Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Beautiful Melodies of Manard - "Mississippi (Why You Gotta Be So Mean?)"

"I've been drinking dangerous moonshine since 6am," were the first words out of Red's mouth, as he slid into Carl's truck. The unprompted admission was Carl's first indication of what kind of day it was going to be. They were both stagehands, though Red was mostly retired at 68. Like most people in a "feast or famine" industry, odd jobs filled in the gaps. They were on their way to install a lift chair in a stairwell in the home of JR Pickett, one-time concert promoter, sometimes AV contractor, most of the time crook, and all of the time son of a b---h. Carl didn't much like it, and had told Red as much, but Red insisted, and a hundred bucks was a hundred bucks. Carl was about 50, stoutly built and quiet. He could be considered handsome, in a working-class way, with thick forearms and curly salt and pepper hair, worn a little shaggy. Red was tall, thin, had a shock of coarse white hair in a ponytail, and a gold tooth made more prominent by the fact that it was the only one in his mouth. Red was a constant talker." 

For the rest of this story, click HERE 

Album Review: Tony Manard Know Why -

The same site, on the main page, will get you to a place where you can pick up the above album by Tony Manard, who perhaps goes around wanting to "know why" everything is the way it is. I don't "know why" that's the name of his album, but if a man was to use his intuition and intellect and think of what might be on said album, he might not be all that surprised to find six of these songs coming from Manard.  In truth, I'm no Manard expert, but like all plural beings, I possess the ability to profile and judge folks, perhaps cold-read is a more acceptable term in our times. So I make assumptions and speak truth to power despite the offensive potential to a gracious and cordial individual who seems a genuinely kind soul. 

In my own mind, "Mississippi (Why You Gotta Be So Mean?)" is the artist taking on the role of a blue-collar southerner who wants to murder his employer, yet also desires some sort of job security so that he can grow old with a little grace and get a taste of the not-so-complicated twilight of life. There is also a tinge of sympathy for the plight of the unskilled laborer (read: redneck) in today's society whose job prospects are dwindling. While it's not mentioned directly in the song, it's implied that the increasingly diversified population and economy in the southern states is going to require folks to attain a different skill set to maintain their productive status in society. Of course, many of our brothers and sisters find themselves lost and feel as if they have no options, nothing to lose, and many people go the same route of our protagonist, learning the hard way that they had more than most. I think I hear Cecil Yancy back there on a harmony, and Alice Hasen demonstrates her abilities as a catgut scraper too on the opening track.  A full-length video directed and produced by Libby Brawley, one of the newer filmmakers in the Memphis-New York connection, is embedded below. 

The track that stands out to this lifelong admirer of the music of Beck and Leonard Cohen is "Track 6: B-Movie Actor," which contains lyrics that remind me of a love affair between two beatniks.  The most interesting aspect is the rhythm and the melody and even the vocal. It's a shakeup for Manard. Granted, it may be a bit groggy on the highs, but compared to the tone on the rest of the album, I'm actually quite refreshed and invigorated by its steadiness. Manard's skill as an instrumentalist cannot be denied by any sober critic, but I always felt that Robert Jr. Lockwood said it well when he said, "Don't play too much." Unlike a few other places on the album, the business of filling up space is abandoned in favor of pedantic, progressive rhythm on this aural delight, which should not fail to peak the curiosity and interest of Manard's more dedicated following. It is notable for nothing else if not Vincent Manard's closing with the Aztec Death whistle.  It makes you feel as if things will be all right despite a lot having gone wrong.  With no more ado, enjoy the show - TDM

"Mississippi (Why You Gotta Be So Mean?)"
Tony Manard

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Dropping Bombs on the Devil like its 1999 (6661)

By Bill Nichols

Your sons and daughters shall prophesy
Your old men shall dream dreams
Your young men shall see visions
Joel 2:28

Photo: Bill Steber

MARION — Just as the Lord God spoke to the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, so He peered one day over the undulating hills of Lauderdale County, Mississippi, into a whistle-stop town called Marion and found Cora Fluker.

