Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Deep River [a Patton poem] by Habe Conlon

To whom it may concern-

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

Deep River 
by Habe Conlon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Johnnie Billington: He taught the character of the Blues

Photo by Lou Bopp
By T.J. Wheeler

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

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

Friday, October 18, 2019

Bowling Green Seminar To View `Black Oratory' [1968]

Monday, Sept. 30, 1968 
(Fremont, OH) News-Messenger page 9 

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I Have a
Dream Speech" on the National Mall in 1963.
For the first time Bowling Green State University is offering Black and white undergraduate students classroom time to exchange ideas on contemporary racial problems. An experimental liberal arts course entitled "Black Oratory" is being offered under the direction of Dr. Raymond Yeager, speech professor. 

A casual, relaxed seminar is planned and Dr. Yeager says he would be disappointed if “we didn’t have some lively discussions.” 

Although Black history and culture classes have been offered on a number of other campuses, Bowling Green’s course is unique in that it deals with speeches made by Black leaders, according to Dr. Yeager.  

The textbook, “Rhetoric of the Racial Revolt” includes a collection of speeches made by African American leaders beginning with Civil War-day speaker Frederick Douglass, father of the protest movement, and concluding with modern-day orator Martin Luther King Jr., martyr of the peaceful agitation movement. 

Other African Americans to be discussed include Booker T. Washington, advocate of the “separate but equal” principle, Marian Anderson, one of the world’s foremost contralto singers; Dr. Ralph Bunche, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Elijah Mohammad and Malcolm X, militant leaders of the Black Muslim movement. 

Booker T. Washington
Through the oratorical approach, Dr. Yeager hopes the biographies and personalities of these speakers as well as the temper of the times in which they lived can be studied. 

Six contemporary films also are slated for the course. Dr. Yeager plans to bring a number of prominent Negro leaders to speak to his class. Cleveland's Mayor Carl B. Stokes and Julian Bond, Georgia politician, are two who have been asked to visit Bowling Green. 

“Black Oratory” stems from the success of a similar graduate course taught last year by Dr. Yeager. At that time many undergraduate students expressed a desire to sit in on the sessions. 

“The course is being offered in anticipation of what students want…not in response to student demands,” Dr. Yeager said. 

Malcolm X
Although the decision to offer the class came too late to make this year’s catalogue, students learned about it through word of mouth and about 20, equally divided between white and black, enrolled. 

Dr. Yeager doesn’t pretend to be an expert on the subject of African American history. 

“I should think many of the Black students will know as much about it as I do. I certainly hope I can learn from them,” he said. 

“I envision my role as a listener as well as a director. I would hope that the students could become the teachers and I would only act as a ‘master teacher.’”

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. 

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. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

T.J. Wheeler's Epic: "All Roads Lead to the Blues" Chapters 4 & 5

©2007 all rights reserved By TJ Wheeler 

Chapter 4: Peanuts for Peanuts 

T.J. Wheeler and "the man himself James Cotton at a gig at the Music Hall around 1987.
It was a triple bill of the James Cotton Big Band, the Johnny Copeland Band, & Tj Wheeler & the Smokers.

With Fifteen bucks now in my pocket, I felt like the character in the old William Moore Blues song i.e. a real “Ragtime Millionaire”. I was more than ready to leave Beale Street and continue my search. Sidekick had mentioned that the current hang for young people interested in music was Overton Square, so I decided that would be my next stop. About a ten minutes drive straight down Union Street, I saw the influx of college-age kids, being all so busy with themselves, and figured this must be the new hip spot. 

Opposed to the dirty, grimy conditions of Beale Street, Overton Square was squeaky clean. In fact, it was so damn cute I wanted to scream. The overall bubbly, Ivy League enthusiasm of everything was quite insufferable to me. After all inside most blues guy, there’s a, not so secret, cynic just begging to get out. I did figure I should at least walk around and see what made this square supposedly so non-squareish. 

Over the next hour or so that it took to check out the club & food scene I made two conclusions; 1: Most clubs had music and none of it was the Blues, and 2: What a hero was. The club music calendars posted had scheduled for southern rock acts or soloists regurgitating James Taylor and Cat Steven’s covers. It was almost enough to make me almost lose my appetite, but not quite! 

T.J. Wheeler's Epic: "All Roads Lead to the Blues" Chapters 4 & 5 

Chapter 4: Peanuts for Peanuts 

T.J. Wheeler and "the man himself James Cotton at a gig at the Music Hall around 1987.
It was a triple bill of the James Cotton Big Band, the Johnny Copeland Band, & Tj Wheeler & the Smokers.

With Fifteen bucks now in my pocket, I felt like the character in the old William Moore Blues song i.e. a real “Ragtime Millionaire”. I was more than ready to leave Beale Street and continue my search. Sidekick had mentioned that the current hang for young people interested in music was Overton Square, so I decided that would be my next stop. About a ten minutes drive straight down Union Street, I saw the influx of college-age kids, being all so busy with themselves, and figured this must be the new hip spot. 

