The Grave of Leo "Bud" Welch
Calhoun County Bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch passed away December 19, 2017 at the age of 85. His funeral service was Saturday, Dec. 23 at 11 a.m. at Jackson Chapel MB Church in Bruce.
Welch achieved international success in the last few years of his life and received numerous honors, including a prominent place on the Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Bruce. He played music ever since picking up his first guitar at age 12.
“I love all types of music – country, gospel, rock and of course the blues,” Welch said during a 2015 interview while sitting in his one-room home near the Piggly Wiggly in Bruce.
During his more than 60 years of playing, Welch sat in with blues legends John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and B.B. King. “I always admired B.B. and the way he plays his guitar,” Welch said. “I love the way he chords the strings.”
Welch never tried to emulate any of the blues legends he admired, instead relying on his own self-taught method. “I just play like I play,” Welch said. “I’m not trying to be anybody else.”
Born in Sabougla, Welch taught himself to play on his cousin R.C. Welch’s guitar.
“Whenever he would leave, me and his brother Orlando would go over and get his guitar and take turns playing,” Welch said.
The earliest songs he recalled playing were “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Navajo Trail.”
“I remember seeing Roy Rogers playing ‘Navajo Trail’ in a movie so I started playing around with it,” he said.
His first time on stage was for programs at Sabougla Grammar School, but he was truly noticed during a school performance in Pittsboro.
“We were playing up there when those people started going wild over the little boy playing guitar,” Welch said. “They were pointing at me and just going wild.”
He fell in love with the blues at a young age and began playing wherever he could, such as Otis McCain’s 3-day picnic in the Horsepen Community. He played around Grenada and landed a regular appearance on WNAG radio with Alfred Harris and the Joy Jumpers.
Other places he recalled performing were the Cotton Bowl and The Blue Flame in Carroll County.
He moved to Bruce as a teen and played frequently around the local cafes where people would provide him change.
“People would drop nickels, dimes and quarters in my pockets and even in the hole in my guitar,” Welch said. “I’d get home and have to shake all the money out of my guitar.”
He would play in a number of bands over the years including “The Rising Soul Band” with Rev. Tommie Daniel of Bruce; “The Spirituals” with Raymond “Slick” Tillman, Grady Gladney, James Foster and others; and the “Sabougla Voices” with Zoila and Betty Tucker, Marty Conley and Lovie Lipsey.
Welch continued to play most every Sunday in a church somewhere throughout his life. He most often played at his home church in Sabougla on the first and third Sundays of each month and at Double Springs in Webster County on the other Sundays.
He also hosted a show on W7BN each week entitled “Black Gospel Express.”
Up into his 80s, Welch never slowed down, playing as much as ever traveling deep into the Mississippi Delta weekly to play at clubs such as Ground Zero, Hambone’s and Reds.
“I still love playing the blues, and there’s a lot of people interested in the blues now that didn’t used to be,” Welch said. “Lot of the times I play there’s a lot more white people in the audience than black people.”
Welch can also play the harmonica and fiddle, but prefers the sound of his electric guitar for a few reasons. One is because it’s easier for him to hear after suffering some hearing loss from 30 years of cutting timber.
“I love gospel but I really enjoy playing those old blues songs, too,” he said. “People still love them. The blues are just a history of life. They make people feel good.”