They understood each other perfectly, Mrs. Fluker and God, and they struck a deal. She would sing His praises to the world and, though the fruits of material wealth would escape her through the whole of her life, He would fill her heart with the poetry of inspiration and give her soul a voice molded from the stuff of angels.

Both parties have honored the agreement more or less, and two-score years later, down a red clay-inlaid road six-tenths of a mile from downtown Marion in a house and church built of discarded wood and broken dreams, Cora Fluker sings on, witnessing to a faith that has become her only anchor in a voyage through poverty and despair.

I look in the East in the middle of the morning
I see God in the clouds
He's going to hear me crying

A small sample of the words of Cora Fluker, unlikely prophet, just singin' about her God to anybody who'll take the time to listen.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Bring the Thunder and Stomp the Grinder Down: A Most Hard Tale of the Texas Blues

By Michael Hortig (from Blues & Rhythm 2007) - This now-historic article is over a decade old and an example of some of the finest scholarship ever written about blues pianists.

Quite by chance I found the `Online Texas Death Index', where death certificates from 1890 to 1976 are available. Much biographical data of little known pianists such as Black Boy Shine, Bessie Tucker, and Wilson `Thunder' Smith have been found, providing the background for this two-part article on Texas Blues Piano.

Texas always had a big blues tradition — Ramblin' Thomas, Texas Alexander and Blind Lemon Jefferson—some of the most significant early blues artists came from Texas.

While the black population from other regions in the south like Mississippi or Alabama migrated north to Chicago, Memphis or St. Louis, the Texas population had big cities in their own state, like Houston, Shreveport or Dallas. The black population in Dallas increased from 9,000 in 1899 to 50,000 in 1930. However not only the big cities provided work.

Texas was rich with many kinds of industry. The oil country around Houston or Beaumont, the sugar-refineries in Fort Bend County, seaports like Galveston, and lumber and turpentine industries in the eastern parts, bordering the state line with Louisiana, and all those connected with legendary railroad lines like the 'Santa Fe', 'Rock Island' or the `Texas & Pacific'.

This provided the background to entertainment such as drinking, gambling, whoring, and dancing, with a great demand for musicians, especially piano players. Entertainment could be found in often rough and violent barrelhouses, where cheap booze was drawn direct from the barrel: "Up and down the Santa Fe tracks in those days, these were known as the barrelhouse joints. You play all night long, and they danced all night long. And the blues was all they wanted" — (Buster Pickens).

After the pianists had finished, they rode the train to the next job: "These other piano players, Son Becky, Andy Boy, Conish Burks, they went out different routes, hardly ever paired up, each lookin' for his own bread" — (Buster Pickens).

Many of them were crippled from riding the blinds, like the legendary Peg Leg Will. Others were murdered like Wilson Smith and Buster Pickens, or died of pneumonia and TB: "You play in those hot places and run out in the cold and chill air . . . gives you pneumonia".

NB: The blinds were the walkway between two passenger cars covered with either canvas or leather in an accordion shape, there was a ladder running up to the top of the car in this space and the hoboes would hold on to the ladder.

All this led to a very distinctive style of blues piano playing with a variety of stride, boogie or chorded patterns in the left. and a technically high standard of melodic structures in the right hand. They also didn't use only the eight or twelve bar forms, usually used by blues pianists of their time, they had nine, eleven, thirteen, fourteen or even 24 bar forms.

The first Texas pianist to record seems to be Bert M. Mays, who recorded four titles in Chicago in November/December 1927 for Paramount. His playing and his use of piano and vocal-effects puts him close to a group of Dallas based musicians who recorded between 1927 and 1929. In 1928 and 1929 Mays recorded ten more titles for Vocalion, from which only two have been released.

Although he recorded an 'Atlanta Blues', a 'Milwaukee Scrontch' and a 'Michigan River Blues', his version of 'You Can't Come In' suggests a southern background.

Between 1927 and 1929, Columbia made recording trips to Dallas, where they recorded Dallas based musicians like Whistlin' Alex Moore (see Part II), Texas Bill Day, and Willie Tyson. Around 'Deep Ellum' or 'Central Tracks', the heart of Dallas' black community, the pianists created their own 'Dallas style', slow or medium-paced and 'Bucket Of Blood' was a celebrated number. Joe and Fred Curtis, Frankie Allen, and Bobby Bryant were familiar names, but never got the chance to record.

