Sunday, March 17, 2019

Stanley Booth, the Memphis Blues, and the Blood of the Lambs

The waves of outside interest in the blues have not been entirely harmful (a few of the old musicians made some money). Stanley Booth thought it even still could have more of a positive effect, but only if those interested in the blues care enough to temper their enthusiasm with understanding. He may have had a penchant for hyperbole, but he surely was not naive.

In the interest of belatedly paying some dues, it might be suggested that the posh Britons and atavistic hipsters might stage benefit concerts and help to fulfill the request of Lemon Jefferson----and see that the now marked and abandoned graves of the greats are kept clean---for which the blues foundations should foot the expenses, with the proceeds going to perpetual maintenance. If blues lovers wanted to do the right thing, they might go farther than throwing down some cash--and for something besides a trip to the IBC.  They might start with a little research, going deeper than the music, perhaps actually trying to understand some of the historical context so crucial to this vitally important music.  And so critical to maintaining the freedoms once so cherished.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tom Graves at the Crossroads of Robert Johnson - 2020

Bluesman Robert Johnson died in Greenwood at age 27, but his short life continues to fascinate modern audiences. The latest in a string of books about the blues legend was Tom Graves' Crossroads: The Life and After-life of Robert Johnson (Demers Books).

Graves, a music journalist who teaches at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, divides the book into a summary of the known facts about Johnson's life, and a series of short chapters that address how modern myths about Johnson developed.  Graves addresses such topics as Johnson's early family life, personality, and musical career without the romanticism that characterizes—and distorts—so much of our modern understanding of Johnson. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Horrible Death and Unmarked Grave of Harmonicist Noah Lewis

Gus Cannon, Ashley Thompson, and Noah Lewis

Lewis was born in Henning, Tennessee, and learned to play the harmonica as a child. He moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in his early teens, where he met Gus Cannon in 1907. By that time he was already a respected original stylist on the harmonica, noted for his liquid tone and breath control, which allowed him to generate enormous volume from the instrument. By then he was also noted for his ability to play two harmonicas at once – one with his mouth and one with his nose, a trick he probably taught to Big Walter Horton, who recorded briefly as a teenager with the Memphis Jug Band some 20 years later. Lewis developed unusual levels of breath control and volume from playing in string bands and brass marching bands on the streets of Memphis.

At their meeting in 1907, Lewis introduced Cannon to the 13-year-old guitarist and singer Ashley Thompson, with whom Lewis had been playing in the streets of Ripley and Memphis for some time, and the three of them worked together over the next 20 years whenever Cannon was in Memphis and not away working medicine and tent shows. When Will Shade's Memphis Jugband recorded and became popular in the late 1920s, Cannon added a coal-oil can on a rack round his neck and renamed the trio (Cannon, Lewis and Thompson) Cannon's Jug Stompers.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Home Depot Uses Historic Cemetery As a Trash Can

When home improvement retail giant Home Depot rolled into Midtown Memphis in 2003, one of the first renovation projects it promised to enable was the maintenance of the Bettis Family Cemetery.

Neighbors near the Bettis Family Cemetery in Shelby County have come forward with concerns as trash continues to fill a very old cemetery.

WREG reported that the cemetery contains what used to be about 15 graves of members of the Bettis family, who lived in the area before Memphis was founded.

The only standing grave left is for both Tillman Bettis and his wife Sally Bettis, who died giving birth in 1826. Her grave is thought to be the oldest marked grave in the county.

A neighbor says that while the gravestones have fallen, the trash is numerous.

“I’d like to see it maintained and just see a little more pride in it because of what it is historically to the city of Memphis,” Jukes said. “It’s awesome in here, and to look like this is just sad."

Jukes said when he noticed the trash, he posted about it on the Next Door app, and he was amazed by the feedback and the people willing to help clean the site.


The Atlanta-based company plans to clean up and maintain the historic Bettis family cemetery, which it purchased as part of the Center City Shopping Center property in December 2002. Located between the retail center and the Madison Avenue Piggly Wiggly, the long-neglected burial ground is enclosed by a three-foot graffiti-filled wall and littered with drug paraphernalia and worse.

Home Depot spokesman John Simley says the company plans to clean up and maintain the cemetery, thought to be the oldest in Memphis.

