Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Nelson Street: Behind the Catfish & Cotton

By T. DeWayne Moore
Filling in the Silences: Part 2



In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the black schools in Greenville schools were the best in the state. While most state politicians virulently opposed the education of blacks and some districts spent as little as sixty-eight cents a year per black student, the Queen City allocated an annual seventeen dollars for the education of each black child enrolled in public school, which offered not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also courses in foreign languages. Senator Leroy Percy and his allies may have allocated the funds that made it possible, but the principal of Greenville’s main black school, Lizzie Williams Coleman, provided the vision, determination, and hard hand required to shape a curriculum that endowed young blacks with pride, self-respect, and intelligence under the racial stigma of Jim Crow.[1] Possessing great pride in herself and her own black heritage, she was known to exclaim, “I don’t believe in the melting pot.”[2]


The staging at Heathman Plantation for Southern Living magazine invokes a bubolic fascination with the South, a mythic version of a bygone era. Notice the silences, and how space is filled with nostalgia and longing. What don't you see?


An African American family of sharecroppers
in the Delta circa 1935
Born to “pure negro parentage”[3] in Yazoo County around the end of the Civil War, she had moved to Greenville, married the formerly enslaved Jerry Coleman, and started her career as a teacher in the 1890s.[4] Lizzie Coleman possessed an excellent memory and command of mathematics that served her well in teaching elementary students, but over the years she realized the need for a broader educational agenda, which required a deeper commitment to teaching standards and fundraising. After becoming principle of the Number Two School in the 1920s, she required that aspiring teachers attend summer instruction programs, pass the state examination, and observe experienced instructors for a period of time before setting them loose on their own. She taught them to push students to excel in their studies, and she made it mandatory that each teacher raise over one hundred dollars for the school each year, which, along with the city funding, ensured that black youths got the best education in the state. 

By maintaining good relationships with local whites and welcoming the support of the city fathers, she also established a pragmatic program to make the most of their generous patronage. Indeed, she learned how to not only survive but thrive under the city’s more paternalist system of Jim Crow, providing her students and others the ideological tools to wage psychological war against white supremacy. Coleman certainly possessed an intense passion for the literature and poetry of Harlem Renaissance writers such as black radical Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, who celebrated black beauty and deplored racism, and Langston Hughes, whose work attempted to depict the “low-life,” or the essential truth of black life at the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Coleman delivered lectures from memory on the works of black intellectuals who highlighted the beauty of black life, even among the poorest sharecroppers, which served to counter the negative racial stereotypes that buttressed the myth of white supremacy.

Lizzie Coleman was one of three women who founded the Mississippi Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (MFCWC) in 1903.[5] Following a regional meeting of the Southeastern Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (SACW), women’s club work swelled in Mississippi and prompted the three women to recruit several of the state’s black women’s clubs to work with the MFCWC. In line with the NACW motto—“Lifting as We Climb”—the MFCWC organized for the “binding together” of women for “social, moral, religious, industrial, and educational betterment, with the fundamental object of raising to the highest plane, home, moral, and civil life.”[6] Coleman, indeed, inspired many Mississippi clubwomen to work on a variety of fronts—“improving home and family life, combatting illiteracy, education and protection of our youth, providing for cultural, recreational, religious, economic and social needs”—to improve African Americans’ quality of life. Though such endeavors in social activism were perhaps typical of middle-class clubwomen, their work was also intrinsically political considering the socioeconomic context of Jim Crow. Coleman and other respectable clubwomen launched notable campaigns to redress the separate, yet wholly inferior resources, available to blacks. In the main, however, she supported and nurtured the black community through the building of quality educational institutions, which taught students to question racial stereotypes and oppose the state’s racist political structure. Her students would grow up and help start the Delta Council of Negro Leadership and enjoy significantly greater access to the franchise in the Queen City.

Lizzie Coleman may have also been influenced by the messages of emigrationism, racial pride and self-defense espoused by African Methodist Episcopal (AME) bishop Henry McNeal Turner, who enjoyed a good deal of popularity among African Americans in late nineteenth century Greenville. In April 1894, he delivered a lecture at St. Matthews AME Church on Nelson Street on the subject of “The Dark Continent,” according to the Times of Greenville, one of which he could speak with some authority, having recently returned from a long sojourn in Liberia and Sierra Leone.[7] Africa was “one of the more paradisiacal portions of earth” that he had ever seen, and upon his return, he got serious about promoting his vision of emigration. In light of the hardening of social Darwinist-infused white supremacy, Turner concluded that the situation of blacks would never get better in the United States. “I have said, and say yet,” he asserted in a letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Freeman, “that there is no more hope for the black man in this country to become a civil and political factor, than there is for a frog in a snake den. And any man who is too idiotic to see it ought to go and hang himself.”[8] According to historian Mary G. Rolinson, some blacks in Greenville tried to become agents for the African Colonization Society, believing that many blacks would emigrate if given applications and a contact.[9] John Chapple, pious member of Mt. Horeb Missionary Baptist (MB) Church and editor of the upstart weekly newspaper Delta Lighthouse, mentioned an African American convention “to consider plans for emigrating” to Liberia. In his opinion, emigration was a “very wise step,” considering the decrepit state of race relations in the Magnolia State.[10]

Though two ships with a total of five hundred or more emigrants sailed to Liberia in the mid-1890s, many returned to America with complaints about disease and poor economic prospects. Bishop Turner nevertheless continued to promote his back-to-Africa program, but other church and secular leaders had begun speaking and writing against emigration. One journalist considered it “out of the question.”[11] Most black folks did not want to emigrate to Africa, and no durable power existed to compel them. Having been born in the United States, blacks folks had the right to stay and exercised that right despite the utter disregard for their human and civil rights. The powerful myths associated with Africa---the unbearable heat and swampy land made it rife with disease and death—also dissuaded scores of African Americans.[12] “If, as Bishop Turner says,” one Mississippi newspaper commented, “the social, political and civil status of the negro is declining, the improvement of that status rests with the negro himself…and he can do it a good deal better in the United States than in Liberia.”[13]

Having resolved themselves to casting down their buckets in the Delta, many African Americans in Washington County embraced the message of self-reliance and economic nationalism espoused by Booker T. Washington, who visited Greenville on his first educational tour through the South. Six thousand people met the Tuskegee Wizard at the train station, and he delivered speeches to throngs of people both inside and outside the courthouse.[14] Washington and his entourage attended a banquet that evening at the Pythian Temple, an event which John Strauther considered “the most successful affair of the kind ever given in Greenville.” As later noted by Washington, the symbols of black economic power in Greenville and Mound Bayou provided strong evidence against the “white supremacist arguments of black retrogression.”[15]

It was most evident on his tour of the black homes and businesses. Washington visited the large bookstore at 209 Washington Avenue operated by Granville Carter, who had outlasted other bookstores, expanded his sales opportunities into other counties, and become one of the most prosperous African Americans in Greenville.[16] He opened Carter’s Book Store in the early 1880s, and over the next decade it grew into the city’s “headquarters for holiday goods…in every line,” including glass and china ware, fireworks, dolls, and other toys.[17], and it remained a fixture in the local community until his retirement in 1927. In 1930, Granville Carter owned a $1,500 home in Greenville.[18] The Times affirmed that “he was always trusted” in his business of selling books, stationary and children’s toys to both blacks and whites. Though many blacks were “beaten up and given no chance” in Mississippi, the success of Carter demonstrated that the people of Greenville were “always ready to acknowledge service whether from black skin or white skin.”[19] Carter had filed bankruptcy in 1898, but he reopened at the same location and, according to the Times, operated an “A1 Book and Periodical” store at 207 Washington Street, and “he always kept on hand a large and complete assortment of school books, slates, pens, pencil, rulers, ink, and in fact all school supplies.”[20]

The New York Times, June 12, 1910.
The most prosperous and affluent African Americans in Greenville were high ranking church officials, prominent members of the first five churches, and leaders of the three powerful state fraternal organizations headquartered in the Delta, which flourished alongside black businesses in the early years of the twentieth century. Bishop E. W. Lampton was Grand Master of the M.W. Stringer Grand Lodge of Masons; H. B. Brown was the Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Pythias of Mississippi, and John C. Chapple was the Supreme Commander of the Knights and Ladies of Honor Temple of America. Thousands of black dollars flowed into the city through the fraternal organizations and provided black businesses with easy access to capital. Carter was among the most prosperous blacks with his book store, but other black entrepreneurs operated livery stables, blacksmith shops; ice cream shops, funeral parlors, burial associations, and specialized in heavy hauling and house moving. Several black businessmen organized a local chapter of the Negro Business League (NBL), which Booker T. Washington founded in 1900 to promote commercial, agricultural, educational, and industrial advancement” as well as “the commercial and financial development of the Negro.”[21] Eschewing a more radical campaign for political and social equality, the six hundred branches of the NBL across the South encouraged blacks to purchase farmland and get into the businesses of banking, insurance, manufacturing, and the mercantile enterprise.[22]




While black doctors and dentists, a black printer, and several black funeral home operators setup shop in buildings on Nelson Street or the fringes of downtown, and a black-owned newsstand and black shoe shiners regularly served whites along the business district on Main Street and Washington Street, the majority of black women worked as cooks and maids, bringing the streets to life in the mornings as they made their way to white homes. In 1906, the Delta Savings Bank opened its doors on Walnut Street with the help of several black business leaders, particularly landowner and undertaker John Strauther, who opened the city’s “first modern scientific funeral establishment” and, “by his thrift and industry,” amassed a small fortune in land holdings.[23] As grand master of exchequer in the Grand Lodge of Colored Pythians, Strauther had brought the fraternal organization out of a large deficit to a surplus of $30,000.[24] The bank thrived for several years under his leadership, but it suffered after his passing a few years later as well as the forced exile of Bishop Edward Lampton, who had allegedly requested that the white telephone operator use courtesy titles when addressing his daughters. The bank, in fact, survived largely through the patronage of black prostitutes who serviced an exclusive white clientele and cajoled them to make deposits.[25] The brothels on Blanton Street (changed to North Street after 1910 at the request of the Blanton family[26]) conducted a brisk business in the notorious red light district of Greenville, where all prostitutes had to get a health certificate each week.[27] The bawdy houses were supplied with alcohol from surrounding saloons, and on some nights each of the brothels might entertain more than one hundred randy clients. “On Sundays,” one local complained, “these places fairly run over with the men and boys of our town, drinking and carousing.” Though absent from the thoroughfares leading to the depots and steamboat landings, “where decent people are compelled to pass at all hours,” the “houses of prostitution” served as much more than a place where men could quench their sexual appetites.[28]

The Blue Front was the place to go in Hollandale.