About Texas Bill Day, nothing is known: Alex Moore remembered a Bill Day, who lived in Pickett, Texas. Day recorded six sides for Columbia with strong links to Dallas, as in 'Elm Street Blues': "Ellum Street's paved in brass, Main Street's paved in gold."

Next to record was William (Willie) Tyson.

Born on 15th September 1908, he recorded two unissued piano solos, 'Roberta Blues' and 'Missouri Blues' on 5th December for Columbia. One day later, he accompanied Hattie Hudson on her classic sides 'Black Hand Blues 'and 'Doggone My Good Luck Soul'. Hattie Hudson is believed to be Hattie Burleson (born 27th July 1897 in Bastrop County, died 13th November 1953 in Houston) who recorded the Texas classic 'Jim Nappy' in 1928. Tyson, who also accompanied Gertrude Perkins, Billiken Johnson and Lillian Glinn (1902 to 1970s) on record died on 30th September 1956 in Corpus Christi.

K.D. Johnson became famous for accompanying two of the best female blues singers, Bessie Tucker (born 1907, died of TB in Dallas on 6th January 1933) and Ida Mae Mack (born 28th August 1902 in Sunset, Louisiana, died 3rd October. 1951 in Houston from uraemia and diabetes), K.D. Johnson, born on 8th January, 1900 (or January 1899 as the 1900 census says), accompanied Tucker and Mack on their legendary session for Victor on 29th and 30th August, 1928 in Memphis. Johnson was remembered by Alex Moore as '49'. Mack didn't only credit known as 'forty-nine shows'. He accompanied Tucker in 1929 together with Jesse Thomas for Victor in Dallas.

His piano style, consisting of hammered chords in the right, and a variety of bass figures from stride to early boogie forms, fitted perfectly to the irregular tempo and the moaning singing of Tucker and Mack. Speculations have been made if Johnson had been their pimp and why they didn't record again? Maybe the clue is Johnson's death some three months after the last session on 30th May 1930 in Waco, due to TB, and the death of Tucker only three years later, facts, which were not known until now.

Another regional piano style was developed around Shreveport. Dave Alexander, who recorded under the name of 'Black Ivory King' in 1937 for Decca, and Dusky Dailey, who had two recording sessions in 1937 and 1939 for Vocalion, are generally known for recording a railroad piece 'The Flying Crow', which originated around Shreveport (guitarist Oscar Woods, also from Shreveport recorded this tune). It seems that Dailey was more a band pianist, not only for his later records with his band, but two of his four issued solo sides are pop numbers. Alexander fitted his nickname well because three of his four recordings are played in the keys of A, Eb, and Ab. He also reworked the Walter Roland classic 'Red Cross Store' with his own 'WPA Blues'. Virtually nothing about these two outstanding artists has been found.

The same goes for Big Boy Knox, who recorded four sides for Bluebird on 2nd March, 1937 in San Antonio. Some lines in 'Texas Blues' say that he was born in Louisiana and now is going to make Texas his home.

Frank Tannehill, born on 17th July, 1906 in Austin, first recorded in 1932 in Dallas as accompanist for Pere (Perry) Dickson. Under his own name, he recorded in 1937 for Vocalion in Chicago, 1938 for Bluebird in San Antonio and 1941 in Dallas. Over this period Tannehill changed his style from a heavy stride influenced, to a mellow, slow and sophisticated one. During his last session, he also recorded a pop tune, 'Lillie Mae' that may indicate that he had changed from the barrelhouse circuit to a socially better audience. He died in Dallas on 27th April 1943.

However, the most powerful group of pianists working all around Texas but playing in a similar, technically outstanding style was the so-called 'Santa Fe Group'. Pianists of that loose group came from Galveston, Houston, Richmond, Sugarland, and even up from the Piney Woods. When this group started to develop their style is not known, but Robert Shaw, who survived into the 1960s, was still able to play that complicated and complex style and dated it around 1920. He describes it: "It's very peculiar and takes a lot of practice."

