Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Deep River [a Patton poem] by Habe Conlon

To whom it may concern-

Two September’s ago, during my first sophomore year of high school, my first assignment in my Honor’s English class was to pen out a poem. I wrote “Deep River” in approximately 4 minutes, and to this day I attribute this ease of the pen to Patton. Being only 15 at the time, I had known and heard Patton in song and had delved into his history, and I have realized how profound it really is. I am very thankful to have discovered Charley Patton and the rest of the Delta Blues denizens and the world they lived in relatively early in life. And I am very thankful for the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund and all involved in preserving the message, for research is respect indeed.

Deep River 
by Habe Conlon

               — along the palms of God’s hands, 
                   Dockery Plantation
                   (between Cleveland and Ruleville, MS)

Yesterday I found myself biding time
where billows of great aerial rain
comes down, hot stew and potatoes

I am here with sugarcane, and peas and so forth grow
shed by a beacon of lone smoke, stemming from
my pipe, a teepee sentinel worth dreaming of

The shanty rooftops, barns and even
the stills out back do little justice, on the sparks and
flames that seem to channel from the bottoms

of his feet, for a quarter you’d see and hear
him all night, it’d be dusty, the air glazed, stirred up
This man is a soldier, traveler into the blue, he flows like

a deep river, plantation desperado thinks to himself
simple thoughts, as the banty rooster only
stirs up more dust, the Delta sun quaking

Imitation train whistles echoing closer and
closer does this quaking not cease, with a
tighter grasp on moving on, and with that

our vagabond with guitar in hand weaves
a patchwork dream in hand, and into the night
he’s vanished, masked marvel out with the lantern flame

Some say he’s headed to the North, to play in the fiery bands
He’ll shake it and brake it in the palm of God’s hands.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Johnnie Billington: He taught the character of the Blues

Photo by Lou Bopp
By T.J. Wheeler

I was musing today about my old friend and Blues in the school com-patriot Mr. Johnnie Billington. Thinking over what a divine soul and teacher he was, as well as remembering all the good times we had conducting BITS (Blues in the School) programs together down in Jackson Mississippi, I decided to feature him for this month’s TBA Musing the Blues column.

Figuring I should include some basic bio info for the article, I did a quick Google search of his name. I scrolled down a litany of sites that immediately popped up from various Blues Societies he had dome BITS and concerts for, interviews, and old video links of such performances. Instead of a bio though, I was hit suddenly with a short and simple obituary. Unbeknown to me, he had died last year; April1, 2013 at the age of 77. The OB stated that he had died due to “complications from a heart attack” at a hospital in Clarksdale MS. They did mention that he called the music of his ancestors his passion and his calling. Today I’ll write this short musing about him, and then have a libation in his honor, making sure I pour some of it to the ground for him and those very ancestors that gave us all this music we call the Blues.