The red light district also allowed its white patrons to propagate lies about black women’s inherent sexual inclinations and indiscriminate tastes. The relatively-hedonistic stereotype of the “Jezebel,” a sexually-insatiable temptress, had its roots in the antebellum South, when slave owners auctioned off and bred black women, who had no control over their own bodies, to maximize profits. “Emancipation did not end the social and political usefulness of this stereotype,” argues historian Melissa Harris-Perry, who succinctly points out that “access to black women’s bodies was an assumption supported both by their history as legal property and by the myth of their sexual promiscuity.”[29] The sexual temptress, indeed, was not the only negative stereotype attached to black women, but it served as a powerful promotional device for Greenville’s brothels—savage, wild animals of lust, ready to go anyplace, anytime, with anyone.[30] The hardening of racial stereotypes at the end of the nineteenth century projected clear messages about black women to white men—telling them, since they are all prostitutes, “it is all right to solicit black women and girls for sex.” It also sent unambiguous messages to black women—saying “this is how it is,” white men can rape you; “this is who you are,” a whore; “this is what you’re for,” satiating the sexual desires of white men.[31] Danielle McGuire has recently examined sexualized violence and the defense of black womanhood in the South and found it served as a catalyst in the black freedom struggle. The unpunished rape of black women—in many ways similar to lynching—functioned as both a psychological and physical tool of intimidation, which buttressed male domination as well as white supremacy. And yet, sexualized violence has yet to be included in the history of the black freedom struggle. McGuire’s recent study “At the Dark End of the Street” argues that white males used sex as a weapon of terror to not only undermine the black freedom struggle, but also to maintain both white privilege and the power to control access to black and white women’s bodies.[32]


The old red light district along Blanton Street ran into Nelson Street, the black business section where African Americans “made their way until segregation ended,” or what Wilmoth Carter called “Negro Main Street,” which some locals once referred to as “the black wall street of Greenville, Mississippi.”[33]


Notes

[1] John Barry, Rising Tide, 134.

[2] L.C. Holmes, “Lizzie Coleman,” in History of Blacks in Greenville, Mississippi, from 1868 to 1975 (Greenville Travel Club, 1975), 8.

[3] “Lizzie Coleman Dies Suddenly at School Exercises,” DDT, May 28, 1931, p.8.

[4] “Jerry and Lizzie Coleman,” 1900 US Census, Greenville, Washington, Mississippi; Roll: 832; Page: 26A; Enumeration District:0082; FHL microfilm: 1240832.

[5] Ursula J. Wade Foster, a faculty member at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (Alcorn A & M, now Alcorn State University) and Mattie F. Rowan, the first lady of Alcorn, were the other two women.

[6] Tiyi Morris, Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South: Womanpower Unlimited and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2015), 9.

[7] The Greenville Times, April 14, 1894, p.3.

[8] Andre E. Johnson, The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012), 76-77.

[9] Rolinson, Grassroots Garveyism, 33.

[10] BDH, Sep 24, 1899, p.2.

[11] BDH, Dec 1, 1898, p.4.

[12] Johnson, The Forgotten Prophet, 77.

[13] BDH, Dec 1, 1898, p.4.

[14] “Large Crowd Hears Speech of Booker T. Washington,” TDD, Oct 15, 1908, p.6.

[15] David H. Jackson, Jr., Booker T. Washington and the Struggle Against White Supremacy: The Southern Educational Tours, 1908-1912 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013): 71-72.

[16] Booker T. Washington, “Negro Disfranchisement and the Negro in Business,” Outlook 93:6 (Oct 9, 1909): 310.

[17] The city council had purchased some books for local schools from Carter in 1884; see, TGT, Mar 8, 1884, p.3; TGT, Dec 7, 1889, p.5.

[18] Granville was born in Tennessee in around 1952, but he had moved to Greenville by 1870. At the age of eighteen, he worked as a domestic servant in the homes of whites, where he gained an appreciation of literature and history; see, 1870; Census Place: Greenville, Washington, Mississippi; Roll: M593_752; Page: 9A; Image: 21; Family History Library Film: 552251; 1930; Census Place: Greenville, Washington, Mississippi; Roll: 1171; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 0008; Image: 150.0; FHL microfilm: 2340906.

[19] John Barry, Rising Tide, 179.

[20] TGT, Apr 11, 1891, p.1; “Notice of Bankruptcy,” TGT, Nov 26, 1898, p.2.

[21] James Lawrence Nichols and William Henry Crogman, Progress of a Race: Or, The Remarkable Advancement of the American Negro, from the Bondage of Slavery, Ignorance, and Poverty of the Freedom of Citizenship, Intelligence, Affluence, Honor and Trust (Naperville, IL: J.L. Nichols & Company, 1920), 229.

[22] “National Negro Business League.,” DDT, Aug 10, 1905, p.1.

[23] “The Delta Savings Bank,” DDT, Mar 10, 1909, p.1; DDT, Oct 8, 1910, p.49; “Six Early Banks Had Fewer Debts,” DDT, Oct 31, 1951, p.60;

[24] “Grand Lodge of Colored Pythians,” The Greenville (MS) Times, July 13, 1907, p.9.

[25] Levye Chapple Sr. et al., History of Blacks in Greenville, Mississippi, 1868-1975 (Greenville, MS: Greenville Travel Club, 1975), p.2.

[26] Ben Wasson, “Crescent City Remembered,” DDT, May 29, 1977, p.13.

[27] Salvadore Signa, interview by Roberta Miller, December 1, 1976, Washington County Library System Oral History Project: Greenville and Vicinity.

[28] TGT, July 22, 1905, p.1.

[29] Karn Williams, review of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa V. Harris-Perry, (Washington, DC) Afro-American Red Star, Sep 24, 2011, p.C8. 

[30] Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1991), 21-30.

[31] Jessica Spector, Prostitution and Pornography: Philosophical Debate about the Sex Industry (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), 20.

[32] Danielle L. McGuire, “At The Dark End of the Street: Sexualized Violence, Community Mobilization and the African-American Freedom Struggle,” PhD dissertation, Rutgers University, 2007.

[33] Dr. L. Jordan Jackson, Triggering The Memories (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation, 2012), 52; Wilmoth A. Carter, “Negro Main Street as a Symbol of Discrimination,” Phylon (Fall 1960): 237.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

T.J. Wheeler's Epic: "All Roads Lead to the Blues" Chapter 6-8

©2007 all rights reserved By TJ Wheele

Chapter 6
Back Upstairs in the Basement 

With Bukka, resting safely under Leola’s watchful care, I decided, as promised, to head back to see if Furry had woken from his siesta. The sun was just starting to set, as Old Blue and I traveled, once again, up Mosby Street. It was only two and a half blocks to Furry’s, but I followed everybody’s advice to drive, as it was sure to be dark soon. 

Folks, after their Sunday dinners, were starting to head back to church for the evening service, still dressed, to the “ninths”, in their best church clothes. It seemed as they been in church all day, which for me was surprising. In the all white church my family attended, back in Bremerton, Washington, that was unheard of. If the service went a minute over an hour, people would start fidgeting in their pews and would get upset enough to take their collection money back, if they had half a chance. 

While Church goers marched back up to the church across from Furry’s, I marched back up to Furry’s door, and this time, without any prodding, knocked loudly. Opposed to earlier that afternoon, an alert voice responded “Who’s there and what do you want?” 

Addressing him in the same manner as the next door lady I said; “Hey Mr. Furry, it’s me, TJ, the white boy that was here earlier.” A moment or two later, I saw, out of the corner of my left eye, his window shade drawn open to the side for a few seconds, before being pulled closed again. 

“Well I’ll be, get yourself in here” Furry said, sounding surprised by my return. Though still on the bed, he was now dressed and sitting up with both his wooden leg and glasses on. Through their thick lenses he looked at me inquisitively and said “What do you know? You weren’t a dream after all!” 

“You were so tired; I wasn’t sure what to do. You sure had me worried” I told him sincerely. 

“Tain’t nothing wrong with Old Furry that a little shut eye can’t cure.” He said laconically. Then with an excited and curious impulsiveness he quickly asked me “Hey! Is that your van parked out there?” 

Proudly I replied; “Yep, it sure is. That’s “Old Blue” and she’s more than a van, right now she’s my home on wheels. She’s got a fold out bed and even an ice box” I answered, though I was hoping I hadn’t bragged too much. 

“That right?” Furry said, and then peered out his window again for another look at Blue. “Well I can see that she’s a pretty thing.” He admiringly added. 

“Well like the old Blues song, she’s built for comfort not for speed” I laughingly joked. 

“If that’s the case, “Old Blue” and I have a lot in common” Furry quipped back. “Say speaking of ice boxes, I have myself two! I got one for my food, the brown one, and the other green ones for my drinks.” 

“Is that right? You’ve got one whole refrigerator for drinks?” I asked. 

“It sure is. Why don’t you just pick yourself up your rusty, dusty and go see for yourself?” Furry instructed more than asked. 

Not wanting to disrespect my elders, and feeling a bit parched, I walked into the kitchen to do just that. Opening the avocado green refrigerator door wide open, I let out a small gasp. In awe, I beheld a case of quarts of Stag beer, standing up, rank and file. “Mr. Furry you’ve got a 24 tall, proud soldiers, filling up this your entire fridge.” I said, “I see you’ve got your whole house built for comfort.” 

“Well they tain’t for gazing, there for drinking. Crack one open, get us a couple of glasses and we’ll have a “sit down” Furry kindly ordered. 

Taking two tall tumblers out of the dish drainer, I poured out the regional golden essence, brought them into the living room and handed Furry his glass. “Should we have a toast?” I asked. 

“I’d say after my trip and your trip, that’s exactly what’s in order.” 

“Yes indeedee” I concurred. 