Opposed to the dirty, grimy conditions of Beale Street, Overton Square was squeaky clean. In fact, it was so damn cute I wanted to scream. The overall bubbly, Ivy League enthusiasm of everything was quite insufferable to me. After all inside most blues guy, there’s a, not so secret, cynic just begging to get out. I did figure I should at least walk around and see what made this square supposedly so non-squareish. 

Over the next hour or so that it took to check out the club & food scene I made two conclusions; 1: Most clubs had music and none of it was the Blues, and 2: What a hero was. The club music calendars posted had scheduled for southern rock acts or soloists regurgitating James Taylor and Cat Steven’s covers. It was almost enough to make me almost lose my appetite, but not quite! 

Carefully I scrutinized the menus of several small sandwich and pizza joints, in an effort to stretch my $15 to the max. Settling on a small sandwich shop, I sat down and asked the waitress what she recommended. Her reply was simply “A Hero.” That’s rather profound, I thought to myself. After reading the confused look on my face, she explained that she was talking about a sandwich. I’d had plenty of subs, torpedoes, and in New Orleans, Po Boys, but never a hero. At the moment though, considering how ravenous my belly felt, it made perfect sense. Sometimes, I guess a hero can be nothing but a sandwich. 

Finishing my meal, I gazed out the restaurant window and stared at the College kids streaming by. Maybe it was just my hunger and lack of sleep, but I couldn’t help but imagine what it must feel like to be so young and seemingly carefree. Though many of the students were my age or close to it, they nevertheless, made me feel as old as the very Bluesmen I was seeking out. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Blues Scholars Give Up Integrity Clinging to Myths

Revisiting Ralph Lembo (click title to open) was published in the ARSC Journal in December 2018. The editor of the ARSC Journal made the decision to publish a response (click to open) from Gayle Dean Wardlow and Ed Komara in July 2019. I have provided both the original article as well as Komara's response here on the MZMF website. Below is my answer.

I originally submitted Revisiting Ralph Lembo in hopes that Ed Komara would be the reader who ARSC Journal editor Sarah Bryan sent it out to upon submission in September 2017. I learned about the revised King of the Delta Blues manuscript in the summer, as he had announced his projected end of the year submission on the RBF Book Forum, a Facebook group once controlled by Ulf Burgenblad. Whereas I expected to learn about some lost cache of research that warranted the book’s revisions, I ended up receiving no notes whatsoever or even a standard letter of recommendation for publication from the peer reviewers. I believe that Komara was the peer reviewer because I only received a request through the editor to cut the following section from the manuscript. It was an important analysis, however, and it’s a good thing that I only moved it to footnote 69:

In another interview with Miller, Wardlow asks another leading question, “Do you think Lembo was honest?” Having listened to Wardlow suggest that he wasn’t so “straight an arrow,” Miller replies, “I don’t think so.” Miller invokes Rev. Thornton’s non-existent royalty suit – not personal experience – to justify his answer. In addition, Wardlow had discussed most of the topics addressed in the taped interview at least once before turning on the recorder. One time, when talking about Rube Lacy, Miller passes off hearsay as a firsthand account. “I think he done mighty well in his musical career,” Miller declared, “and the last I heard from him he was a preacher.” Miller had not spoken with Lacy in decades, however, and a couple of seconds later, Wardlow realizes, “I told you that.” Indeed, the native record collector and his subject discussed several of the topics beforehand, which marred the interview.

To assess the degree to which the problematic testimony of Booker Miller was corrupted, I tried to find evidence of the lawsuit that he claimed Ralph Lembo lost for thousands of dollars. I never found any evidence of a lawsuit over royalties, which proves that the interview is thoroughly corrupted. It was Wardlow himself who advised that I check the courthouse records. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

T.J. Wheeler's Epic: "All Roads Lead to the Blues" Chapters 1-3

©2007 all rights reserved By TJ Wheeler 

Chapter 1: 
Sunday Jubilee 

Sunday is a day for Church. In the South, for millions of African Americans, Church means Jubilee…a day to rejoice. Fittingly, it was a bright, sunny Memphis morning in early April, 1974. The stifling, sticky humidity was a good month away and the freshness of the spring air seemed to paint a bright smile over the people and the sad streets of Memphis’s inner city. 

Blue and I drove by scores of families, dressed in their proverbial Sunday bests, heading to their local houses’ of worship. Neighbors greeted each other with morning salutations. Church bells rang out, as if singing, “I’m so glad troubles don’t last always”. 

