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.