One bass figure, originated by a man with a lame hand, was to chop the keys with the edge of the left hand. They could even manage to play rag, blues and boogie basses, and, unlike other blues pianists of that time, they used to play in nearly all keys of the piano. Although some of the most famous pianists of that group were recorded, a legion of others remained only in the memories of Shaw: "Jack Coleman, he was bad, drank all night and we've got another boy Lester (Rusty) Johnson, he was kind of short. Or take Peg Leg Will, he was six feet tall and weighed Pigmeat Jarrett, who met him in Cincinnati in the 1930s.

After his last session in Dallas on 14th June, 1937; he dropped out of sight. only seen by Buster Pickens in 1948. health wrecked by TB. Harold Holiday died on 28th March, 1952 due to TB in Sugar Land, and was buried in Stafford, Texas.

Next to record was Conish `Pinetop' Burks. Born on 7th August, 1907, it was said that he was raised near Richmond. He was remembered by Shaw: "Connie Burks, a dark fellow, about my size, maybe a little thicker than me. When I met him, he couldn't play, so I showed him some Three years later, when I was in Richmond again, he played better than me". His recorded output of six titles, made for Vocalion on 25th October, 1937 in San Antonio, show him as a pianist with an incredible technique and melodic feeling. His 'Mountain Jack' is his version of the 'Grinder'. his Fannie Mae' is the classic Hattie ' ' Green', and with Jack Of All Trades Blues', he recorded another Texas-classic. 'Shake The Shack' is a version of Pinetops Boogie Woogie', which is played both with boogie and Texas bass figures. He also dropped out of sight in the late 1930s, and he died on 11th January, 1947 in Corpus Christi.

Sharing the same session date was Leon Calhoun, who recorded under the name Son Becky. Born Leon Hathaway Calhoun on 13th October, 1910 in Wharton, Texas, it's said, that he was raised near Wharton by a relative with the name Becky, which led to his nickname, Son Becky. Medium in stature, stockily built. he is remembered playing along the Piney Woods border with Louisiana. An unknown guitarist and a washboard player accompanied him on his six titles, and this trio brought in the flavour of the music performed in the barrelhouses. Although not remembered by Robert Shaw. Becky made with his 'Mistreated Washboard Blues' his own version of the Santa Fe classic, the 'Ma Grinder'. Pickens remembered him dying in the early 1940s, which is proved by his death certificate. Son Becky died on 9th December. 1942 in Houston, due to “acute dilatation of stomach.”

On 3rd April, 1934, the singer Joe Pullum from Houston recorded 'Black Gal, What Makes Your Head So Hard', which became a nationwide blues hit, recorded by others like Leroy Carr, Mary Johnson, and Jimmy Gordon. This number was a trademark of the 'Santa Fe Group', and the reason that these musicians have never been lost in the obscurity of blues history.

On this and two other record sessions, pianist Rob Cooper accompanied Pullum. His style had many links to stride /ragtime piano; his use of 'tens' in the left-hand shows him as a very accomplished piano player. Shaw: "Robert Cooper was a youngster, the man who made 'Black Girl' with Pullum. We called him 'Perdue' (`Parduke'). He stayed in the Third Ward, Pullum in the Fourth Ward. He used to play with a band for a while, but when they split, he went up north to Chicago, and I've never seen him again". He recorded two versions of 'West Dallas Drag' under his own name, being his version of the 'Ma Grinder'. He did two more solo pieces, with Joe Pullum speech only: 'McKinney Street Stomp' and 'Blues With Class'. His last recording date with Pullum, who normally was accompanied by a pianist named Preston Chase, was on 25th February, 1936, and together with Chester Boone on trumpet and Melvin Martin on guitar, they recorded another Texas classic 'Hattie Green'.

Guido van Rijn found an advert in the Chicago Defender of the 16th March, 1946 about a Marvin Cates and his Earls of Rhythm, featuring a Robert Cooper (piano, vocals), but this is unconfirmed as the Texas man. Nothing else could be found on Rob Cooper.