The incongruous sight of a classic World War B52 plane, sitting in the space of a standard 100-foot house lot, made me take a double-take as I slowly cruised down, the pothole, infested roadway. This was Mosby Street, and if my directions were right, I had to be within a few blocks of Country Bluesmen Furry Lewis and Bukka White’s respective houses. On the opposite side of the street from the plane, I noticed a small group of well dressed elderly Black men sitting together on a bench, and a few folding chairs, propped up next to a small brick grocery store. They seemed to be deep in counsel, talking away to each other, in a good-humored, but a heated discussion. Though dressed appropriately, they didn’t seem to be heading to church. It was obvious they weren’t looking to go anywhere, as they certainly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, had arrived. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Howlin Wolf Remembered in the UK By Former Bandmate

By Dave Kelly 2012

First Impressions

In 1967 I was the lead singer & slide guitarist with The John Dummer Blues Band. We were a working band schlepping up and down motorways of the UK & Europe, earning a living, never going to make a fortune but a group of young men doing what they wanted to do and mostly having fun.

Dave Kelly: vocals & slide guitar

John Dummer: drums

Iain ’Thump’ Thompson: bass guitar

Adrian ‘Putty’ Pietryga; lead guitar

Bob Hall: piano occasionally at gigs near London (Bob was studying to be a lawyer) Looking back I guess we were never going to set the world alight, but we’d always work. We were reasonably accomplished musicians, and not too expensive, also we knew and loved the blues. We were perfect for backing visiting US artists. We later made two tours with John Lee Hooker, and at one time were offered Slim Harpo, but that one never materialized. When our management company rang and asked if we’d heard of Howlin Wolf and would we like to back him, we all jumped at the chance.

The agents who brought these bluesmen over had been in the business a long time, they recognized a fashion or the latest craze and jumped on the bandwagon. I’m sure they, we’ll call them the R T Agency, didn’t have clue who Wolf was or his standing in the blues, other than checking out and a bit of research to see who they could bring over. I remember hearing a story from a promoter who did know his stuff being given a ‘shopping list’ over the phone of artists the agency proposed bringing over.

Agent: "And how much would you be prepared to pay for Sonny Boy Williamson?“

Promoter: "Oh I’d give you a thousand pounds a night for him!"

Agent [ getting excited ] "Really? I’ll get him for you."

Promoter: "You’ll be lucky – he’s been dead three years."

And in some cases that still didn’t stop the agent. I recall there were three West Indian Bluebeat acts simultaneously doing the clubs all purporting to be the same artist.

Anyway this was the real Wolf. The management did the deal – whatever it was, - we were all on wages anyway so it didn’t affect our income, and we were to be Howlin Wolf’s backing band for three weeks around the UK. In actual fact we (our management) never got paid for the tour, luckily Wolf had been paid in advance.

The R T Agency went bankrupt owing us all the fees, apparently, in a court case our management was given custody of his office furniture in lieu of payment. It didn’t affect the band as we were on wages from the management company anyway. Either way Ollie & Tommie Vaughan from the county shires lost some money, which they could probably afford. They went on to become the top presenters and arrangers of upper-class discos during the Debs season, Juliana’s discotheques made a lot of money – nice guys. Hi Ollie & Tommy if you read this.

We were to meet Wolf the day before the first show. A room above a pub had been booked for rehearsal, we set the gear up and awaited the arrival of the great man.

He strolled in with another guy who turned out to be RT’s representative and ‘tour manager’. Wolf was not unfriendly but slightly aloof at first. He was a very commanding figure, well over six feet tall, big build, 300lbs of heavenly joy. And that voice! After introductions and hands being shaken, with ours disappearing into his giant paws, thankfully he wasn’t a ‘bone crusher’ or we wouldn’t be able to play afterward.

“OK lets see what you can do” he said. We’d expected him to call a few songs for rehearsal and that we’d be there all evening getting them right, but he didn’t appear to want to play anything with us at first. We played him a few songs, he nodded and declared that we knew our stuff. “I can see by the way you hold your guitars that you’re musicians “ One of the songs we played in our audition was ‘Dust My Broom’, he said he wanted to do that one in the set. He then took out some harps and blew through the mic directly into the PA system – what a sound. Inside that enormous chest was an equally large pair of lungs. I bet his harps didn’t last very long. We suggested trying a few songs, Smokestack Lightnin being one we really wanted to do, and we knew his stuff pretty well, but he just played a few bars of a twelve-bar, told us to follow him, what to look for, breaks, stops etc and told Tony [JohnDummer] to really hit the backbeat on the snare. That was it, the whole ‘rehearsal’ had taken about one hour. Wolf and Ian the tour manager disappeared downstairs, into Ian’s car leaving us slightly surprised and I was a bit worried as the first gig was the next day, I think it was in Sunderland, 200 miles away in the northeast of England. Well if Wolf wasn’t worried who were we to complain? I didn’t realize it at the time, but he’d just paid us a great compliment.

