Wednesday, April 17, 2019

FOUND! The Grave of Harmonicist Bud Spires and his Family

Benjamin Bud Spires 
Photo © Bill Steber
The Grave Marker of Arthur "Big Boy" Spires

The Graves of Other Members of the Spires Family

The Fading Nameplate on the Grave Marker of Bud Spires

Bud Spires: Bentonia Bluesman Plays only as Half of the Partnership

By Lisa Nicholas for the Yazoo Herald in 1978

Bud Spires can blow a blues harp, but only with one man, Jack Owens. They've been playing together for about 15 years.

Spires says Owens just "ran up on me playing the harp and we started fooling around until we commenced to play notes together."

"You know how a kid plays a harp? He just sucks the air in and blows out. Well, I could play like that before I met Jack, but no notes. After I heard him, I could play notes. It's got to where now anything he can pick, I can blow. And it's getting better, too. Some other guys tried to blow with him, but they couldn't."

Spires feels training with one partner for a long time allows them to play like one person. Although Spires can't play the guitar, he knows when Owens is playing wrong and usually can tell what he is going to do next.

When they first started playing together, Owens had an electric guitar. Spires had a double noted harmonica. He's never played an electric harp, but thinks he could.

"I could play that double noted harp so hard and loud that you could hear it over that guitar."

The two sit close together to play. Spires says he has to sit close to Owens so he can hear what notes to play. They've sat like this in houses and clubs, in Luckett's Club and the Blue Front in Bentonia.

"I can't play by myself. They'll be waiting for me to play all the time, but I can't get Jack. I'll blow the best I can, but I can't blow with nobody else."

Spires cups both his hands over his harp to play, conjuring a whining, wistful sound. He can't tell anyone how to play harmonica, because "you just have to know."

"Sometimes I volunteer and come on in there and sing a little, too. Me and Jack take turns. Like in 'Catfish Blues,' first it's his turn, then mine. 'Your Buggy Don't Ride Like Mine,' too."

Spires will stop and talk o Owens while he's playing, commenting on his verse, or telling him to speed up the music.

When Spires was young, listening to the blues was all he had in mind. His daddy used to pick a guitar, and blow a harp.

"He could sit on a sidewalk and play. He used to draw the people out of the stores. He was named Authur Spires. I guess I could do it, too."

He got his first harmonica as a child for 25 cents. He doesn't know what brand he plays, and doesn't care. Sometimes he dips his harp in water to loosen up the keys. He plays them until they wear out.

"I've blowed the sides off this one. I had to nail them back on."

Before they play, they tune. Some nights it's easier to get it right. When things aren't going fast enough, Spires says either the guitar is drunk, or the harp is sober.

Spires’ favorite harp is an A. He will blow a C if he can't get an A. If he plays a G, Owens has to "drop his strings way low, almost loose" to get in tune. The high notes on Spire's harp are like brand new because they are never used. They just don't play songs that go up in that range of notes.

"I ain't got nothing to do but this here. I grew up in Mississippi, ain't hardly been out. I'll get together with Jack anytime to play. I could play everyday."

Spires jokes around a lot when he plays, and usually catches the listener off guard with some belly cracker. When he starts grinning, he's set to play. 

Larry Hoffman remembers getting directions from Bud Spires:

I remember being dispatched by Jim O'Neal in Clarksdale, to take our friend photographer Jim Fraher down to Bentonia to pick up Jack and Bud and bring them back to Clarksdale to play in the Sunflower River Festival. We were told to first stop at Duck Holmes' store and get directions from Mr. Holmes to get through the winding brush-laden roads leading to Bud's house, and he would take us to Jack. The interesting thing about this errand was that Bud was stone blind! "Naw, don't worry about that, Bud will take you right there," promised Holmes. After a brief visit with Duck we traveled on to meet Bud and his mom who lived a few miles from the store. From there--as promised-- Bud gave us flawless directions to Jack's place. I have to smile thinking about Jack and Bud and the conversation that ensued as we speeded from Bentonia to Clarksdale. I was in a speedy mood, and was really trucking down those smooth Mississippi highways when Jack shouted out, "I feel like im flyin'!!" It was a great trip, and it was hard not to become immediately taken by both of those great bluesmen. RIP -- one thing that unites the really fine bluesmen is that -- to a man or woman-- each is one-of-a-kind, and never forgotten.

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