“You know, I think I have just the one.” Furry paused for a moment, slowly lifted up his glass, which I followed forth doing myself, and slowly began to recite his toast, with all of the finesse of Paul Robeson narrating a speech from Othello. “I had a little hog…I fed him full of Cheese… He got so fat… he couldn’t see past his knees… Now he was the best old hog, on this old farm…But who’s gona buy another (lifting up his glass even higher) when this one’s gone?” Furry burst into a huge belly laugh, and then feigning that he was catching himself, abruptly settled down, and then in a reserved manner took a polite sip of his beer. I laughed at his laughter and Chaplin like antics, all of which were even funnier than the toast and took a long swig off my tumbler. 

“With one fridge for your Stag, and one whole other, just for food, do you do a lot of cooking” I asked. 

“No, not really, I leaves all of that for my wives to fuss over” Furry replied, then calmly went back to his beer. 

“Now wait just there. Did I hear you right Mr. Furry?” I injected, “It sounded like you said wives, not wife.” 

“There ain’t nothing wrong with your hearing boy. I’ve got a woman for every day of the week!” Furry retorted matter of factually. 

“Say what?” I exclaimed, “Quit pulling my leg” 

“The only leg I pull is my own, and that’s just when I’m too tired to keep it on. You don’t believe Old Furry?” The rascal Bluesman asked, “Well, you just pass me my git…tar.., and I’ll learn you a thing or two.” 

Raising my, slowly, sinking self off the engulfing, old burgundy, colored couch, I went over to the door, grabbed his, relatively new, Epiphone, flat top, acoustic, guitar and laid it down on the bed next to him. Furry bent over reaching into his bed side, table drawer, and out a slide, and a thumb pick. From where I was still standing, I couldn’t help but notice, the startling site of a Snub Nose, 38 revolver resting next to an assortment of picks, strings and a half pint bottle of “Ten High” whiskey! 

A drawn out “Whoa” was all I could muster. 

Looking up to me, with just the slightest, wry grin, he casually said “That’s one of my wives there, meet Bessie.” 

“Evening Ms. Bessie, Pleased to meet cha” I said, after all I sure didn’t want to get on her bad side. 

Furry pushed the drawer closed, picked up his guitar and said; “Now, I’m going to sing you a song about all my wives, so you just sit back and listen and learn.” 

Starting a medium tempo Blues, Furry soon broke into some very self descriptive lyrics of his pluralistic matrimonial state. “Well, I’ve got a woman, for every day of the week…Well I’ve…” pausing, he let his slide playing mimic the rest of the same lyrical line. On the third line, he sang the exact same thing once more, just in case I wasn’t taking him serious yet. When the Blues form came back around to the top, Furry stayed on the first chord of the Blues for a whole 16 bars, with the following descriptions of his wives activities; 

“Well my Monday woman lives on Beale and Main, and my Tuesday woman brings me pocket change, and my Wednesday woman brings me daily news, and my Thursday woman finds my socks and shoes, and my Friday woman puts it on the shelf, my Saturday woman gives me the Devil if she catch me here, and my Sunday woman cooks me something to eat, Furry’s got a woman for every day of the week.” Though, I expected him to finally go to the second chord change of the traditional Blues form, Furry slammed the brakes down on the last word, of the last lyric line, so fast, I was surprised I didn’t get whiplash! 

It took me a second or two, to snap myself back to reality and figure out how to respond. Still clapping my hands, in eighth notes of the suddenly finished song, I simply said “Furry, you learned me all right, that time” and then we both had another hearty belly laugh. 

Then Furry spoke a little softer as if to let me in on something; “Well I can’t say, that I actually had any kind of church or City Hall service to signify that I’m married to any of them. But, I call them all my wives and they sure all do help old Furry out. And that’s the truth as I live… and… breathe.” 

The sincerity of the last statement, seemed heartfelt, so I thought I take a chance and return the sentiment with somewhat of a personal question. “Furry?” I paused, and he looked over at me in my eyes. “How come you never really did get married?” 

With his eyebrows, suddenly burrowed together, and tilting his head towards me, as if I asked the most ludicrous question of his life, he snapped back at me; “Why should I get married...when the man next door already got a wife??? If I get’s lonesome I’ll just go next door and borrow his!” 

The absurdity and straight faced delivery of his joke made me laugh more in disbelief than anything else. “Furry” I said, “You are a lot like Old Blue. You both are a couple of old hound dogs.” 

“Now that ain’t so TJ” Furry meekly protested, as if I hurt his feelings. 

“Why’s that?” I asked, as I felt myself getting pulled in again. 

“Cause, I’m like a rabbit in a thicket and it takes a mighty quick dog to catch me!” Furry exclaimed, and then we both broke down laughing once again. 

“Well Mr. Rabbit, earlier today you sure looked as if that same dog had chased you all the way from Nashville. Were you doing a gig there?” I asked. 

Furry raised his long, what some might call, bony finger, and pointed to a framed photograph on the wall. “You recognize those two boys I’m with?” 

Walking back over across the room for a closer look, I instantly recognized Furry, dressed in overalls and a fedora hat, standing between two very notable personality celebrities of the mid seventies, musician, actor Jerry Reed, and actor, Playgirl centerfold Burt Reynolds. The world’s most famous good old boys had a pair of shit eating grins on their faces that read, to me, that they were big fans of Furry themselves. 

“Wow Furry” I exclaimed, “Is that who you were with in Nashville?” 

“Those boys and me are making a movie together called ‘W…W… and the… Dixie Dance Kings’. Each letter, each vowel, was as slow as buttermilk coming out. In fact, I began to realize that the longer it took Furry to say something, chances are, the more important it was! 

Furry proceeded to tell me all the goings on, about the film and how he had been commuting back and forth from Nashville, on the weekends, for the last six weeks. Though exhausting, it was clear he was having a great time. 

He then showed me a framed document, also on his wall, from the State Governors office declaring Furry the first honorary black Colonel in the State of Tennessee. (F/N investigate this document) “That’s really an honor. I’m really impressed. Well Colonel Furry, I guess I’ve come from Colorado to report for duty. Any orders sir?” I said with a grin. 

He looked up at me with an air of high authority, if not the High Sherriff himself, and said; “In that case, get in that kitchen and take out another one of them soldiers.” 

After getting another beer for the two of us, Furry said; “You say you’re from Colorado?” 

“I’m originally from Seattle Washington, but I’ve been living in Colorado over the winter.” I answered, and included; “In fact, I met and heard you for the first time in Denver Folklore Center, a little over a year and a half ago” 

“Denver Col-or-a-do” he repeated. “I remember that play, it was freezing and snowing.” 

“That’s right” I agreed, “In fact, in order to earn enough money to get in; I was playing out in the street, as people were standing in line for tickets.” 

Hearing that, Furry stretched and crooked his head over at me and said; “You was playing your guitar out in the snow!” His voice had both an air of recollection and recognition in it. “I never in all my days, which includes some street playing myself, once upon a time or two, ever seen any…body…ppp…lay… no gi…tar in the snow before.” He stared a little closer at me and declared, “That was you!” 

We both laughed and took another long draw on our drinks. “Well, you played your way in there, and now, you played your way here.” 

Replying cautiously I said “I guess, but just barely. With Old Blues breaking down on the way here, and the costs of fixing her up, I literally got here on a wing and a prayer.” 

“How do you think any of us get to where were going son?” Furry asked. By this time, I had a little trepidation that Furry might be setting me up for another joke, so I didn’t say anything. “No, I’m serious boy”, he continued on, “ain’t nothing… in this life… for certain…but the Blues…I swear ..till we cross over to the other side… it’s the Blues that helps us… get… through it… and it’s…the gospel… that helps us get… to it.” 

Still not knowing quite what to say, I just looked back at him in the eyes and nodded my head a few times slowly, hoping that conveyed my understanding of what he had said. 

“You gona be alright son” he said reassuringly, “Don’t you know, you got somebody watching over you or you would of frozen yourself back that night in the snow!” We both laughed again. “On a wing and a prayer,” Furry repeated. “Glory, Glory Halleluiah” he paused for a second then picked his guitar back up and slid his slide back down on his left pinky. The lip stick tube size slide, I noticed, fit snugly, but only went down as far as the first joint of his finger. Every other slide player I had ever seen, up to then, had his slide rest all the way back on the end of his finger. 

“Lawd have mercy…and watch over …all of us… till we lay our…burden…down.” With the title of the song being snuck into his introduction, I figured Furry would break into the melody. Instead, Furry repeated the title in the same, slow methodical method he had been doing, off and on, for the last hour. About the third time he said “Lay… My… Burden…Dowwwwnnnn” I realized that though the words remained the same each time he said it, never the less, by changing the cadence and overall rhythmic flow, he was saying, connotatively, something new and different each time. 

Opposed to Bukka’s more barrel house, train driving rhythms’ or his slow and solid, monotonic AKA “Dead Thumb” style of deep Blues playing, Furry’s rolling slide and vocals, intertwined back and forth as intricately as a Mississippi cypress tree. Intentionally dropping lyrics at the beginning, end or even in mid sentence, Furry’s would have his slide fill in the missing words like an old married couple finish each other’s sentences. 

His overall feel and pacing of the song was a life lesson in one of the most important elements of great Blues playing; having a total command over building tension and release within each song. Effortlessly he set an introspective and nuanced mood; with his slide underscoring each line like a poet employs punctuation and space. 

Within the one song he created a template of tones and colors that spanned pathos of subjugation to joyous cries of praise. He sang, “All my troubles will be over, when I lay my burden down”, followed by another verse proclaiming “No more sickness no more sorrow” all with the tag line of “When I lay my burden down.” 

Then, abandoning his slide all together, he raised his left arm over the neck of the guitar and created a muffled “walking” bass line, by sliding his elbow up and down the neck, all the time still preaching “glory, glory halleluiah when I lay my burden down.” 

When he ended the song, the quiet that filled his home spoke volumes. The, passion and subtlety…yes subtlety…though integrated with a dose of medicine show, hammy, showboating, had moved me yet in another way, I had never been before. 

Finally I spoke; “Man, I bet the folks attending the church across the street would sure love hearing that.” Furry seemed indifferent to my comment. When he remained silent I tacked a slightly different course. “You give so much to the spirituals; do you ever play at the church next door?” 