Baptism by Fire

We drove up in the van to Sunderland, Wolf went with Ian in his car and we met up at the gig in a college gym. The sound was awful, but the crowd was there to see Wolf and just the fact that he was there was enough. I don’t recall exactly what set we played with him at that first show other than it was mainly twelve-bar shuffles and the odd slow blues, no Smokestack, no Killing Floor, no Shake For Me, no Just Like I Treat You, no Going Down Slow, no Spoonful, no Forty Four – just forty-five minutes and off. I remember feeling a bit disappointed and that if I’d been a punter/fan come to see the great man I would have felt a bit shortchanged. Not that Wolf didn’t perform well or put everything into it – he did, but just from the choice of material, not hearing all those classics. However this was early days, we were still feeling each other out, getting a modus operandi. Things definitely got better.

After the show, Wolf gave me some change and told me to go to the bar and get him a whiskey. In 1968 spirits were very expensive in the UK with all the government tax and also served in very small measures, also I’m not sure if Wolf was up to pace yet with the English money, but when I returned with the pathetic single measure of whiskey hardly covering a quarter of an inch in the bottom of the glass and very little change he glared at me said “You been drinking this? Don’t fool with me boy” I assured him that I had carried the glass directly from the bar, hadn’t spilled or drunk any of it, it was just that that’s how they serve whiskey in England, also that I wouldn’t dare ‘fool with him.’ He seemed to accept the explanation and when Ian appeared and confirmed that the pathetic measure was the English way he just laughed that laugh and muttered about getting a hip flask.

I don’t recall all the venues we played over those three weeks or the exact chronology of the ones I do remember but very soon after the start of the tour a couple of guys would be at almost every gig, no matter how far apart We knew they were there because during our own forty-minute set before Wolf came on they would heckle us by every so often shouting out CHESTER (Wolf's real first name). We eventually met them and took them backstage to meet Wolf and they laid off us a bit in our set after that.

It was early in the tour that I suggested to Wolf that we [the band] start his set with a fast shuffle, like one of his early Memphis recordings with Willie Johnson on guitar, Willie Steel playing drums and Ike Turner at the piano. Wolf would stand in the wings whilst over the shuffle I tell the crowd that

“The Wolf is in Your Town – do you wanna see The Wolf ? are you READY for The Wolf?, REALLY READY?” We tried it and it worked very well, getting the crowd up and shouting in response so that the place really erupted as I finally shouted: “Here comes THE WOLF, the great HOWLIN WOLF”. He then walked on stage, blowing his harp to tremendous noise from the crowd. And then things got hotter.

One Saturday night early in the tour we played The University College[I think] London, right in the center of the West End. The place was heaving with about a thousand people in the audience, packed into the hall, there was no room to move, sardines. Wolf connected with the atmosphere immediately and took the gig by the scruff of the neck from the moment he boarded the stage. This was the best gig of the tour. He played for nearly two hours, he used every inch of his body to get his songs across, he howled at the moon, he got on all fours, rolled on his back he rolled his eyes, he worked and worked, and the audience knew they’d been worked over. He was the Tail Dragger, but those tracks were never wiped out, anyone there that night would remember that performance for the rest of their lives – or they got a hole in their soul. Wolf was exhausted, and understandably the next couple of gigs were a bit of an anticlimax but for that one show THANK YOU WOLF FOREVER.

By then the set had expanded and more favorites were appearing. I suppose as we got to know each other and learned to have confidence in what could be achieved, how far we could go out on a limb and mutual trust that we’d all get back safely and together at the end of the song. Wolf was enjoying our company and we certainly enjoyed his. He dispensed with the tour manager and liked to travel with us in the van – a classic rock and roll van, a six-wheel Ford Transit with two rows of bench seats, a bulkhead divider with the amps and the now laughably small PA system in the back, and very probably a nasty smell. He liked to sit in the front and on the way home after a gig would sit next to Chris the roady who was driving and say “ I’m gonna watch you boy, I’ll keep you awake, you start to nod I’m gonna blow my harp. We’d be dozing in the back and sure enough loud wailing harp would disturb our slumber – Wolf thought Chris, or Squoit as he’d call him was getting tired.

During those hours on the road, we all had various conversations with him, some individual, some open to all. He told us he’d been in the UK during the war, he told us he’d met Charlie Patton “ Man what a voice – he was only as big as my prick but he had a great voice”. He told us that Sonny Boy Williamson was his brother in law and had taught Wolf some harp. Also about his club in Chicago, and how he loved Jimmy Reed, but Jimmy would like “too much juice” and sometimes would play Ain’t That Lovin You Baby over and over, until eventually Wolf would have to threaten not to pay him to get him to move on. He did a very funny impression of Jimmy talking whilst in his cups. We talked about the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and other happenings in the States. He expressed certain opinions but didn’t seem to be particularly interested in politics or he wasn’t prepared to expand his thoughts with us.

