Memphian is 'Gold Mine' for Museum

By Connie White - Clarksdale, MS Press Register - April 17, 1980

Slightly over a year ago some folks over at the Carnegie Public Library came up with a good idea — a blues museum in Clarksdale.

Now, only a month before the grand opening of the museum's first major exhibition, a Memphis man with music credentials stretching through two decades is helping to turn the idea into a full scale reality.

Don Nix, a musician and record producer from Memphis, has turned into a blues hunter for the museum, and during the past month has collected an impressive number of items that will be displayed beginning May 15. Among the varied items are a saxophone once owned by W.C. Handy, overalls and a jacket donated by former Beatle George Harrison, and instruments owned or made by early blues artists.

Nix came to Clarksdale several months ago to visit Danny Green, a local musician. He heard about the museum and decided to take an active volunteer role. He began searching for blues musicians, their old instruments, and any pictures he could find. That search has turned into a literal blues gold mine for local Blues Museum backers.

Nix describes his blues search as a matter of beg, borrow and buy. "Some people donated or loaned the items," he said. "If it was really good 1 just went ahead and bought it." "Everybody I talked to in Memphis wants to see it really happen down here," Nix said. "They like what we're doing here because Memphis isn't going to do anything.

But some Memphis politicians seem to be at least aware of the fact that many items reflecting blues history are crossing state lines. Two weeks ago Nix was made an honorary County Commissioner.
"I think they're trying to get me to stop bringing that stuff out of Memphis," he said. The honorary position came complete with two big gold certificates. Nix plans to hang the certificates in Clarksdale's Blues Museum.

Nix's loyalty to the Clarksdale cause is a little unusual since his personal music career began in Memphis, or at least at a Memphis high school. It all started one day when a performer named Elvis Presley made an appearance at Nix's high school.

"We had never heard girls scream like that," Nix said as if still a little amazed. "We had never heard rock and roll music." Nix walked out of the auditorium and into the principal's office. "I told him I was quitting school," he said. "There was no need to go to school. I knew what I wanted to do — play rock and roll music."

Nix's first venture into music was the purchase of a guitar. "I knew I'd never get away with that," he said. He settled on a saxophone "I didn't know how to play," he said. "I just bought a saxophone and figured it out." After a stint in Oklahoma playing with Indian bands, Nix came back to Memphis and ran into a group of boys from his high school that were also trying to learn to play music.

"Everybody had bought instruments," Nix said. He said the group would go to all the black night clubs and listen to the bands to pick up technique and sound. The group of boys from the high school became the Mar-Keys.

The Mar-Keys went on to sell 31/2 million records which included the number 14 chart song in 1961 —"Last Night." The group was on the road for about four years traveling by bus through 48 states. They became the house band for the famous Stax recording label playing behind artists like Otis Redding, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd and William Bell.

The Mar-Keys broke up and Nix moved on to California and an association with singer Leon Russell. During those years he commuted between California and Memphis to continue his work with Stax.

His musical career has moved from performing to record producing to performing. He has produced 46 albums for other artists and recorded several of his own.

Nix says that the high point of his career was the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. He still carries a medallion commemorating his participation in the concert. His association with the benefit con-cert produced another bit of memories for the blues museum. When the exhibit officially opens May 15, a letter to Nix from George Harrison will be among the collection.

This week Nix is in the Memphis area again using his contacts and knowledge in the blues field to conjure up more items for the blues museum. He lived in Europe for several years and has an appreciation of love Europeans have for blues music. His albums always sold better on the other side of the Atlantic, and perhaps one reason for his concern for the local project is rooted there.

"They come to this area expecting to find something here," Nix said of the tourist's hunt for blues artifacts. "But there is nothing." Through Nix's efforts there may soon be something for blues lovers to see in the area that gave birth to the music — that something will be the Delta Blues Museum.


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