Sitting silently for a short while and then slowly, but without as many hesitations, spoke. “You see the church, knows me, and knows my music…they also know they’ve got a friend with old Furry. In fact there’s not a month that goes by that they don’t get a generous tiding from me, that’s as big if not bigger, than any of those who go signifying, holy rolling, every day of the live long week.” He paused for a second and then added; “Everybody goes about singing their song, praising in their own way, and singing the blues in their own way too. They do it where and when, they feel it, but some people feel they can dictate to everyone else how that’s done. I answer to my God and he hears me just as fine here as anyplace else and that pretty much is all there is to say about all that.” 

“Man you just said a whole lot of truth there Furry” I said, as I truly felt that he had found the words for the both of us. 

Just before things might have turned awkward Furry burst out with another song; “Some people might say a preacher don’t steal, I caught two in my cornfield. One had a bushel one had a peck one had the whole cornfield tied around his neck” 

“That sounds as good as toast as I’ve ever heard” I told Furry. He chuckled and we finished our beers. Deciding I had taken up enough of Furry’s time and beer, I thanked Furry for extending himself to me and wished him a good night’s sleep. 

As I was leaving he said “You come back here and visit any time you get a mind to, just be careful to watch your back out on those streets. You know when you’re in Memphis; you got a home as long as I got mine.” 



From across the street I could hear the collective praising coming from the church choir. In an impulsive move, figuring I had left caution to the wind days ago, I went inside. Being a stranger, let alone white, I almost turned around, especially considering the inappropriateness of my clothes. Overalls, a T shirt, and a chocolate brown Fedora hat was hardly “dressing like I was going to the bank for money”, let alone Sunday evening church service. Never the less, the spirit I was feeling had a stronger hold on me than my self consciousness, and I took my hat off and went ahead inside. 

Wanting nothing more than to be a fly on the wall, I slinked into the first pew I saw, figuring, if need be, I could slink back out as easily as I had come in. That fanciful notion vanished almost immediately, as the preacher seeing me sit down, stopped in mid sentence about the upcoming Church Bar B Que, to focus on me. 

“Brothers and Sisters…we have an unexpected guest in God’s House of worship tonight. Young man, please step up here and make your self at home” The preacher pointed to a vacant spot in the very first pew. “Everyone’s welcome in our church.” 

Darting back out the door, did cross my mind, but I sucked up my courage and went on up, hat in hand. No sooner had I sat down though, when the Preacher said, “No…no…son…Stand up and tell us who you are and what brought you to worship with us this evening.” 

As I nervously stood up, My eye caught the sight of a little Black girl, who couldn’t of been more than four, curiously checking me out as she sat next to her Mother. She appeared the essence of youthful innocence and naiveness. Her hair was filled with pink, blue and white berets decorating her tight corn rowed braids that complimented her white, frilly dress. She kept staring at me, and it occurred to me that I was probably the first white, long haired, farmer looking, hippie she had ever seen. Wishing I had something of consequence to say, but knowing I didn’t, I simply said; “My names TJ Wheeler, I just arrived in Memphis a handful of days ago to learn some Blues from Bukka White and Furry Lewis. I’m just coming from Furry’s house now. I heard the great music and just felt compelled to come in.” 

“I see, I see” said the preacher smiling warmly at me. “Mr. Furry’s is indeed a friend of our church, though we don’t often see him, except occasionally sitting on his porch. We’re sincerely glad our music drew you to us tonight. We hope you feel just as excited by the spirit and the message that God graces us with, from where all things, including our music draws it’s inspiration from.” 

Exclamations of “hello”…”Ummmm”… “Preach” sprung randomly from members of the congregation. 

“Thank you Sir, I’m sure I will…ugh… that is appreciate it very much” I stammered and quickly sat back down, noticing the little girl was still eyeballing me. 

The Preacher went back to finishing up his announcements, spent a few minutes addressing some of the church members request for prayers for sick family members and various other concerns, and then proceeded, in what was to be a highly interactive segment of the service. 

“At this time, as our members know” The Preacher announced, “we hear directly from our congregation. Our basket was passed, through the church, for those wishing to submit their name to be called to make a short testimony, by whatever method of their choice.” The Preacher then, put his hand in the basket and pulled out the first scrap of written on paper. “Well look here, isn’t this a welcome surprise” he said smiling; “our friend of Mr. Furry’s, TJ Wheeler would like to sing a selection for all of us.” 

A brick up side my head couldn’t stunned me any more than the Preacher’s words! Looming down at me from the pulpit, it was as if he had suddenly been supersized! His glasses had fallen to the tip of his nose, and in my mind, made his benevolent eyes now appear to be two fiery portals, exhorting me up and out of the pew. Whoever had mischievously written my name in the basket must have been having as hard of time controlling his laughter as I was my panic. 

Seeing no other alternative, I stood and spoke my piece; “Preacher, there’s been a mistake, I never put my name in the basket. As much as I wish I could sing for you, I just don’t feel prepared”. If I only had brought my guitar in with me, I thought to myself. I knew I would have been more confidant, as I have always considered myself a Guitar slinger/singer more than some kind of real humdinger singer. 

Many in the congregation couldn’t hold back the chuckles, which I can’t blame them. I was so pale from stage fright that I would of made Johnny Winter look like a bronzed Charles Atlas. 

Wanting to relieve my apprehension, the Preacher told me; “Son don’t you worry yourself about that. Just sit back and relax and enjoy the rest of the service.” Then turning his gaze to sweep across the congregation he said with a subtle sternness; “I see we have someone, who was so pleased to have our guest tonight, that they went out of their way to misrepresent him without his blessing. Lets all hope, that whoever that person is, that he is so pleased with themselves that this never occurs again. Amen?” 

The entire congregation echoed back “Amen” 

“Now” said the Preacher; “lets move on to our next… umm...first witness this evening. Ahh, I see we have Mrs. Meyers daughter, LaQuisha, requesting to give us an offering of song for us. Come on up.” A petite young teen age girl, in a pink chiffon dress, in a very reserved and respectful manner, walked up and approached the pulpit. “And what song has the Lord moved you to bless us with?” asked the Preacher. 

The girl meekly replied “My Eyes are On the Sparrow”. The eyes of the preacher, who, by the way was no longer supersized and whose eyes had returned to normal, twinkled in delight. With a soft pat on her shoulder and a mock whisper in her ear, intended for all of us to hear, said; “Sing your song girl.” 

The church pianist set up a short introduction for and nodded his head for her to begin. Haltingly, she began. “Why do I feel discouraged?” It was obvious, she was quite nervous, which eased my own humiliation a little, for being so freaked out earlier. “Why should the shadows come?” I was asking myself the same questions as she sang. Slowly, her voice grew stronger and more strident with each passing line. “With Jesus is my portion” Now in the pit of my stomach I could feel her angst as if I was singing myself. “A constant friend is he” Now the tension in the whole church was building. Bodies began rocking, and whispers of yes...yes...and …praise him…filled the air cathartically. Dramatically she reached into herself and the emotions spilled out of her and into the soul of everyone as she sang: “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.” Many in the church were now moved to their feet, many exalting the Lord in their own spiritual utterances, with words indiscernible yet meaning clearly felt. The air grew thicker and the rising humidity started making me feel dizzy. The popsicle stick and paper church fans, bearing the image of Martin Luther King on one side and an advertisement for a local funeral home on the flip side, were being vigorously waived in all directions. 

I felt that the pianist wanted to relieve the tension by going into the bridge of the song in a Gospel shuffle; however LaQuisha was determined to push her and us even further in a staggering free time style. The pianist followed her every move, anticipating hesitations and false stops, which allowed her to extol each word into its own emotional peak. “I sing because I’m Happy I sing because I’m Frrreeeeeeeeee!” 

At that exact crescendo, the young girl, whose body had been trembling with an volcanic urgency, let out a piercing cry, leaped down from the pulpit, ran down the entire length of the church and with a ferocity that still haunts me over thirty years later, hit the back wall of the church as if she didn’t even see it there. Her body, crumpled up and pealed slowly down the wall, collapsing on the floor, like jelly on a plate. 

My body had yanked around following her flight from the pulpit; I stared and was stunned by what I had witnessed. Feeling paralyzed, and not wanting to over step my boundaries, I anxiously waited, for what only must have been a few seconds, for someone, anybody, to do something to help this potentially, seriously injured girl. The entire congregation was giving it up in a massive free style out pouring of moans and praises. Not a person or soul, however, seemed to of turned around or seriously concerned about the girl’s welfare. Through all the group wailing, ironically to me, there arose a deep sense of undeniable serenity that seem to permeate the church, that even started easing my own worn nerves, a little. 

Walking calmly but swiftly, the Preacher and an usher walked to the still placid body on the floor. They gently picked her up and the preacher spoke to her softly. Though inaudible to me, what ever he said was apparently comforting enough to help bring her around. 

Still sitting on the very edge of the pew, I swerved back and forth, scanning every detail of what was happening. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the same little girl sitting with her Mom and the choir. Instead of staring at me in the same quiet, shy way, she was alternately, either clutching on to her Mothers purse, in an attempt to steady herself, or pulling on her Mama’s dress in an attempt to get her attention. With her other hand she kept pointing at me and laughing, almost uncontrollably. Not a soul paid a bit of attention to her outburst. What most shocked me was that while I sat there aghast, the only thing out of the normal Sunday goings on for her, was me and my visceral reactions. I guess I had earlier gotten it backwards as to who was so innocent and naive. 

LaQuisha, surprisingly, was no worse for wear, and as brought back to the welcoming arms of her Mother and Father. The Preacher retuned to the moral rudder, the spiritual ships wheel, and the historic symbol of not only religious but true political Black Power; his pulpit. 

The chorus’s of moans and halleluiahs faded out as the Preacher prepared to speak. “May we all stand together in prayer?” Everyone stood and bowed their heads. The little girl and I though couldn’t help sneaking a glimpse of each other now and them. “Bless us our Father, and all praise be to thee, for it was in your redemptive power, through the gift of your son that we all, who choose your path, are born again. Bless our congregation that they may not stray before we meet again, Bless LaQuisha as she was truly moved through the divine Holy Ghost to bear witness tonight. In your omnipotence you used her voice to be your vehicle to move of us all closer to your righteousness. Bless our guest, and give him the wisdom to understand and accept the ministry he witnessed tonight. Let all glory be to you Lord. In the name of your son, the Holy Ghost, and lastly you, our beloved Father…Amen.” The congregation all echoed Amen in unison and then quietly started to disperse. 