Also only a few facts are known about the last musician of the 'Santa Fe Group', Andy Boy. It has been suggested, that boy was his real surname, but no evidence of an Andy/ Anthony/Andrew Boy have been found. Shaw remembers him as: "He was a little fellow, just a little older than me. He was the top kicker of Galveston". Only a few clues in his recordings seem to have biographical character: 'I have been born on Church Street'. Of all in the group, he was really the top player. Ragtime, blues and jazz elements in the left hand were combined with runs or incredible chord clusters in the right hand. His 'House Raid Blues', recorded on 24th February, 1937 in San Antonio has poem-structure, which was never used before or later. Andy Boy sings about an evening in Charlie Shiro's club in Galveston, where Andy Boy: 'Now it was four day in the morning when the shack's got raided...and: 'I'm playing the blues, down at the pool, just whippin’ that ivory board, just like a fool, then my hands got sore, somebody say, the law is at the door, so Andy Boy let go', and: 'I left so keen, I left, like a submarine. Couldn't hardly be seen.

He also accompanied Joe Pullum on eleven titles on 13th August, 1935, although it is not remembered that he ever played with Pullum. He also accompanied a tough voiced singer from the waterfront, Walter 'Cowboy' Washington on four sides, recorded on 24th February 1937. Rumours said that he left Texas for Kansas City in the mid-1950s, but no trace of him could be found. In his 'Church Street Blues', he only wanted to go: `to that good old seaport town, where we all had fun and stomped the grinder down.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Handy Museum Open in 1970

Museum in Florence Honors Handy

Anniston Star - 1970

FLORENCE, AL -- Sixty-one years ago in a small honky tonk known as Pee Wee's Place in Memphis, William Christopher Handy put his trumpet to his lips and blew in a new era of music, a type of music that was to influence compositions for generations.

On Sunday Florence will honor W. C. Handy for his contributions to the world of blues music. More than 40 of the top names in the blues and jazz fields will gather Sunday night for a concert in memory of the man that made the blues a part of the musical world. 

On that night in 1909, W.C. Handy tuned up his hand and played a composition he had written for a political campaign. And while the song was first known as "Mr. Crump's Song,” it became known to the world as “Memphis Blues.”

Handy, whose "Memphis Blues” and "St. Louis Blues” became the standards of a new musical era, always reminded interviewers that he was from Florence and his family insisted after his death in 1958 that his personal effects and musical collections go to that city. 

Handy, band director at Alabama A&M College in Huntsville, continued his musical interests up to his final years although he was blind for the latter portion of his life. On display in the Handy Museum in Florence will be a Braille dictionary he used. 

The museum will open Monday and will feature the famed trumpet that Handy used from 1920 on. Also on display will be the original scores of his compositions, and the many letters. plaques and written tributes that he received during his career. 

Handy's home, a small two-room log cabin, has been moved several blocks from where he was born and a large room added at the rear to provide for the many items the Handy family has given to the museum. 

The Florence Chamber of Commerce hopes to make the blues concert an annual affair. Handy's widow, brother, sister, daughter and two sons will attend the concert and museum opening. Performing at the concert at the Florence State University Fine Arts Auditorium will be the Olympia March Band of New Orleans, the Ronnie Cole Trio, Blanche Thomas, who has been singing for nearly a half century, Lou Sino and the Bengals, Danny Baker and possibly Pete Fountain or Al Hurt. 

Handy Music Company, started by the composer in 1919 in New York City, is still operating and being run by his sons. An autobiography has been reissued by McMillan and Company as part of the celebration of his hometown. Florence’s leading bookstore has had trouble keeping the new paperback edition in stock

Jimmy Odum, of the Florence Chamber of Commerce, said that the movie about Handy’s life will be shown at a Florence Theatre during the two days of activities. The late Nat King Cole played Handy in the movie. 

Handy was fond of his hometown and often came back to visit. On one such visit, V-E Day he stood outside the Florence Times and played God Bless America. 

When times were bad for Handy in the 1890s, he had to sleep on the cobblestones of the levee of the Mississippi, and at other times in a chair in a poolroom. The uncomfortable beds caused one admirer to comment later, 

No wonder he hated to see that evening sun go down.”