He was getting bored and lonely sitting in his hotel room in central London, ironically named The White House, I lent him my old Harmony Sovereign guitar to play in his room, which he accidentally trod on, he was so apologetic, but it wasn’t my best guitar. I taped it up on the side of the body where it had split. It was still playable and I pointed out to him that forever I would be able to show off this guitar and say ‘This was played and broken by the great Howlin Wolf’ He laughed but I don’t think that he realized that I was serious.

He said we should come up to the hotel and he’d teach us music theory. He’d paid someone to teach it to him, but he’d teach us for free. We didn’t get to learn much music theory, but he did play Little Red Rooster for us on the as yet intact Harmony.

Trying to explain that although the song went to the D [if in A] quite quickly the slide part played an A on the 12th fret. We played it a few times but I don’t think we ever managed to totally nail the exact feel of the classic recorded version, and as you can see from my explanation of his lesson, I never did get that theory thing together either.

Road Stories

One lunchtime we stopped at a pub for our usual refreshment and a game of darts. This was the late sixties but there was still some animosity toward longhaired weirdo’s as we were perceived in some quarters. There was a crowd of construction workers in the pub who’d just finished for the week and we're getting a bit cut. A few comments were thrown over in our direction, I don’t know if we were taking too long on the dartboard or was it longhaired weirdo’s with a six feet six Black man in their pub.

There was some whispering and a couple of them went out to the car park. When we eventually left we found they’d deflated one of our tires – ho ho very funny. One of the guys came out to go to the toilet which was across the car park, he was obviously very drunk and staggering He came over and slurred ‘Sorry about the tire’, then asked who we were and who was the big guy? We told him he was blues singer called Howlin Wolf – his response - ‘What THE HOWLIN WOLF – I’ve met Howlin Wolf?’ , [very drunk & emotional]. He staggered back into the pub and returned with a couple of his mates and a foot pump. He made them pump up our tire whilst he sobbed Howlin Wolf, I’ve met Howlin Wolf, we’ve let down Howlin fucking Wolf’s fucking tires – oh no!

Most of the audiences were kids about our ages, the early twenties, with the odd older person who would have had the few records of Wolf released in the UK in the late fifties. We played at the Cliffs Ballroom in Bournemouth and that night standing right in front of the stage there was a fellow in his forties, dressed up in the fashion of his youth, a Teddy Boy. In the nineteen fifties the first signs of youthful rebellion in Britain were manifested in The Teddy Boys, so-called because they took their style from the Edwardian era. Long drape jackets with velvet collars, drainpipe trousers, large suede shoes nicknamed brothel creepers, bootlace tie, all topped off with pompadour/Tony Curtis hairdo. In austere post-war Britain, these popinjays caused outrage and uproar in the press, etc and so they duly obliged by ripping up cinema seats during the first screenings of Rock Around The Clock and The Girl Can’t Help It. They were made for Rock & Roll, Rock & Roll was made for them. This chap obviously felt that having Howlin Wolf come to Bournemouth justified getting the old suit out of the closet. He loved the concert and I searched him out after the show as I thought he deserved to come and meet The Wolf, he was knocked out to meet his hero and Wolf chatted to him for some time. Oh, by the way, this Teddy Boy was now a bank manager.

On one trip with Wolf in the van with us we had a couple of shows in the north, the tour manager had long disappeared – well if Wolf wanted to travel in a smelly van why pay a driver and car hire no doubt thought the lovely Mr. T. They also had stopped booking hotels for Wolf apart from the London base. Our roady Chris Sladdin

Came from near Lincoln in the northeast. He lived in London having come down for college but his parents still lived in a nice semi-detached house on the edge of the town. It made sense to stay in the area and Chris’ parents were away on holiday, so we headed off to their house after the show. Wolf was given the master bedroom whilst we spread ourselves around the house for the night. Wolf’s comment was “ I didn’t know you had a nice house like this – I thought you were a hippy” The next day was Sunday and Chris said we’d go down to the Ferry Boat Inn on the river for Sunday Lunch. So the five long-haired weirdo's and the six-foot-six inches African American headed to the very genteel middle-class pub for Sunday lunch. Wolf was a bit nervous, he was comfortable with us, but then we were musicians. This pub was very middle class and very white. He was soon put at rest, Chris knew the landlord as a Rotary Club pal of his Dad. He told him all about the tour and how famous Wolf was and the landlord marched across the pub, shook Wolf by the hand and said Good Morning Mr. Wolf we’re very proud to ‘ave you in our pub. I ‘ope this lot are looking after you well – would you like a whiskey?