On my way out, feeling sanctified but still worried about the singer’s condition, I stopped for a word with the usher, who had helped the Preacher with LaQuisha. “Pardon me sir, but is she going…,” 

Before I could finish, he smiled, shook his head horizontally and calmly said; “The girls fine. The Lord blessed her, protected her and moved all of us through her. Go in peace my brother.” which is exactly what I did. 



 Chapter 7 
“Monday Morning Blues”

The nurse’s glasses rested on the ski bump of her long nose, as her eyes peered up at me from her desk. With her cold, matter of fact manner, it was clear she was no Clara Barton. Without a single wasted word, she had me fill out, the triplicate, carbon copy, forms needed for me to sell a pint of my blood. 

Technically, the process would be drawing Plasma from my blood. Technically, the only thing I wanted to know was how much it was worth. The going freight for a pint of the red was six bucks, a Dixie cup of orange juice and a nickel, tootsie roll pop. The latter two were just to ensure that they could get my pale, dizzy butt out the clinic door before I keeled over. 

With a deadpan look on my mug, I rolled up my right-hand shirt sleeve. Nurse Hatchet, snapped a long, quarter-inch wide, rubber hose in the air, and immediately, wrapped it around my arm, right above the elbow, tying it tight enough to make it pinch. 

She saw me wince in surprise and seemed somewhat pleased with herself. 

“Now… now, you’ll never make girl scouts that way” I quipped. She must have felt as if she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, as she quickly untied the hose and backed off the rubber knot in my arm…slightly. 

“Make a tight fist and pump it up several times so I have a good, ripe, vein for the needle to draw from.” She commanded. 

“Lovely” I commented. The fact that I was a little too familiar with all of these formalities, seemed to make her, even more, uncomfortable with me. She raised her left eyebrow as she watched me, smilingly, follow her instructions. 

“How’s that?” I asked, as I produced a bulging, blue, major vein, and shoved it towards her face. 

After that, it seemed that an unspoken truce was formed between us. Both of us were plenty seasoned when it came to needles and we had both snuffed out each other’s secrets pertaining to them. 

She dabbed an alcohol, soaked, cotton ball on the targeted vein, and pulled from a drawer, a metal syringe big enough to inseminate a cow. 

“This might hurt a little” She promised, more than warned. 

“All in a day’s work…right?” I asked and she ignored. Before she could poke me, I turned my head away and mentally tried to find my ‘happy place.’ A needle, like life, doesn’t hurt nearly as much, if you don’t fear it and sometimes ignore its harsher elements. 

Once the blood was flowing, slow but steady, she attached the needle to a blood bag and left the room. My mind seemed as if it was being drawn as well as my blood. It drifted back to bygone days and bygone Junko partners, and even a few true friends whose “habits” had sucked the life out of them, just as sure as Nurse Hatchet’s blood bag was sucking mine. 

At the ripe old age of 23, my life already had acquired far too many “haint’s” (F/N ghosts) stalking my shadow self. Drugs…A handful of gimme and a mouthful of much obliged…What started out for many a Blues Boomer as a road to insights and higher consciousness soon was flipped, for most, to a dangerous, overindulgence, and just another road to the Blues. 

That being said, if there was one rudder, that helped me navigate through that world of pain, loss and disappointment it was the Blues and of course the guitar I played them through. 

For some other musicians though, my rudder was their anchor; wrapped tightly around their necks. My mental jury was still out, as to, if they were drowning truly in their despair or just their own nihilism. 

It seemed like so many of my blue-eyed, Blues Guy friends, seemed to be punishing themselves, in a series of self-inflicted woes, almost competitively. As Joni Mitchell sang in her song Blue, “Hell’s the hippest way to go.” Hell, that’s a long way from Woodstock baby. 

There certainly was a lot of pressure, if not resentment, from Blues Critics towards white Blues musicians. Complaints ranged from they hadn’t paid their dues enough, to that they could never pay their dues enough, as the Blues wasn’t part of their true heritage and culture. In return, self-affliction seemed to be, a response for so many white Blues musicians, to prove to the critics, black community, themselves that they were worthy. 

It just seemed to me that in this, mean old world, there was plenty of Blues to go around, without anybody having to go looking for them, regardless of their color. 

I witnessed too many individual Blues Guys embark on a litany of self-destructive behavior for years and years of their lives, just to look at themselves in the mirror years later, to find, that despite more wrinkles, greyer and less hair, family and money, that, lord and behold... they were still white. As Doc Watson sings…”Ain’t life tedious?”( SAVE THIS THOUGHT FOR MUCH later IN THE BOOK…. AS UNRAVELING THIS “DOUBLE BIND” OF LEGITIMACY FOR WHITE BLUES PLAYERS, IS REALLY JUST AS IMPORTANT TO THE “Everyman i.e. coming of age/realization” theme of this story as the feud and what I learned from Furry & Bukka. 

My respect for the elder African American pioneering Bluesmen and Women, however, was paramount. Criticism, from established Blues critics of whites being a bad trend in Blues, therefore was particularly troubling to me and I’m sure a lot of other white Blues Guys, whether they’d admit it or not. It put one in a peculiar double bind. On one hand, the power of the Blues had saved me, yet if I listened to the majority of the critics, I was committing a cultural, sacrilegious sin by playing them. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! My passion for the music had made me devoted journeymen. I shunned gigs and other opportunities that would take me away from that pursuit. Many other Whites musician I knew, with their own commitments to the Blues, also had similar experiences. For their dedication, many had been cut off from their families, and for that matter, much of mainstream society. All of this seemed a small cost for the love of the Blues. Small or large, despite zealot like devotion, the payback from most critics, those ones that you’d think would relate to what we were about, was most often, unflinchingly harsh. 

On the other hand, their criticism only echoed my own nagging feelings, questioning what right any White person had to playing the Blues. Certainly when I weighed my personal “Blues” to that of many average African Americans, let alone that of my African American Blues heroes, they didn’t amount to a hill of red beans. Who was I to criticize the critics who were, after all, trying to help African American Blues men and women? 

Despite all of these inner conflicts, there was still a voice inside me telling me I owned what I owned. My Blues, no matter how insignificant they compared to the suffering of others, were what they were and I’d be a dammed fool to allow anyone to invalidated them or intimidate me. (Save this for much later as ...I hadn’t really arrived at this conclusion yet) 

Round, round, round, spinning like a spinning top…once I’d let myself get caught up in this dichotomy, I would be in for a late-night, three-way, Memphis wrestling, ménage- a- trois, match between my mind, body, and soul. My life’s solace had been the Blues…without them, I questioned, what would I have left? Thoughts that my music was somehow hurting the Blues left me at a personal crossroads where all roads were dead ends. This mental and emotional schism was an open, festering, wound and I wondered how, and if, it would ever truly be healed. 

One thing puzzled me though; since the overwhelming amount of published Blues critics were white, I couldn’t figure out, exactly why my color exempted me from being able to play the Blues, yet their color didn’t exempt them from being the self-proclaimed judge and jury of what is, what’s not, who is and who's not the Blues. The latter seemed, far more presumptuous to me, but hey…what did I, or my other white musician friends, know? After all, they had the degrees, the magazines, and the books, they must have some idea what they're pontificating about. 

It seemed ironic, though, that the only minute, window of support for the Blues out there, was so narrow and exclusionary. Wow, I thought to myself, maybe if I stop playing I could grow up to be a critic. Trading my love for playing the Blues, for simply the opportunity to judge others, Black or White, however, just didn’t do it for me. This dilemma reminded me of the old adage; those who can’t play teach and those who can’t teach become critics. 

Nothing is going to make someone more resentful, than seeing someone else do something that they, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t allow themselves to do. It’s why bikers get intentionally driven off the road, why hitchhikers get given the finger instead of rides, why tea - totalers hate to see others drinking, and perhaps even why Nurse Hatchet enjoyed needling me so much. At the same time though, I couldn’t help but feel that under the banner of ethnic purity; many critics just couldn’t resist exploiting their position for the urge to purge their own inner inadequacies. To me, their blanket judgments dishonored the wealth of diverse contributions to the Blues, by such varied musicians, as Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang, Roscoe Holcomb, Jimmy Rogers, Hank Williams, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, and countless others. 

There I had done it. This line of thinking clearly let me off the hook of the sanctimonious critic’s judgment! Unfortunately, my own generalizations back at them were a little too pat and easy for me to live with. Deep down inside, I knew they were only partially true. Every Bluesman/woman I had ever met or had researched seemed to say, at one time or another, that the Blues was the truth. To get to some deeper truths, I was going to have to explore my feelings, my motives, and overall some much deeper Blues within myself. 

My mind returned to the wisdom of one of my early teenage mentors, Phyllis Lundgard, back on Bainbridge Island, who once told me; too often what we criticize in others are things we see, but hide, about ourselves. Obviously, my observations of both other Blues Guys as well as critics were things I had felt in myself. Hadn’t I rolled my eyes more often than dice at some of my fellow Caucasian Blues brethren as they emoted, way over the top, of their musical abilities? You might even venture to say, that the only thing White Blues musicians hated more than White critics are other White Blues musicians. 

Laughing out loud, I thought to myself, who was I signifying about other Blues Guys torturing themselves, as I sat waiting for my orange juice and Lollypop in the middle of the Memphis Blood Bank? My laughter grew loud enough for nurse Hatchett to come back in and see what was wrong. 

“Are you having a reaction to the procedure?” She asked. 

“Reaction?” I repeated, “No...I’m having a realization! You know Madame...contradictions; I believe are part of what keeps life interesting. Like opinions and other part of the anatomy, we all have them.” 


Chapter 8
Getting a Gig 

Beale St. was dead, or at best, comatose. Overton Sq. was mostly red neck rock or preppie pop covers of Jim Croce, James Taylor and Cat Stevens’ songs. The inner-city Black nightclubs seemed to be gravitating to contemporary funk and the modern R & B of Isaac Hayes and Barry White. What Blues venues added up to, both financially and geographically, was nothing more than Peanuts. 

