Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mississippi Women in Blues!

In celebration of Black History month Fancy, the Son, and Friends of Junior Kimbrough in partnership with the Leotyne Price Library at Rust College presents: Mississippi Women in Blues! A presentation of photographs, films, and archival material celebrates native Afro-American female presence in the Mississippi Blues world.

Black History Month begins 2/1/2018 - 2/28/2018
#BlackHistoryMonth #Celebration #VisitHollySpringsMS #RustCollege

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Memphis Burns Brighter" w/ Bill Pichette

By Bill Pichette - December 20, 2017
The Little Pitcher Project - Charlie Burse Project

Nobody is as Serious about Burying the
Bull as Bill and his Team
I envisioned taking a stroll, maybe having to beat through some bushes or tall grass, then finding his grave, screaming out “A-HA!” listening to one of his songs, and sending a picture. But when I found Rose Hill Cemetery off Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, there was a tree uprooted and broken by a recent storm laying in front of the gate. That should have been a warning. The first obstacle in my search, but not the day this mystery began.

When Will Shade returned to Memphis he had an idea. He gathered musicians with various talents so he could form a “jug” band like the ones he saw and heard in Louisville Kentucky. The group had a date set to record but Shade thought something was missing. He heard a young musician from Decatur Alabama playing and singing in a bar in 1928, liked what he heard, and invited the man to record with the band, which was elastic in its membership anyway. The young man provided vocals for that session’s “On The Road Again” and added his guitar for the classic “Lindberg Hop” and others. But that is not the day this mystery began.

Will Shade, Dewey Corley, & _____
Today, the small graveyard is peaceful and maintained. But Rose Hill Cemetery has a terrible past. Along with evidence of other crimes, in 1994 three murder victims were dumped there - evidence shows they were buried alive under a casket. These events sparked action from neighbors and local Cane Creek (MBE) Church. In 1979 bones were found above ground, funeral homes were fined, and the cemetery owner was murdered. All part of Rose Hill’s story, but not when my mystery began.

I met DeWayne Moore, Executive Director of Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, on another day in another cemetery at a ceremony for another Memphis music legend - Frank Stokes. That’s what Moore and “the Fund” do - locate and mark lost graves of musicians who had an impact, though many are not widely known, and help preserve or save the cemeteries they’re in. We got back in touch some months later, and then he asked me to attempt to locate a grave, which led me to mentally mark a grid and walk the cemetery the way I used to train post-incident recon teams to do - and my initial research. But those days are not where this mystery began.

On this day, I reflect on small success - finding some stories and the grave of the young man’s Mother at Rose Hill - and the failure of finding knowledgeable contacts and lost records. On this day in 1965, the day this mystery began, Charlie Burse, the longtime partner of Will Shade in the Memphis Jug Band and bandleader of the short-lived Memphis Mudcats, died of heart disease in Memphis and was later buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Monday, January 8, 2018

`Folk Music' Is Mance Lipscomb

By Jim Kelton - April 21, 1968 - San Antonio Express & News

Folk music. Now there's an elusive term. Next time you've got a day or two with nothing to do, sit down and think about it. What was it? What is it? What distinguishes it from the torrential tirade of self-purported mainstreamia? All good questions. All almost unanswerable. But the term folk music itself may not be as indefinable as the intangible quality of the inner character Of the music's collective personality. The term is, for the most part, a label, a modern convenience employed mainly for the experience of the superficial observer or for the fluency of conversation. 

To understand what it is all about, what it means, you have to understand, at least partially, the people who play it. And that opens a pretty wide spectrum. There are all kinds but they are not difficult to categorize. First, there are the Translators, groups like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary who deem it their mission to translate older songs into the vernacular both musically and grammatically. 

Then there are the Conservationists. This group, small to begin with and apparently dwindling, takes upon itself the awesome duty of playing so-called old-time music the way it was originally played. 

And finally, there are the Real People, meaning mainly the old-timers themselves. There aren't many of these left, though. In fact, you can count the survivors of the early - 1900 generation on one hand. 

Nevertheless, one of the most important members of this group is a Texan, accessible and perhaps, through circumstance, may provide the centerpiece for the entire patchwork of native American music. He is Mance Lipscomb, ex-sharecropper, and hard-laborer, blues singer, songster, and guitar player extraordinaire, not to mention exceptional human being. 

Lipscomb, the son of a man who was born a slave, began playing guitar about the time he was 14, in 1909. He taught himself in a relatively unorthodox thumb-and-forefinger style, but it has been a style that has worn well. For most of his life, he played in and around Navasota, his hometown in east Texas. He played dances mainly, dances on Saturday nights and white dances on Sunday nights. He picked up a little money that way to supplement his generally meager common-labor income. And he met some of the greats of his time: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jimmie Rodgers, and others. 