During the tour, my sister Jo-Ann, I and the band had organized a concert at our regular Sunday afternoon blues session at the Studio 51, Ken Colyer’s Jazz Club. These sessions were started about seven years earlier by another group of young longhaired wierdo’s with no regular gig, called The Rolling Stones. Jo-Ann took me down there one Sunday in the early sixties. It cost 3 shillings entrance [15 pence UK or 10 cents US in today’s money] and the Stones played three 45 minute sets between 2.00 and 5.00pm.

A friend suggested that we [The Dummer Band] resurrect these sessions when we were looking for somewhere to play. After we left they continued well into the seventies with various other outfits.

However, this particular concert was a benefit to raise money for one of our heroes who were not in the best of health and living in a nursing home in Memphis. The great Memphis Minnie. We had promises from John Mayall, Mick Taylor, Alexis Korner,

Paul Kossof & Andy Fraser from Free, plus all the usual suspects that they would turn up and play for nothing to raise money for Minnie. We told Wolf about it and he said he’d try to get down. Bob Hall was running a reel to reel, recording the whole afternoon and I remember Jo Ann and I were singing with a collection of massed musicians behind us, when on the tape for no apparent reason the audience erupted. Yes, Wolf had just walked in and made his way to the front of the stage. He got up and played three or four numbers to a spellbound audience before wandering out into the London evening and presumably a cab back to his hotel.

We raised £150 for Minnie. It doesn’t sound much these days but I know it helped her in back in Memphis. We sent the money to a Memphis Jazz Buff who organized a presentation with some press and a boogie piano player. I have a tape of the event with Minnie managing a slightly strangled sounding ‘Thankya’ The only drag about our event is that the tape of the whole afternoon, including Wolf’s performance, has disappeared.

There were not shows every night and I guess nights off would hang heavy on Wolf’s shoulders. None of us had houses at the time, I lived in a one room bed sit with my girlfriend at that time, but I know Bob Hall, who was older than the rest of us, and by then married, invited Wolf to dinner at his home. Toward the end of the tour Wolf was obviously getting homesick, but what better to inspire a blues singer. One night in Leicester he sang the most moving spine-tingling version of ‘Did I Hurt Your Feelings, I Didn’t Mean To Do You No Wrong’. Over the tour he had on occasions told us that we played too loud, but he was generally happy with where and what we played. However on this particular performance he’d gone out into the audience of young students, he had them sit on the floor whilst he on one knee pleaded the song to his wife, who I know he’d phoned earlier in the day. He just waived his hand back at us onstage meaning ‘down’ any lick or fill attempted by any of us was met with that glare. We obeyed, got quieter and quieter, played less and less whilst the master gave a master-class in blues feeling, less is more. I was shaking at the end of that song, I had been privileged to be involved in a magical moment, some girls in the audience had tears in their eyes. (I have now re-reading this) I’ve seen some greats, but I’ve never seen a performance like that before or since. THANK YOU WOLF.

Bad Vibes

Only two really. One night we played the 10pm slot at The Flamingo Club in Soho London. The Flamingo Club was mainly a soul venue or West Indian Ska/Bluebeat gig, depending on who was booked or who the DJ was for the all-night disco after the live act. We had been booked on a Ska/Bluebeat night so the place was heaving with cool hip young West Indians. Wolf was definitely up for it, this was the first black venue we’d played. Of course, these hip young dudes were there for the disco, they’d never heard of Howlin Wolf and couldn’t care less about the Blues. We came off stage and Wolf laid into us, that we’d played badly and let him down, witness the lack of response from the audience. The one show where he played to what he called ‘my people’ and it had failed. I said Wolf they’re not ‘your people’ they’re West Indians and they don’t know blues music, they’ve come for the Ska later on. Then first time he ever got angry with us, he glared at me, face in my face and said: “ Don’t tell me how to play to coons, I’m a coon myself.” I was shocked at his terminology also a bit scared at having 300lbs of heavenly joy turn into 300lbs of angry Wolf. I left the dressing room and got on with the load out. As I’d expected all was fine the next day and the topic wasn’t raised again.

Earlier in the tour, we played at The Speakeasy Club in central London. This was where the ‘In Crowd’ hung out, journalists, musicians, faces, aristocrats, liggers, jammers, and poseurs, etc. You had to be ‘someone’ to get in there. The night we played it many musos were in, Lowell Fulson was in town and came and said hi to Wolf. The first set went OK, Lowell got up and played guitar on a couple of numbers, some young black guitar wiz kid got up and started to wail and fill every hole and even some places which weren’t holes with about 100 notes per minute. Fulson turned around and shouted in his ear ”Shut up, it’s his [Wolf’s] song, not yours”. Thankfully the guy was shamed into getting off the stage. We took a break and I don’t know if Wolf had too many whiskeys bought for him by the admiring back slapping punters, but it was obvious something was wrong at the start of the second set. From bad to worse, Wolf decided he was going to play guitar. He turned round to me and beckoned me closer “Gimme your guitar son” I thought it wasn’t a good idea and said something like “Are you sure Wolf ?” He began to lose it so I complied, not wishing to have a row on stage. As I handed it over I said it’s in Open E tuning “You don’t have to tell me what tuning it’s in he growled” and then sat down and proceeded to play standard chords on a guitar in open tuning. This did not make for cool music. I felt for my colleagues up there on stage trying to decide which key to follow in, they did their best, trying to turn his amp down, trying to hold it together in some way but it was a lost cause.