When two, neighboring giants, of Country Blues, like Furry Lewis and Bukka White were struggling to get by in their own home town, how was I ever going to get a gig, let alone, get by? 

Selling my blood, and walking the dozen or so blocks of where I had parked Old Blue, had left me feeling fatigued. I drove Blue to a shady spot in Overton park and took a nap. By the time I awoke, the sun had set, and I decided to get ready to go play the Open Mike at Peanuts, that Buddy had graciously invited me to. Though I was mostly walking just about everywhere, I wasn’t comfortable with either Blue or me being separated, and each of us alone on the streets, for that long of a period, let alone at night. 

Speaking of Blue; like a good old dog, she continued to put on a brave face, however, every time we went out for a run, I could tell she wasn’t the same old Blue anymore. The words of the Cincinnati mechanic echoed in my mind, “Unless she had major work soon, it would only be a matter of time before she died.” Until I could afford the kind of care she needed, I vowed to myself, to let her rest a much as possible. 

My 30 minute set at Peanuts that night was like having a good, hot, shower and a meal after a three-day hitchhiking adventure. It felt so good to be playing and singing in front of a crowd again. The audience was a little standoffish for the first couple of numbers, but gradually warmed up to my mix of traditional Blues & Swing Jazz numbers. After passing my hat, I doubled what I’d made, earlier that day at the Blood Bank. Distancing myself from that experience was another likely reason I felt so clean. 

When I went up to Buddy to thank him for the opportunity of playing, he offered me an upcoming Thursday night gig of my own, for a whopping $15, free beer and tips. It was a quarter, or less, of what I usually made performing in other parts of the country, but it was a start. More importantly it was a feeling of acceptance from a bar full of people who had been spoiled by hearing, none less, than Furry Lewis every Tuesday night for the last few years! 

As I was putting my guitars a way, a short, clean cut, White guy approached me with his hand extended to mine. We shook hands and he introduced himself as Matt, and he told me how much he enjoyed my set. He said he was an amateur musician and asked me a lot of questions about the various styles of Blues & Jazz I’d been playing and how I got into that music. Of course, I quickly steered the course of the conversation to what I was doing in Memphis, my trip with Old Blue, and Furry & Bukka. It wasn’t long before he invited me to park Old Blue in his driveway, where he felt we’d both be far safer, than the parking lots we had been crashing in so far. 

Once at his apartment, he invited me in for a beer, which I being polite as well as still thirsty accepted. He played for me some of his renditions of complex, cover songs from the likes of bands like Journey and Yes that he had recorded himself in his home, makeshift studio. I dug the free drinks and relative safety of his driveway, honestly, better than his recordings. At that point in my life, I was still, steadfastly, narrow-minded about music. If I couldn’t feel its obvious roots in Blues, Jazz or Gospel, I mostly wouldn’t give it the time of day. Considering the time of night though and his generosity, I patiently sat through it. Despite my snobbery, I admitted to myself and him that he was talented and that he displayed a lot of musical chops, as well as recording know-how, to single-handedly be able to reproduce, overdub and record such, technically ambitious songs on a small, cassette, 4 track tape recorder. It wasn’t too long though, before I thanked him for his hospitality, and excused myself to sleep with “Old Blue” in his driveway. 

There was enough shade there so that the morning sun, for a change, failed to wake me up at the crack of dawn. For the first day in well over a week, I actually had close to a full, nights sleep. 

It was a knock on Blues door, around 8:00AM or so, that rifled me out of my cot. As I slid Blues driver side door open, I saw Matt was standing there with two other, not nearly as clean-cut, White dudes, about his age. 

“These are two musician friends of mine, Tony and Paul, who are into the blues. I just had to call them about your performance last night and invite them over to meet you.” 

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, and interrupting my own yawn, I sheepishly called out “Howdy” to them. Compared to Matt, the other two looked as though the revolution was still on i.e. like me they both still had long hair, and mustaches. Tony was the more radical looking of the two with a longer dark black fro, where Paul’s wavy brown locks, were long, but not long enough to get himself thrown out of a country club or have his ass kicked at a western bar on upper Colfax Street in Denver. It was after all 1974, folks had accepted longish hair to an extent, so to speak. 

They both smiled and the one called Tony said; “Let’s go inside guys and let him wake up. Matt’s fixin’ breakfast Tj, so come on in once you’ve watered his bushes, and grab some bacon, eggs and grits with us.” 

Laughingly I said “I’ll be there, before the first egg hits the pan!” 

“Well alrighty then!” Tony said, as the three of them walked back to up the driveway. 

Over breakfast we swapped stories and brief backgrounds of each other. They all seemed rather immersed in my rambling tales of my journey thus far. It wasn’t long, though, before we were talking about, what had brought us all to the same table; music. 

One shouldn’t underestimate the nuance artistry of talkin’ music especially when conducted by men who consider themselves aficionados. Yeah…I realize I’ve stepped into another gross generalization, but even today, I still basically hold on to this belief. Women discuss music; they share music, they engage and even embrace each other’s opinions…Men however, contest music, they challenge each other’s notions, we look for openings where we can display one-upmanship, and if given the opportunity, relish in unearthing someone’s musical belief system. Only through successfully tap dancing through such a musical minefield, can true, bonafide, Blues bonding between men take place. 

With the religious fervor, and heated passions of a Red Sox vs. Yankees debate , the hyperbole, and drama over such subjects as why Robert Johnson really recorded with his back to everyone in the makeshift studio, or what geographic area has the best blues, could get as contentious and as futile as the little people going to war in Gulliver’s Travels, over which is the correct method of cracking an egg! 

Such topics also made it easier to skip over the messy efforts of actually getting to know each other, and get down to the real fun of having a good old fashion peeing contest, masked as a conversation on the Blues. 

At 23 I was already a pretty savvy player of this game. In the present company, my breakfast companions seemed pretty easy to size up. Matt, whom without I wouldn’t of had a safe and sound night’s sleep, let alone such a hearty breakfast, as I previously mentioned, had already been compartmentalized, by me, into a nice and narrow box based on my musical prejudices. 

Paul, though knowing less than Matt, was a better player at this game as he was more obsequious and could fake his way through what he didn’t know by making generalities, about the importance of the Blues. Though that would have worked on a lot of other Bluesniks, I took pride in knowing he didn’t fool me in the least. 

Tony, born and bred in Cherokee, Alabama, had a pretty aware sense of electric Blues, a more than passing the knowledge of Bluesy Jazz, and an obvious sincere thirst for finding out more about the early acoustic, Blues Masters. 

Regardless of whatever level they fell on my personal Blues-monometer, I appreciated their questions and gestures of friendship. After a week of feeling estranged from so much of mid-seventies, mainstream, Memphis, it felt great to actually be with people that respected what I was doing and actually thought it was cool. Like I said, I was only 23, and it was still meaningful to be thought of as cool. 

After breakfast, Matt suggested we all jam. Tony and Paul had coincidently brought their acoustic guitars and Matt had several instruments all methodically organized in his living room. Sizing up the situation, and laughing to myself, I thought…Matt had been planning this since he first heard me at Peanuts last night. There was certainly no high pressure, business meeting or power lunches on my agenda that day, so I acquiesced, and got Cyclops and my Martin out from the back of Blue’s cabin and prepared to Jam. 

Often time when folks are first sitting down to an acoustic jam, there is a little creative tension, or just plain nervousness in the room. Nobody wants to make the first move, as no one wants to be perceived as being pushy. Then there’s also the risk of suggesting a song and finding out the hard way that no one wants to play it. It’s a little silly ritual, but more often than not, someone will finally, speak up and say; “How about a Blues in the key of __?” For our guitar based session that key would almost always be the Peoples key of E. Now if it was a more of a Jazzy, Blues sessions, which included horns and keyboard, the Peoples key more likely would have been B flat. The funny thing is that the most universal / common key for each group would likely be one of the more Non Peoples key for the other! I’ve seen whole groups of Folk oriented acoustic guitar players scramble for their capos at the mere mention of B flat and some of the hottest young rabbit and even old school lion horn and keyboard jazz players hit more clams than a New England chowder when, in the middle of a more Jazz oriented gig, a Shuffle in the key of E was called. I guess there’s a lesson in that story under what I categorize as “Things we learn From Music.” 

Sure enough, back to our jam, one of us did kick things off with the proverbial E Blues shuffle. After that ice breaker, things more or less flowed, in predictable but fun, number of grooves and songs. After a few songs, Matt persisted that I play a couple of the older Delta Style Blues that he’d heard the night before. Frankly, I just wanted to take more of a back seat and play on what anyone wanted to play, being afraid that the Delta tunes might be a little to idiosyncratic for us all to jam on. Never the less, I bowed to my host’s wishes and played Furry’s classic “Casey Jones” song. Though they all could have found something to play on it, once I started playing the rolling bass line and occasional slide riff, they instead just sat and listened. 

Tony said after I finished “Now ain’t that just the bee’s knees. Where did you come up with that?” 

Matt answered for me; “That’s the Old Bluesman’s song, that plays at Peanuts every Tuesday night…you know…Furry Lewis.” 

“How‘d you go about getting him to teach you how to play like that?” Tony asked. 

“Well the only thing I really had to promise him was that if he’d take me under his wing, I wouldn’t doubt myself” I replied, with the touch of a wry smile starting to cross my face. 

Tony looked at me dead panned and asked, “And how’s that going?” 

“Not as good as I like, but I’m workin’ on it” I straight faced replied. 

“Well I heard that” Tony earnestly and matter of factly, said. After a brief pause of silence, we all broke out in laughter. 

Matt excused himself for interrupting saying “I hate to break up this party but if I don’t leave now, and head down to the Base, I’ll be late for my shift.” 

We all thanked him and packed up as quickly as possible. Out in the drive way Tony said; “If you ain’t doing anything, feel free to follow Paul and me back to my place. From what you said earlier about old Furry and Bukka’s where abouts, they might only be a stone’s throw, or so, away from my place.” 

The Blues is truly a magical music I thought to myself as I thought of the probability of what had just occurred. “I’d be glad to, just don’t drive that Japanese compact of yours too fast, as Blue here hasn’t been herself lately.” I half jokingly said. 

