And stretching his welfare check from month to month is fairly impossible.

"As soon as you get it. when you start to pay the bills, you don't finish," Pinson worries. "I ain't wan-tin' to be rich. I ain't lookin' to get rich. I just want a living where I can get things when I need them." Pinson waits on the front porch of his four-room rent house behind the Cleveland bus station, He barely can discern the shapes of passing cars.In the muddy yard, two wood-en chairs have been left out in the rain. 

Inside his house on a stormy day, a space heater keeps the living room warm and humid. The walls, floor and furniture, as well as his suit, are blue — Pinson's favorite color. Two roomers share the house with him. but they're out working. Except for an occasional rooster's crow in the distance. it's quiet as Pinson limps across the room to turn on the amplifier.

He settles down finally on the couch with a bright red Gibson guitar on his lap. "My people used to sing a long time ago." Pinson says. "Three brothers used to come to our house and play guitar and fiddle and sing. They used to play that ole blues like their fathers used _ to. So, I got to liking music and got to playing myself." 

Shades of "that ole blues" emerge when Pinson sings spirituals such as "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen- or "I Want To Be at the Meeting. - But the reverend insists it's sacred music, not blues. that he performs. "I don't think there's nothing as stayable as spiritual music. I think that's what God is pleased with." 

When Pinson lived "up in the hills" at New Albany. he was a minister at the Church of God. Upon moving 12 years ago to the Delta. he had to give up the ministry because there's no Church of God here. Helping people find God can be accomplished through his music. Pinson says, because "with so much robbing, killing and shooting these days, it's what we need to get people's minds off all that stuff."

Mississippi slaves had the same idea in the 1820s when they sang spirituals as a mental and spiritual escape from life's hardships, says historian Dr. Bennie Reeves at Jackson State University. Forbidden to communicate with each other in their native African languages. the blacks created the "invisible church in the woods or in the fields and composed spirituals to go with it, says Reeves. They sang about their oppressed state and about hope of something better in another world, he says. Such songs as "Steal Away to Jesus" also played a major role in spreading messages of the under-ground railroad by which slaves could flee bondage. 

The solitary Pinson, singing "Soldiers' Plea- in his blue living room is oblivious to his role in continuing a black folk tradition. Electrified sounds bounce around the room as he launches into "How Great Thou Art."
The artist becomes enraptured when he plays. a necessity in effectively spreading the sacred word, he says. When you be singing, if the spirit don't touch you. then you can't reach no one. When people find God. they just shout out loud in church over the songs. It lets you know you're touching people. You know they're feeling the spirit." Pinson says. 

Mostly, the reverend likes to sing well-known spirituals he's picked up over years of listening to tapes and records. A large stereo dominates an entire wall of the room.

Pinson threads a tape player and proudly turns up the volume so the recording of his voice rises now and then above the tape's static. Pinson says he'd like to cut some records as have his favorite groups . the Swan Silvertones, the Harmonizing Four and the Pilgrim Travelers. But he doesn't have the money to finance the project. . Would he like to be famous? "It'd suit me," Pinson says. "I'd get to meet a lot of different people. go places I've never seen and do things I've never done before." Also, there's the money. ain't never worried about if I'm going to get too much."

Blues Most Every Day The Rev. Leon Pinson leads a solitary life dedicated to his music. The Cleveland man no longer preaches and spends much of his time listening to recordings of spirituals. But on Saturdays he plays and sings on sidewalks, drawing crowds in the Delta town.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Folklore Specialist Tours State Recording Heritage

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

James Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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