Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lattie "The Wolf" Murrell by Bengt Olsson

It was early September, the year was 1971, the cotton fields were starting to turn white and it was cooling off after yet another paralyzingly hot West Tennessee summer. The kind of summer that had tempted you to lay in front of the air conditioner, drink beer and watch trash on TV instead of devoting your precious time to going out exploring, trying to find previously unheard of blues singers. This particular Sunday afternoon we - Bill Barth and I - were driving around Fayette County, aimlessly - choosing roads at random - but with a purpose; the purpose being to dig old-style blues players out of their holes...bring them out into the light. few of them were still out there, no doubt about that, but they did not reveal themselves easily. They might still have their old battered guitars and occasionally play and sing around the house, but their communities rarely thought of them as singers or musicians and there were few, if any, occasions that called for their kind of music. Time had moved on. 

The Death Certificates of the Memphis Jug Band - Will Shade & Charlie Burse

Found by Bill Pichette on September 26 & 27, 2018

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Blind Willie Johnson: Revelations In the Dark

by Michael Corcoran - January 8, 2016 

Folks have been looking for Blind Willie Johnson since his “John The Revelator” jumped out of Harry Smith’s monumental Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952 like a Pentecostal preacher. “Well, who’s that writin’?,” Blind Willie called out in a fog-cutter bass, with his amen queen Willie B. Harris responding, “John The Revelator.” The repetition of those dissimilar, tent revival voices created a rhythm of dignified hardship, a struggle redeemed by faith. Thumb-picked guitar lines danced around the rough/smooth tension as the devil slid into the back pew.

This 1930 gospel recording about the Apostle who wrote the Book of Revelation was as lowdown dirty and hoppin’ as any blues or hillbilly number on Smith’s six-disc collection. Blind Willie didn’t even have to play any bottleneck guitar, which would become his signature on later reissues featuring “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Mother’s Children Have A Hard Time,” “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning,” “God Moves On The Water” and others.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sat - Sep 8 - Help Restore Graveyard of Memphis Music Legend

The Campaign to Memorialize Charlie Burse - "The Ukulele Kid"

DeWayne Moore - MZMF Director
Bill Pichette - Project Investigator

At NINE a.m. on September 8, 2018, the Mt Zion Memorial Fund's Memphis affiliate Bill Pichette will be rehabilitating Rose Hill Cemetery, the historic African American cemetery where Memphis Jug Band legend Charlie Burse lies in an unmarked grave. He is working through Grace St. Luke Chruch's outreach program, the MIFA (Memphis Inter-Faith Association), Cane Creek MB Church as well as other area churches on a Push to improve the Grounds. This volunteer event will take place, once again, on Saturday, September 8 at 1341 Rose Hill Road in Memphis starting at NINE a.m. We would like to invite everyone to come down and feel the connection to these roots of the Memphis music tree. Please bring instruments to entertain the volunteers and feel free to volunteer to get some of this sacred dirt on your hands. See you there!

Burse Biography by Arlo Leach 

In a career spanning 40 years, Charlie Burse moved from Sheffield, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi, to Memphis; from ukulele to guitar to mandolin; from jug band to fingerstyle blues to jazzy pop; and from busking on Beale Street to parties for Boss Crump to recording sessions at Sun Studios.

His best-known work was with the Memphis Jug Band, where he was the second longest serving member after its founder, Will Shade. He made significant contributions to some of the Memphis Jug Band's best-known songs, from his guitar riffs on "Cocaine Habit" and "You May Leave" to his lead vocals on "Bottle It Up and Go" and "Stealin' Stealin'" -- a song that has been covered by Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, the Grateful Dead, and countless modern jug, bluegrass and old-time bands.

Charlie Burse 
To Shade's quiet wit and behind the scenes organizing, Burse was the perfect complement: boisterous and energetic, with a punchy resonator tenor guitar, a voice that could cut through a busy market or hotel lobby, and hip gyrations that would influence Elvis. He spoiled more than one recording by stomping too hard on the studio floor, and he earned a reputation as a smart mouth at a time when black men were expected to be deferential. Yet he also had a serious side, holding a day job as a carpenter and painter, and providing for his wife and three children.

Burse assembled a combo with saxophone, bass, and drums for a lengthy recording session in 1939, and added a very rock-and-roll sounding piano when invited to record for Sam Phillips's fledgling record label in 1950. But by that time, he was at least twice the age of a typical recording star, and Phillips decided to focus on younger talent. Burse kept on doing his thing, recording with Will Shade for field researchers like Sam Charters and Alan Lomax, until his death in 1965.

Charlie Burse was laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery in Memphis, without a headstone. The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund is in touch with his daughter and grandchildren as well as the current owners of the cemetery, which was abandoned and unmaintained for years. Your donation will help install a memorial at the cemetery and organize a dedication ceremony, to give Burse some long overdue recognition as a singular talent and a key piece of American music history.

In the documentary American Epic (
Will Shade and Charlie Burse are featured performing in Memphis. 
Congratulations to all those who won a Grammy.  

The two enjoyed a brief resurgence toward the end of their lives due to their rediscovery in 1956 by Samuel Charters, who, later in 1963, recorded their final collaboration, Beale Street Mess-Around.  This video is from the 1958 television program, "Blues Street."

"One night in February 1928, Son [Brimmer] was walking along Beale Street, stopping to say hello to friends, and dropping in most of the bars to keep warm. There was another recording session scheduled with Victor the next morning, back in the studios in the McCall Building. In one of the barrooms, Yardbirds, a man was entertaining in the back room. He played a four-string tenor guitar, using the swinging rhythms of country dances, rather than the blues rhythms that the six-string guitar players like Son used. He was short and thin, dressed in loud clothes, laughing as he sang. His name was Charlie Burse, a country musician from Decatur, Alabama. Son liked his playing and his singing and he asked Burse if he wanted to record the next morning. Burse was willing; so Son took him home and they rehearsed all night, while Jennie slept in the other room. Burse gave the band an excitement and style that it had never had before. His laughter on the shouted vocal duets he and Shade did became one of the band's trademarks. They stayed together for the rest of the band's recording activity, making a tour of Chicago, and recording hundreds of songs for several record companies. Their music and their blues compositions had a raucous quality and a rich vein of country humor…"

from Samuel Charters, The Country Blues

Photo: Bill Pichette (May 2017)

Charlie Burse is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Memphis, TN. Our initial preliminary search of the burial ground was unsuccessful in locating the musician's grave. However, we did locate the grave of his mother, Emma Burse.

Born on May 20, 1874 to Lewis Hill in Alabama, Emma Burse had been living in Memphis at 589 Walnut Street and working as a “domestic” for about twelve years when she came down with a fatal case of pneumonia. A physician began attending to her on February 27, 1940, but she succumbed two days later at 12:43 p.m.  The undertaker at Southern Funeral Home handled her funeral arrangements and buried her remains in Rose Hill Cemetery on March 4, 1940.

Photo: Bill Pichette (May 2017)

The burials records for Rose Hill Cemetery were lost in 1979 when the owner of the burial ground was stabbed and killed. The authorities in Memphis later found the records inside a car submerged in the Mississippi River. Due to their inundation, the records were no longer legible.