Tony simply repeated; “Well I heard that too.” 

In less than ten minutes we had gone from the pristine, White middle class area where Matt lived to Waldron Street, which I immediately recognized as being a connecting street to Mosby. Across the street from Tony’s white ranch duplex was a galvanized steel wire fence, helping separating Interstate __,which was just a 100 yards or so away, down a looping grassy hill. 

“I thought this was an all black area” I curiously mentioned to Tony and Paul. 

Paul replied rather ominously “It is, except for us, as far as you can see…” 

Tony added in a natural, Alabama accent and logical wit; ‘The only thing I thought was the cost of rent…CHEAP… and that it was only five minute drive to town.” I laughed and he added, “It’s got to be past Noon somewhere...Let’s go in and have a beer.” 

His side of the duplex was nothing fancy, but it was together. I teasingly commented “Man this place you’ve got pretty clean and organized for a couple of bachelors with a fondest for early morning jam sessions and late morning brewskis.” 

Paul shot back “I’m the only bachelor, and not by choice… anyhow its Tony’s old lady Deborah that we have to give credit to for keeping the place as good as it is.” 

Tony quipped back at Paul; “”Don’t let me catch you saying that in front of her, or she’ll have us both bustin’ our behinds around here.” 

“Where’s she now?” I asked. 

“Right where she’s supposed to be, at work!” he paused and we all laughed. He took a sip of beer and then more seriously continued. “She thinks were out there right now looking for work s. That’s what we would have been doing if I hadn’t got the early morning call from Matt.” 

“Well, I’ve got to say, I’m glad you both chose to come to Matt’s over looking for work, but I hope I don’t get you in hot water with Deborah.” I said. 

“Hell…maybe in trade for supper, I could get you to play a song or two for her. That should take the vinegar out of her sugar.” Tony proposed. 

“Ain’t no thing” I replied “playing my way for two meals in the same day, I quantify as really moving my career ahead!” I said then changing the subject somewhat I added. “Hey, how would you two like to walk down to Bukka’s office and then over to Furry’s little white house painted green?” 

Paul laughed and said “Have you’ve been doing something stronger than that Budweiser or what?” 

Tony got real serious and asked “Does Bukka really have an office on Mosby Street?” 

Paul, still laughing, asked incredulously; “And what about that little white house painted green? Whatever you’re doing I want some of it!” 

After the laughter died down a little I answered both questions at once; “If you want to find out, besides meeting two great master Bluesman, all you’ve got to do is take a little stroll with me. You were right Tony, from what I can remember they can’t be but a few blocks away.” 

“What are we waiting for? Even Deborah won’t think twice about me meeting them instead of looking for work. Wait till she hears about this!” Tony exclaimed. “How about it… Paul? Are you in?” 

Looking a little uncomfortable by the question, Paul hesitated and then said; “Uhh…you two go ahead …all the jamming gave me an idea for a song I want to work on.” 

“Okay Bob Dylan…write a masterpiece.” Tony kidded Paul as we headed out the door. 

We walked a little over a block, turned a corner, and lord and behold we were on Mosby Street. As we continued walking , I couldn’t help but ask Tony; “What’s with Paul? I thought he’d tickled pink to meet Bukka & Furry.” 

“Well he’s kinds like that Duke Ellington song; “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” if you know what I mean.” Tony explained, “He recently broke up with his girl friend up in Beverly Mass, where he’s from. I met him up there a few years back, when I was an exchange student. Anyhow we’ve kept in touch, and when he said he got dumped I told him to get his butt down here. There ain’t no better place, after all, to have the Blues than Memphis.” 

“Make’s a whole lot of sense to me. That’s what it took to finally get me off my rusty dusty and on the road myself.” I added, though it didn’t really quite add up to me as neatly as I led on. What the heck? I thought, there I go again judging others by my own yardstick just because they don’t respond the same way I do to a particular situation. The guy’s hurting; I told myself, give him a break. 

Truckin’ right along, the two of us talked away at each other as if we’d known each other all our lives. Neither one of us really giving much thought as to whether we were or weren’t an unusual site for the folks in the neighborhood. 

As we got to about a half a block away from Bukka’s office, my heart began to sink as I strained but failed to see Bukka holding court. It wasn’t till we were standing almost in front of the row of occupied office chairs, that once again, I realized Bukka, alias the Mad Hatter, was indeed sitting right before us decked out in yet another sharp outfit! Bukka’s, chapeau of the day, was a sharp, new straw blend, tan, Fedora hat. Always the dapper one, Bukka also had on a yellow, polyester golf shirt, with a light brown suit completing the enterouge. Opposed to his Hoss Cartwright, cowboy look of the other day, Bukka looked as if he was ready for a gig at the Sands Hotel in Vegas filling in for Sammy, with the Rat Pack. 

Bukka beaming up at us brought us right into the circle of office chit chat; “Man…I was just telling these fellah’s just a while ago, that I bet my boy Tj would be showing himself any second now and here you are plus one.” 

The three men sitting and the couple of others standing, all grinned and nodded, affirming Bukka’s account of the morning. One of the men standing said in amazement “That’s right! I swear Bukka; you’ve got eyes in back of your head” which got the rest of us chuckling in agreement. 

In response to his observation I added; “What I can’t understand is, how he can know when I’m coming when I’m nowhere to be seen, but I don’t know when he’s here even when I’m almost on top of him.” That busted up everyone up, including Tony. It was getting very clear to me that the morale at Big Daddy’s office had to be the highest anywhere in the world of business. 

All of us laughing delighted no one more than Bukka. Complimenting his new look, I said; “By the way Big Daddy your sure styling today in that fine outfit and spring hat.” 

“A mans gotta have the right hat for the right day and for the right situation, just like I have my different offices for different days, depending on how old Mother Nature wants’ to be treating or mistreating her Big Daddy. You see what I’m sayin’ Son?” Being rather an arbitrary question Bukka continued, asking; “Now Tj, I’ve got to say, you’ve been remiss in your duties… why don’t you introduce your friend to us?” 

“Escusssse me!” I said, purposefully exaggerating the syllables, to copy a popular new, mid seventies, comedian. “This is Tony. We just met but he wouldn’t leave me alone till I introduced y’all to him.” 

“Well Tony, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with knowing what you want.” Bukka said in a welcoming way and then warned, “If you don’t you just going to wake up one day, and life will of passed you by, wants and all.” 

“Thanks Bukka…I’ll be sure to remember that” said Tony almost reverently. “Say Bukka….can I ask you a question?” Bukka nodded yes to him as he lit up a cigar. “Tj said you had an office here on Mosby Street and you just mentioned you have not one but several offices; if you don’t mind could you tell me where they are?” 

Blowing out a puff of Bluish grey smoke whimsically, Bukka smiled and said “Take a long look around you son and tell me what you see.” 

Tony turned around from us, and the chairs leaning up against the brick wall of the convenience store, to gaze around at the full surroundings, before returning his gaze to Bukka, and said to him; ‘Your Offices?” 

Bukka nodded appreciatively at Tony and said to me “You got a smart friend here Tj, and that’s a real good thing, in this day and age of people trifling with each other over things they shouldn’t be paying no better mind to. Yes…you’ve got the makings of a real friend here.” 

I nodded affirmatively and I could have sworn Tony blushed a little at Bukka’s positive assessment of his character. 

“Now take that palm tree over there” Bukka said as he motioned his cigar kitty corner across the street and to the left. “Now that’s my rainy office, those leaves are so wide and full that I can sit there in a shower and not a drop will touch me…Now across and over to the right that’s my sunny office… especially in early spring that’s where I work on my tan” 

All the fellah’s laughed and someone slapped his knee and said “Well if that’s a tan then you best move your office out of this neighborhood!” to everyone’s delight. 

Bukka continued unperturbed; “And finally, this is my main stay office, it’s got enough shade to keep the hottest part of the Sun turned down a little…and it has enough chairs for all the rest of these gents to pass the time of day with me.” At that point, Bukka called out to hi s oldest stepson, who was about 16, and said; “Randall…Son go over to behind the end of the bench and bring over a couple of more folding chairs for Tj and his new friend.” Randall who was about six two in height, and as skinny as a tall glass of water, immediately and respectfully got the chairs and brought them over next to Bukka. The Gents sitting next to Big Daddy graciously moved down to accommodate the new chairs. 

Bukka smiled and said “Have a sit down you two, and welcome to the office.” 

We both thanked Bukka and Randall and sat down. Tony asked Bukka; “You get a lot of business done here?” 

“Now you see, that’s just the thing…Business has to come to me. You spend all your time chasing and you be the only one that gets himself caught! You can go out and hustle, thinking your smooth and all that, and people may promise you the world, but if you tip your hand they’re gona know you’re hungry. They only want you when you’re wanted already. A woman be the same way. The more you chase, the more they’ll run you ragged.” 

Big Daddy was preaching to the choir now. Everybody, including Tony and I, let out in some reaffirming moans, hellos, and some more of, I heard that. Now take old Furry; people have him playing all over town, and even passing the hat. Man I haven’t done that since I was your age Tj.” 

Now that got the street busker in me really curious, so I asked him; “Say Big Daddy…back in the day, when you’d play for tips how much money could you make in one day?” 

“Money? Sometimes folks would put a little change in. sometimes a few pennies, a nickel or dime maybe more. Just as likely though, folks might give you a little bucket of lard, a ham bone, or a jar of corn whiskey.” 

“How could you live, let alone get from place to place on a handful of change and a little food and drink?” I asked incredulously. 

“Well today everybody needs money. Everybody got their own way of dealing with money. You get over one way, old Roosevelt, sitting over there, might be a little different, but everyone got’s to get over. You Tj don’t need a lot but you still gotta put gas in Old Blue and fix her up when she needs it. You do what you do to get over. You pawned your TV to get you a meal or two …you do what you do…Other folks today might even have their own plane. My little cousin BB got his own bus for him and his band, Most people when they go somewhere, buy their plane, bus, or train tickets, stay in fancy hotels, going to restaurants to eat…but we didn’t do any of that or need to do anything but play our Blues. That’s all we needed… back in the day. Like Brownie McGhee sings ‘If you lose your money please don’t lose your mind’. That Brownie’s something else!” 