"We do have at least one other store I know of on Long Island that has a small cemetery on the property and we've sort of incorporated it into our store as best we can," he says. "With the property comes a responsibility for stewardship of it, and we take care of it."

Home Depot plans to demolish the nearby former Seessel's building, which also houses a Radio Shack and Central Wigs, and build a 93,000-square-foot store. Incorporating the Bettis family cemetery into the property will be easier, Simley says, because it will be behind the building whereas the Long Island cemetery is in the middle of the parking lot.

The cemetery has attracted the attention of neighborhood leaders from nearby Evergreen and Central Gardens neighborhoods as well as historic Elmwood Cemetery executive director Fran Catmur because of its historic significance.

Tillman Bettis and his family settled in the area in 1819, one year after the Chickasaw Nation ceded West Tennessee to the federal government. That same year Sally Carr Bettis gave birth to her fifth child, the first white child born in what would become Memphis. When Sally Carr Bettis died giving birth to her ninth child in 1826, her grave became what is thought to be the first marked grave in Shelby County.

Elmwood and the two neighborhoods have investigated the possibility of relocating the interred family members to Elmwood, where other Bettis family members are buried.

Moving the graves would require approval of Bettis decedents and Chancery Court, and the legal fees would only be a small portion of the cost.

"Elmwood is willing to donate the plots there, but it's going to cost probably a minimum of $35,000 to move it because it's important enough historically that it does need to have some sort of archeological study," says Evergreen Historic District board member Carolyn Fisher.

It is unclear how many Bettis family members are buried there. Several grave stones are covered with grass and dirt and others have been stolen.

"Three gravestones are left but I know for sure there are at least nine graves there," Fisher says.

Efforts to relocate the cemetery have been stalled by lack of funds.

"There are lots and lots of people who are for this; it's just that there's no money," Fisher says.

Ultimately, it is not up to the neighborhood associations or Elmwood.

"Whoever owns that property is in the driver's seat," Catmur says.

Simley says as long as Home Depot owns the property, the cemetery will be cared for.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The “Bastard Child of the Park System”

& the Emergence of Blues Tourism in Washington County, Mississippi
By T. DeWayne Moore

Due to the rampant clear-cutting by lumber companies and a lack of planning for reforestation, the Mississippi State Legislature created the Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC) in 1926. In the third section of an act to develop plans for reforestation, the governor received authorization was to “accept gifts of land” for the purpose of establishing state forests and parks. The state did not acquire any land for parks before to the onset of the Great Depression, which limited such endeavors across the nation. The 1932 election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought with it a New Deal for all Americans, however, and he established the Emergency Conservation Works (later renamed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1937) and resumed the development of the national park system.[1] In early 1934, some representatives of the state park division of the National Park Service approached the MFC about a cooperative program to develop state parks was possible, provided that the state furnish the land. Since neither the MFC nor the counties had statutory authority to purchase lands for the development of state parks, and the state had no legal justification for the use of state-owned lands for park development, the MFC solicited the assistance of legislators, civic organizations and individuals, all of whom sponsored a bill introduced in that year's legislative session. Known as House Bill 446, it allowed states to establish state parks using state-owned lands; it also authorized counties to purchase land for the future development of a state park.[2]

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Music Professor Produces Four Blues Singles

The Clarksdale Press Register - March 3, 1980

David Evans has the blues. And he's glad. 

Evans, an associate professor of music at Memphis State University, has just produced four blues singles recorded by Mississippi musicians. The recordings were made in Memphis studios and will be marketed by the Memphis State Department of Music, with royalties going to the artists and into the project for more records. 

The records will serve two pur-poses, according to Evans. "These singles are not only designed to be a type of documentary of blues today, but also to stimulate the music itself," he said. "Blues, as well as folk and other forms of regional music, has been in the doldrums lately. The large commercial record companies take little interest in blues artists because there is not much money in-volved. We are hoping to make blues more visible, because there is definitely an audience." 

Evans' research into blues was made possible by a $10,000 grant, which paid for the recording and pressing of the first 1000 copies of each record. "We recorded the artists at a local record studio in Memphis, and soon we will have our own recording facilities at Memphis State." These studios will be a part of the new Fine Arts complex at MSU, expected to be completed next year. 