But always he was unknown outside of his native area. He had a chance once to go on the road as guitar-picker with Jimmie Rodgers, the old country bluesman, but he declined the offer for one reason or another. Mainly, he says, because he was just a country boy and didn't know much about the outside world. 

He does now. Since the early 1960s, almost everything in Lipscomb's life has changed. He still lives in Navasota with his wife of some 50-odd years. But he doesn't work the fields anymore and he's not playing his guitar for dances. Now people listen to what he's playing. And they welcome the opportunity. Chris Strachwitz, who heads a small but significant folk record company dubbed Arhoolie, recorded Lipscomb in his Navasota home one night, released a record entitled "Mance Lipscomb, Texas Songster and Sharecropper" and sprung the lid on the box that had been Mance's hiding place for about 60 years. 

Since then Lipscomb has played in almost every part of the country at nightclubs, folk festivals, universities, you name it. He played San Antonio last weekend and he vowed he would again. The Good News folk emporium on San Pedro says he's booked for the first weekend in May. "My whole life has changed since I was 60 years old," he said one night between sets as he crossed his legs and rearranged the cushion he was using to soften the beer keg he was sitting on. "I'm 73 years old now and I'm still living in a young people's world."

He had been sick, he said, for about eight weeks before his appearance here and he was a little afraid that his guitar playing, due to lack of practice, might not satisfy the crowd. 

But the crowd that came to hear him, a diverse but attentive group, came not to be impressed nor to be extraneously satisfied, but to listen, which NVAS apparently deep satisfaction in itself. They bade him goodbye Satur-day night with a standing ovation. 

Certainly, they were satisfied, but what the people came to hear and what satisfied them may have been two completely different entities. They came to hear and see an old-time blues singer and guitar picker who learned many of the songs that are called folk songs today, in one form or another, when they were new and who wrote a sizable share of them himself. 

What they heard was a man with the ability to communicate reality as he conceives it in the language he understands. 

It is not always a pretty language. Maybe that's why there were those who left when he started to play. The guitar is a part of Lipscomb's language and it is not the smooth-flowing, nontraumatic conversation of the campus variety, crowd-pleasing folk groups of today. 

"My guitar sings the song," Mance says. When the song says pain his guitar registers it. The songs he sings were borne mainly of the reality of experience. And the experiences of which he sings cover every range. 

"Everybody's always asking, 'What is the blues,' he said. "Well, the blues is a fee-lin'. If you ever felt bad that's the bad - feelin' blues and if you ever felt good that's the good - feelin' blues." 

Mance is 73 years old now and he speaks with the simplicity of the achieved or assumed wisdom of age. 

"Everybody asks what folk music is," he says. "There's one way to straighten all that Out. Everybody's folks." 

The incidents Lipscomb's songs speak of may not be familiar to everyone but the emotions they seek to illustrate are common. 

Every artist, be he writer, painter or musician, seeks to achieve an insight into human character and content through a meaningful abstraction of reality. And what is any piece of music but an attempt, directly or indirectly, to achieve just that? 

Maybe that's what it's all about. Maybe that's why Lipscomb doesn't waste too much time trying to explain, he just plays. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Making of "The Land Where the Blues Began"

By John Bishop - 1982

Mississippi summers are hot. When you pick up a camera you are instantly drenched with sweat from the exertion. Three thousand watts of quartz light and two hundred people crammed into a little church add to the effect. 

It was the first day’s shoot and I was nervous; they weren’t getting audio in the recording van and already the deacon was starting the revival. My collaborator, folklorist Worth Long, had briefed me on the order of the service and what to expect. I thought over what he said as I waited. The two men in the front row were seekers who expected to accept religion; the preaching, singing, and praying would focus on them. If all went well, they would cross over to the mourner’s bench which faced the congregation. 

“Tape’s rolling.” Director Alan Lomax’ voice came over the intercom. I swung the Ikegami HL-77 onto my shoulder and looked across the room to Ludwig Goon who would be shooting concurrently with a TKP-45. He smiled and gestured thumbs up as the congregation eased into the galvanizing moan of a lining hymn.

Things moved fast for the next three hours. Alan coordinated the coverage by intercom from the van where he would watch both monitors. Much of the interaction consisted of a rapid alternation between song leader and congregation or preacher and congregation, so each camera fed a separate recorder for the greatest flexibility in editing. The experience was more intense than I had expected. There was poetry in the songs and sermon, tender community support of the parishioners in trance, and the resolution of an essential conflict of group membership when the two seekers crossover. I was swept into the excitement; the camera became part of me, the heat ceased to be noticeable, and I moved as part of the congregation. This revival service was the start of a month of shooting that would culminate in a one-hour program for PBS, THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN.

I ached all over the next day. Shooting handheld for three hours with a new camera that weighs twice as much as an Arri takes its toll. But the rushes were a fine liniment: both cameras captured the vitality of the service. Even after watching the action over and over in the editing, I still get chills when the two men “come across”.

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