“What did you do then when you were touring?” I naively asked again, still not quite getting it. 

“Well we was hoboing back then. Now touring is what we do today, when the Memphis Caravan goes out and Steve Levere has us all on a bus traveling together… going all over creation. Hell, a man, or a woman for that matter, playing the Blue back then, wasn’t out getting rich, but we didn’t pay no never mind about that, because our music took care of us.” 

Tony injected cautiously “Excuse me, but I always thought a Hobo was kinda the same as a bum. What ‘s the difference?” 

“Now a bum is laying around. He ain’t going to work a lick and chances are he’s too lazy to do any serious hoboing. You see, when you’re out hoboing, you got to be catching freight trains, looking out for the train bulls, who would just as soon go upside your head with their headache stick, as they would look at you. You ain’t paying for that ride, you be catchin’ that ride you see what I’m talking ‘bout?”

We just nodded our heads, not wanting to interrupt his stream of thought.

“You wouldn’t find too many bluesmen staying in no hotel," said Bukka.

“Lord have mercy boys” interrupted one of Bukka’s closest friends Roosevelt. “There weren’t but a handful of colored hotels anywhere to be found in the whole south…and few people had money to stay in them as things were back then.” 

Another chorus of "Umm hummm, I heard that," "Hello,"  and "Now that’s that truth," erupted from Reverend Bukka’s church pews.. 

“You gotta know this to know anything…We might not have a dime but when you took your git-ar and started shoutin’ some Blues down for the people..they was going to take care of you…take you home, feed you, or with that little bucket of lard and hambone you might help feed them...and that white lightning going to give everybody a big head don’t cha know. Man…hoboing I’d go any old way the wind blew, nothin' and nobody kept me from going anywhere that I get a notion to get to….man in those days the Blues man was a free soul, a real nacthal [sic] born world shaker!” 

Tony and I took pause to reflect on what Bukka had said, where the rest of the crew's silence grew from more reasons than there were chairs to count. 

Bukka blew out another puff of smoke and turned the conversation back around to where we started “But this is 1974 it ain’t 1934 again. Somebody should go on up Mosby St. and let Furry know that, instead of him playing the fool for the…” he paused for a slight redirection and continued “Well something’s and a whole lotta people still got’s to be changed 1974 or not.” 

“I hear you Big Daddy, there needs to be a change of heart in too many people,” I said solemnly 

Bukka looked at me with a bit if surprise on his face. Roosevelt smiled, looked at Bukka and said; “Did you hear that Big Daddy?” 

Looking back at Roosevelt, Bukka matter of factly said; “He’s still a young man, and if he wasn’t I wouldn’t be taking the time with him. See a young man still looking for a way to get where he’s going… he knows what he wants but still needs a helping hand to show him what’s already there around him and in him. Another thing about a young man is he’ll see what needs to be fixed and ain’t afraid to get out and try to get the right thing done. He hasn’t been around so long, to lose faith in himself and the world. This big old world needs a young man to see and do what’s needed and necessary, and that’s why I wouldn’t be wasting my time with one that’s already too old.” He paused for just a second and looked right at Roosevelt and concluded; “I heard the boy alright.” 

Bukka often times would be talking so fast that it would make my head spin. He could squeeze the content of a paragraph or more into the time most people would complete a simple sentence. Between the dialect, his vivid, imaginative, and his tangible but somewhat tangential way of self-expression, I often would be left totally in the dark as to what he was really saying. This wasn’t one of those times, though I almost got mental whiplash trying to keep up with him. 

In a risky defense of Furry, I felt compelled to tactfully suggest to Bukka; “Maybe since Furry’s got no real family like you Big Daddy that playing at Peanuts every Tuesday is just his way to get a little love and attention. You Bukka, just have to look into the eyes of the grandkids of yours or taste some of Leola’s fried chicken, rice and gravy to know you’re loved.” 

Taking a moment to size up what I just said before responding to me, let alone the rest of the office gang, he puffed on his cigar for a few more puffs in contemplation. Leaning back slowly in his chair and letting both his arms stretch down and rest on his legs, Bukka spoke; “He ain’t got no sense of T.C.I.B.(*Taking care of business ), like my old friend Roosevelt Sykes has on the button on his jacket, but if that’s what he needs to do once a week to get just a taste of what I have every day…then I guess I can see him wanting to do just that. But hear me right you won’t find me clownin’ and playing the fool all night for no change and hambone no more. Once I did, but Bukka’s hoboing days are over. People want me they got to come down to my office and sign on paper how long and how green my money’s gonna be before I take one step out of the office!” We all heard that. 

Like clockwork a mid-size, stalky African American man…..(wait for a second…why is it that in most books, articles, etc. only if you’re a non-White does your color become a prerequisite in describing somebody? Here I am in 1974, with Tony & I more than likely, being the only Whites in the entire housing project, and here in 2010, I still feel compelled to detail every new character racial identity? My absurdity meter is on orange! From now when I’m in the office, or some other predominantly Black populace area, I’ll only be identifying non-black characters.) Amy how,…a mid-size, stalky, man parked his car across from us, in front of Bukka’s sunny office, and started casually crossing the street towards us. 

“What it is Big Daddy?” the man smilingly asked. 

Bukka smiled back and laughingly said “Oh man…I’m getting along. You know I’ve swum across this river far too long ago, to stop and turn around now!” 

“Well, I heard that,” the much younger man said as he stepped through the invisible door into the office. 

“One thing’s for sure” I observed to Tony,” there ain’t anybody here with any hearing problems!” 

Tony cocked his head askance to me with his left hand cupped over his ear and said “Say What?” and we both laughed. 

Meanwhile, the two men shot the breeze back and forth for a few minutes, not really saying so much but obviously saying a lot in the affectionate and respectful manner they communicated in. 

Quietly I listened. Bukka, after a momentary pause, asked the man “How’s B getting’ on?” Though he said it nonchalantly, I sensed that there was something deeper there, than he was letting on. 

“Oh, I suppose he’s fine …I frankly haven’t seen him that much since I left the Band. I guess the last time I saw him was when he did that hit at the Club Paradise. You know he’s still out there burning up that road, traveling just about anywhere and everywhere.” 

Bukka responded with a seemingly simple, drawn-out, “Ummm hummmmm” that I felt symbolized a whole lot more than the person in questions travel itinerary. After a short lull in the conversation, Bukka added; “Well, next time you run into him tell him to pay his old cousin, a little sit-down, down at the office.”Bukka then steered the conversation over to me saying; “Now Joe, this is my boy Tj… he’s come all the way down from Colorado to be learnin’ from me, just like B did all those years back” 

“Say what?” said Joe, which was far more a comment than a question. “What’s happening T? I bet you’re glad to get down from those mountains to a warmer climate,” Joe said smiling. Smiling and nodding in agreement was all that needed for me to express. 

“Now this is his friend…” Bukka said and then paused to remember. 

“Tony…How you makin' out Joe?" Tony interjected. 

“Ain’t nothin’ happenin’ but the rent. Glad to meet you both. Joe… Joe Turner’s the name.” 

“Are you related to Big Joe Turner?” I just had to ask. 

“Why yes…that’s my father” Joe proudly responded.

“From what I overheard, I take it you’re a musician,” I said. 

“Why yes… I played bass for BB King for quite a few years.” Joe answered. 

Now it was my turn to respond back with a long, drawn-out “Hmmmmmm.” 

Joe left a few minutes later, wishing Bukka’s his best and promising him to drop by again soon. A silence hung in the air, but I knew Bukka was thinking about his younger cousin Riley, but who the world knew as BB King. 

Breaking the silence I recalled; “ I remember when BB and you jammed together at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last year. Y’all were great and seemed to be having a ball up there.” 

Bukka, who had been putting out his cigar butt with the heel of his black dress shoe, looked up and a smile started to cross his face again. “Yes indeed..that sure was a time alright,” Bukka said and the added; “B and I have had so many times together Tj…let me just tell you this…and I ain’t lying when I tell you that I gave B, or Riley, as we knew him back in the day, his start in this town.” 

“As far as you remember, was he always playing music?” I asked inquisitively. 

“Playing music… Good Lord, the boy didn’t have a pair of long pants till he was half your age, let alone a guitar!” The fellah’s all laughed at this…but quietly, as if they knew Big Daddy wasn’t done signifyin’ about his much younger relative. “When I’d come to visit him and his family back down on a sharecropping farm just outside of Indianola, Mississippi, that boy would be hanging on me like a bulb on a Christmas tree. I sit and pick out some songs for all of them, and I saw clear as day, even back then, that that boy was born to pick and sing the Blues.” 

“You said you gave him his start. How did that come about?” I asked. Tony, myself and even the fellah’s were quiet as church mice waiting to hear more. 

“When he first came to me that boy was barely a teenager. He’d run away to find me and I told him you best be going back to your family Riley, these streets aren’t no place for a young boy. You get yourself grown and then come back and I’ll help you get started. Well by the time he was a man he did just that, except he came up carrying himself a new wife as well. They needed a place to be, so my home was their home. It was still in his eye that he was crazy about that music. I didn’t want him foolin’ around all day on mine, so I went out and bought him a new guitar and taught him some Blues on it first thing. He tried to play my style, and he took to that guitar right away, but he couldn’t get no decent sound over the slide. Even so, he got as close to a slide sound out of his bare hands and fingers as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. That’s his sound and now everybody’s trying to copy him now!” 

“You’re right about that, though I never thought of him getting that sound from imitating the sound of your slide. That BB sound and touch on the fretboard, it does have that vibrato and that soul that you put into your slide work.” I said with an element of surprise in my voice. 

Bukka listened respectfully to my realization but quickly went right ahead with his recounting of BB’s early days in Memphis. “As much as I learned him about the guitar, I told him, and it was in him to start with, that you got’s to be your own man. 

Now they were both dirt poor when they arrived on my front porch, if my home hadn’t been there they would have been in the Po house and the relief office. As things went, I helped him get situated with a man down at the radio station. That led him to that job playing and singin’ Blues …folks calling him the Beale Street Blues Boy.” Bukka laughed nostalgically. “It wasn’t long before everyone was just calling him BB…it’s been that way ever since.