Ian the tour manager was still on the scene at that time and I saw him sitting up on some higher seats back in the gloom. I jumped up next to him and said “Ian get him off. He’s blowing it” Ian said I think he’s really cool, the music is grooving. I pleaded “Ian it’s not grooving it’s a shambles” then he replied, “Please go away, leave me alone I’m not Ian and I’m tripping”. – Poor guy, maybe that was the best way to hear that particular set, oh and he was quite right – it wasn’t Ian.

Predictably in the music press, the debacle was reported, - what a shame that these visiting artists are given young inexperienced bands who can’t back them properly and ruin their music, etc. etc. That one hurt. I have since been told that Peter Green was in the audience and was arguing on our behalf with a couple of DJ’s. He’d understood the situation.


I was playing a show in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2001 and a guy came up to me afterward and said he’d seen me in The Dummer Band in 1969 backing Howlin Wolf at The Free Trade Hall Manchester. Yes, great times I responded. I said what a pleasure and honor it had been to play with him, my only regret was that I had no photos of the tour. I suppose when you’re young you think it goes on forever like this and record taking photographically doesn’t enter your head. He said he didn’t have any photos, but he wanted to know if I would like a CD of the concert? Gobsmacked! Remember this was 1969 – no mini-disk, even before cassettes. He’d taken his reel to reel into the venue, plugged it into the wall socket and sat there with his mic held high above his head. Thankfully stewards in those days were not aware of copyright, bootlegs, etc. and he got the whole set with Wolf. He’s cleaned the recording up a bit and the large hall has a large reverb, but you can still hear most of what you want to hear.

Hearing that music again brought it all flooding back. This concert was near the end of the tour, but we still never knew what Wolf was going to play next. He often started a number and we’d fall in at appropriate times. He starts the concert playing the riff on his harp to Somebody Walking In My Home, the band come in then Wolf sings Smokestack Lightnin over the other riff – it’s great. Then onto Dust My Broom. When I first heard the CD I was surprised how straight I played the slide riff, and the music took me back thirty-two years (now 50) to the second night of the tour and Wolf saying to me “When we play Dust My Broom you just play that Elmore piece, don’ play nuttin’ else, jus’ that riff” OK Wolf –lesson one, less is more.

We played an eight-bar in the vein of ‘It Hurts Me Too’ and it wasn’t totally apparent what the sequence was from the harp intro, so for a while, I’m following Wolf with the slide whilst the other guy's soldier on with a twelve-bar, but it soon gets together. I listened to this CD in awe and not without some pride as Wolf gives me more and more solo choruses shouting encouragement “ Play it son” “Get the feeling” etc.

We played Spoonful……..…….

Freddy King had been brought over by the same agency and had been backed by some friends of ours called Killing Floor, who numbered Rod De‘Ath on drums and Lou Martin on piano, later to join Rory Gallagher. The backstage banter and rivalry between Freddy and Wolf was entertaining. I got the impression that Freddy had at some time been in Wolf’s band. I don’t think he ever recorded with Wolf and I may have misunderstood, however it was agreed that Freddy would come out and play with us behind Wolf on the final encore of the night. Wolf counted in a slow blues, Freddy started with the most beautiful, tasteful, emotional intro, Wolf shouts to him “Get it again”, so Freddy starts another sequence, about eight bars in Wolf starts a fresh sequence on the harp, Freddy immediately drops in at the top of the sequence, the performance is good, Wolf and Freddy in friendly but apparent rivalry. The music continues and just getting geared up for a searing heart-wrenching solo from Freddy when the song fades. I rang the guy and asked if he’d send me the rest of the music – he couldn’t. His machine had run out of tape halfway through the finale. Oh well.

After the show both artists and bands went for a meal, Freddy proclaimed that he’d buy the drinks if Wolf paid for the food, Freddy thought this arrangement was very amusing, Wolf later told me that he’d was aware that he’d been taken a bit but he went along with the arrangement as he had more money than Freddy anyway. Later, sitting down next to him, he made the comment, “anyway I’m better looking than him, what kind of figure is that for a man? Look he’s got tits, man he should wear a brassiere.” This comment finished with him leaning over grabbing my knee whilst shaking with laughter which would start somewhere in his stomach and then build up through his whole body till he and anyone in the vicinity was also swept up in the joke.