But the Father of the Blues later said those days of misery contributed to the making of the St. Louis Blues.

I like to think that the song reflects a life filled with hard times as well as good times.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"Blue Metamorphosis" Recognized Rightly, But its Simply not the Same Blues Foundation

"Life is the blues. Not necessarily all good. Not necessarily all bad. It's a feeling that can't be faked." - Jontavious Willis - His first recorded album, Blue Metamorphosis, first became available on his website. He's also got Jock Webb on there, which should have an effect similar to telling Jules from Pulp Fiction that Winston Wolf is coming. Do you feel better about grabbing a copy of his debut knowing about the appearance of Jock Webb? [grinning] "Shit, yeah! That's all you had to say!"
A few years ago, Jock Webb walked on stage in Memphis and won the International Blues Challenge (IBC), but the judges did not agree with our assessment and handed the hardware off to another contestant.  The IBC regained some of its integrity in 2018 when it made a correct decision and handed the...

Award for Best Self-Produced CD to Jontavious Willis for his debut album, Blue Metamorphosis!

The album was always deserving of an award, and I sincerely congratulate my friend on the production of such a high-quality debut.  Perhaps most responsible for the IBC award was the Atlanta Blues Society, for it was almost certainly their nomination that put the freshmen recording effort in the race in the first place.  We know that the IBC made the right decision about this award--what a refreshing, yet unfortunately novel, a concept that should be done for all awards in the future.


A Disturbing Development Revealed

Acting on the concerns of Jock Webb, and after conducting a little research into the history of the awards, the MZMF has discovered a disturbing development.  Since the inception of the awards at the Blues Foundation, each of them had been given in a specific category and each award had been given on the basis of merit.  Beginning in 2016, this policy changed, and the following examination of a single award for "Historic Preservation" will illuminate this problem.

The Historic Preservation Award had always been a very important part of the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards, having gone almost every year to a major leader or institution involved in the blues.  In 2016, the Blues Foundation did away with this important award in favor of doling out awards of a general nature, and sometimes with no regard for industry standards and practices.

Historic Preservation Award Recipients since 1981

David Evans in 1981

Sid Graves in 1989

Bob Koester, Delmark Records in 1990 

Larry Cohn, Roots N’ Blues Series, Columbia Records - 1991

Center for Southern Folklore - 1993

Skip Henderson 
(founder of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund)

Delta Blues Museum - 1996

Blues Archive at University of Mississippi - 1997

David Sanjek–New York, NY - 1998

Yazoo Records - 1999

Maxwell Street Historical Preservation Coalition - 2000

Johnny Parth of Document Records - 2001

Blue Heaven Studios & Revenant Records and John Fahey - 2002

Nuthin’ But The Blues - 2003

Europas Blues Senter, Nottoden, Norway - 2004

Music Maker Relief Foundation, Hillsborough, NC - 2005

River Museum Experience – Davenport, IA - 2006

Howlin’ Wolf Blues Society, West Point, MS - 2007

Mississippi Blues Commission and MDA, Division of Tourism, Jackson, MS - 2008

Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale, MS - 2009

Eric Leblanc, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada - 2010

Canada South Blues Museum – Windsor, Ontario, Canada - 2011

No Award in 2012

Critters – Clarksdale, Mississippi - 2013

George Mitchell – Fort Myers, Florida - 2014

Guido van Rijn Overveen, The Netherlands - 2015

In 2016, the Blues Foundation quit handing out the specific award for historic preservation and started handing out general awards for general blues stuff.  It is antithetical to give out an award won by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund to another organization that intentionally leaves out families and does no research whatsoever before throwing down the cheapest possible stone, which several times have been stolen and sometimes have been thrown  down in the wrong cemeteries out of pride and disrespect.  To give an award to a group that intentionally disregards and ignores the standard practices of respect, decency, and inclusive practice has no place on this list, even with a more general blanket award for having done blues stuff. I am filled with hope that their moratorium on intentionally disrespectful projects will end with their latest milestone.  I won't say the devil's name.  No one ever cares about preservation much in Mississippi.  

We do.  Now that's the deep blues.  


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”.