To capture the sound of the local area, Evans chose musicians from Northern Mississippi. "Most of these musicians have recorded before, and all live close to one another. I'm familiar with them after having done research into blues !or the past 10 years." 

The musicians recorded by Evans are: Raymond and Lillie Hill singing "Going Down" and "Cotton Fields --Boss Man"; R.L. Burnside with "Bad Luck City" and "Jumper Hanging Out on the Line"; Jessie Mae Hemphill, "Jessie's Boogie" and "Standing in My Doorway Crying"; and Ranie Burnette, "Hungry Spell" and "Coal Black Mattie." 

Evans said he chose those specific artists for several reasons. "Each has his own style and method of play-ing the blues. There is also an opportunity for these artists to present two different expressions with each side of their single," he said. 

Raymond and Lillie Hill are from Clarksdale, Miss. "Raymond plays the saxophone, and was with Ike Turner's Bank in the 1950's," Evans said. "He also recorded with Sam Phillips for Sun Records in Memphis. His two songs are a perfect contrast -Raymond sings 'Going Down,' which tells of his troubles in the North and how he is ready for a trip South. Lillie's '?Cotton Fields -- Boss Man,' is a story of her toil in the cotton fields and how she longs to go North. These are good examples of the conflicts many Blacks may face in the South." 

A family gets into the act with "Bad Luck City" and "Jumper Hanging Out on the Line." "R.L. Burnside sings and plays the guitar and is joined by his sons, Daniel and Joseph. The father represents the more traditional flavour of blues, while his sons reflect the new sound." The group hails from Independence, Miss. 

Evans himself participates in Jessie Mae Hemphill's tunes. "Jessie's Boogie is fast and danceable while "Standing in My Doorway Cry-ing" is much slower. Evans plays the second guitar with the band and has toured with Jessie playing fairs, festivals, and concerts in the Northeast. 

The final record was cut by Ranie Burnette, who, according to Evans, actually influenced R.L. Burnside's style of singing. " 'Coal Black Mattie' is a little faster while 'Hungry Spell' is of the slower, more distinc-tive blues sound," he said. Evans is looking for a wide market for the records. "We are hoping for local, national and even international audiences. The local areas should be especially interested since these musicians hail from here. There is even a great audience in Europe and Japan. Several artists who are unknown in American are very well known overseas."

Not only is he hoping to market the records, Evans also hopes to create more opportunities for these musicians to perform. "In small Southern towns, there aren't that many places for blues artists to play. They are often confined to performing before small groups at home. Only recently have there been festivals and clubs for blues." Blues has been Evan's passion for several years. "Before coming to Memphis State in 1978, 1 made several albums of field recordings, which were done at churches and picnics. I could never market them in their particular regions. Because of the location of Memphis State, I can go out and do the same type of field work every day. But with these records, there will be a local audience who will appreciate them. 

"The music is so rich and distinctive--I hope the local radio stations will pick it up. I don't know if blues is making a comeback, but I do know it is changing. One of R.L. Burnside's tunes, 'Bad Luck City,' has almost a disco beat." Three of the artists, R.L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Ranie Burnette, are scheduled to appear as part of the Memphis State University Salute to Memphis Music August 15-16. "We also are planning to have seminars and concerts of blues for everyone to enjoy." Evans said. 

Ranie Burnette

Charlie Burse Headstone Dedication

March 9, 2019

4:30 pm CST
Rose Hill Cemetery, Memphis, TN

On behalf of the Burse family and the Little Pitcher Project, 
the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund 
is proud to announce the dedication of Charlie Burse's Headstone. 

Hosted by Christian Stanfield,
of the Side Street Steppers
The event will feature a long list of noted heavyweights in the Memphis music world, all of whom have reached out to express their desire to come out and pay their respects to a giant of the Jug Band world.  Many of those individuals have asked us not to announce their attendance; therefore, the lineup and schedule is only a glimpse at the delights that are in store for all who attend this special event.


Nancy Apple 

Memphis writer
Tom Graves

Arlo "Holstein Slim" Leach 

of the How Long Jug Band

Bill Steber

of the Jake Leg Stompers

Eric Hughes 

from the movie "Mr. Handy's Blues"

With Special Guests:

David Evans 

of the Last Chance Jug Band

Civil Rights activist and music industry veteran TM Garret
Moses Crouch, Rob Vye, Tony Manard, and many more!