What was truly gratifying about hearing us actually playing with Wolf all those years ago, particularly in light of The Speakeasy disaster, is how very good we were at backing him. I can’t think of anyone who could have done a better job, under the circumstances.


Soon after receiving the CD I heard from another fan that he had photos of that tour and have now received some visual documentation – God we were young!

Then I was sent a video containing Wolf with the sublime Hubert Sumlin on lead guitar playing on the American Festival of the Blues in Germany 1964. Wolf steals the show. His ability to dig deep into his soul and tap into that vein of emotion and then produce it out through his voice, no, through his whole being is a wonderful, beautiful talent

Wolf was a gentle giant, but not to be messed with, he took a paternal interest in his young backing group, ‘don’t smoke that shit – it’ll kill ya’. He was in some ways naive but also a sophisticated man, complex, a bit like the rest of us I guess. I am extremely proud and grateful to have been associated with such a master.

Finally, I had a tax inspection recently. The inspector who looked to be in his early sixties came to my house peered through my accounts, asked the usual questions, then lightened up a bit. “What sort of music do you play then ?” When I replied ‘blues’ he said “What like Howlin Wolf ?” The inspection went very well.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Two men are trying to find Robert Johnson's crossroads.

Where did blues legend make deal with devil? 
1991 By Steve Walton 

Bradley Seidman and Jeff Twiss say their research will end the decades-old debate in blues folklore about where 1930s musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to Satan. 

Johnson, according to legend, met the devil at a desolate crossroads somewhere in the Delta and traded his soul for blues greatness. Johnson left the meeting able to play the acoustic guitar better than anybody, but the devil had rights to his soul, says the story.

"Robert Johnson has become such a mythological person, it's getting harder to separate fact from fiction. I know the deal went down, I just want to find out where," said Seidman, 36, who lives in Chicago and uses Bradley Lastname as the signature for his surrealist paintings. 

Columbia Pictures used the Johnson myth as the basis for its 1986 movie Crossroads. The $10 million motion picture was filmed at several Delta locations and used an intersection on a plantation east of Beulah in Bolivar County as the legendary crossroads. 

Several crossroads have been called the site of the devil's deal, but none has been confirmed and many people doubt the story's truth. 

"I don't think it was a particular crossroads. That's sort of a mythical place," said Malcolm White of Hal and Mal's restaurant and nightclub in Jackson. Tourists often ask White about the crossroads' location. "I get a couple a month," White said. 

"I don't know about the crossroads' credibility. It's kind of a joke," said Jim O'Neal. founding editor of Living Blues magazine and owner of Rooster Blues Records and Stackhouse Record Shop in Clarksdale.

"I guess it depends on your beliefs, whether such a deal could be made at all."

"Thing is, he sold his soul to the devil, he got paid off pretty late. His songs are on the charts now, 52 years after his death," O'Neal said, laughing.

Johnson's songs include Crossroad Blues, Me and The Devil Blues and Hellhound on Aly Trail.

Johnson died Aug. 16, 1938, 27 years after his birth in Hazlehurst. Some say he was poisoned by a jealous husband, while others say he was stabbed to death in a juke-joint scuffle. 

"What I'm doing could easily be passed off as flippant or nonsense," Seidman said. 

Indeed, the pair's "research" is less than scientific A lot less. They plan to dig dirt from tour Delta crossroad sites this weekend and have a 1-ounce sample of the dirt weighed film time in January. The four sites were chosen from Living Blues magazine, which had an article on the crossroads debate in its November-December issue. 

Seidman could not explain where he got the hypothesis. 

The location where his soul was sold. that soil is going to weigh differently," Seidman said of the 1- ounce dirt samples. "It Will just make the scales go wild. It will be like the needle of a magnetic compass at the North Pole. That's a good comparison." They base their hypothesis on parapsychological research which claims the soul has weight, Seidman said. Parapsychology is the branch of psychology that studies psychic phenomena, such as Telepathy and telekinesis. Seidman claims to have no special powers.

 Twiss, 36, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Morton, laughed at a couple of Seidman's remarks. "I guess it was just a laugh of joy," Twiss said after Seid-man said his research will benefit everyone. 

Can I go back and change something. I think the correct word is delight — joy inaccurate," he said later. 

Twiss also speculated about why the dirt would weigh differently where .Johnson dealt with the devil. 

"When you buy something, you want to examine it, so when Johnson handed his soul over, some probably spilled," Twiss said. "And there might be some soil erosion." 

Seidman said skeptics would be people irritated at themselves for not thinking of doing this research first. Even skeptics would demand to know the results of their work, he said. 

"This is a research project," Seid-man said with a little irritation in his voice. "There's no ulterior mo-tive. I'm not selling anything. This isn't a publicity stunt. Its research."