Saturday, June 30, 2018

Eli Green's Amulet of Power

Some folks believed that Eli Green was a powerful hoodoo who could change into an animal, much the same as the loup garou in Haitian and French folklore.

According to John Fahey, in his liner notes to "Death Chants, Break Downs and Military Waltzes" (1964), Bertha Lee had passed down Charlie Patton's guitar to Eli Green, who subsequently moved up to the northern hill country of Marshall County.[1]

Sylvester Oliver states that Green was born in the first years of the twentieth century, making him a contemporary of both McDowell and Boose Taylor. McDowell 

Is this "our" Eli Green?
Eli Green was a contemporary of Fred McDowell (who remembered, "we did a lot of playing all around the Delta together - in Cleveland and Rosedale, towns like that" and he had a profound influence on Junior Kimbrough. In the 1920s, Fred McDowell sharecropped on a farm east of Hudsonville, MS. It was there that he met Eli Green.

Sylvester Oliver claimed that Green was from the McIntyre community near Chulahoma in Marshall County, but Luther Dickinson thought that he had grown up in the Delta and moved to the hill country.  Green had apparently learned a great deal from Charlie Patton, and some folks described him as a gambler and a dandy dresser "in-well tailored black suits" and "white spats with his highly polished black shoes." 

Junior Kimbrough, as a boy, learned guitar from Fred McDowell and Eli Green, both of whom would come to get haircuts on Sundays from Kimbrough's father. 

Eli Green took on the persona of the "Bad Negro," a hero in Black folklore who often defied white authority and managed to escape punishment or recrimination.  Junior Kimbrough referred to him as "a bad guy" and a practitioner of hoodoo.  Kimbrough claimed that he could throw a pack of cards in the air so that they all stuck on the ceiling. Once the cards were in place, Green could call out the name of a card, and that card would fall to the ground."and he claimed the Green "had a lil' man he kept in his pocket. He take that lil' man out and he dance around in his palm. If Eli got locked up in jail, that lil' man [would] steal the keys for him."  If the little man was not available, Green had a magic bone that allowed him to walk through walls, which he had obtained by boiling a live cat.  Sylvester Oliver had also interviewed older folks who remembered Green as a "bad and dangerous man." who possessed the power to hypnotize people. According to Oliver, Green once went into a cafe and hypnotized all the women as well as the men, and he made "all of the women dance around with their dresses above their heads."  

Oliver also interviewed someone who claimed that Green could change into an animal, (much like the Haitians' feared werewolf loupe garou), eat light bulbs, and disappear at will.

Kimbrough also said that Green would "throw a deck of cards and they'd all stick in the ceiling. He'd name one and it would come down." 

In 1965, Fred McDowell helped Chris Strachwitz locate Eli Green living near Holly Springs in a remote shack without electricity and a long ways from the road.  It was in this setting that Green recorded among the most devastating raw country blues I've ever heard. He recorded Green's performance of two songs, "Brooks Run Into The Ocean and "Bull Dog Blues" with backing from McDowell.  These are "all that remains for posterity of the remarkable Eli Green." Not long after the session, Green was rumored to have gotten drunk and lost his amulet of power. He died the following year and was buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Greenwood Missionary Baptist Church near Lamar in Benton County, Mississippi. His grave remains unmarked as of 2019.


2. A quote from Luther Dickinson: "And it was this guy, Eli Green! He grew up with Charlie Patton and Son House, but then he moved up to the hills. And he taught Fred McDowell a lot of stuff and he taught Burnside and Kimbrough. Kenny Kimbrough remembers him and says that he was a magician, that he had a briefcase that nobody but one person could look at if you opened it and looked in it, it would blind you. He plays like Son House, that primitive, really rockin' stuff."

3. The master's thesis of Sylvester Oliver.

No comments:

Post a Comment