Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sat, Sep 8 - Cemetery Blues Cleanup in Memphis

The Campaign to Memorialize Charlie Burse - "The Ukulele Kid"

DeWayne Moore - MZMF Director
Bill Pichette - Project Investigator

On September 8, 2018, the Mt Zion Memorial Fund's Memphis affiliate Bill Pichette will be rehabilitating Rose Hill Cemetery, the historic African-American Cemetery where Memphis Jug Band legend Charlie Burse lies in an unmarked grave. He is working through Grace St. Luke Chruch's outreach program, MIFA (Memphis Inter-Faith Association), Cane Creek MB Church as well as other area churches on a push to improve the grounds. This volunteer event will take place, once again, on Saturday, September 8 at Rose Hill Cemetery 1341 Rose Hill Road in Memphis starting at 9 a.m. We would like to invite everyone to come down and feel the connection to these roots of the Memphis music tree. Please bring instruments to entertain the volunteers and feel free to volunteer to get some of this sacred dirt on your hands. See you there!

Burse Biography by Arlo Leach 

In a career spanning 40 years, Charlie Burse moved from Sheffield, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi, to Memphis; from ukulele to guitar to mandolin; from jug band to fingerstyle blues to jazzy pop; and from busking on Beale Street to parties for Boss Crump to recording sessions at Sun Studios.

His best-known work was with the Memphis Jug Band, where he was the second longest serving member after its founder, Will Shade. He made significant contributions to some of the Memphis Jug Band's best-known songs, from his guitar riffs on "Cocaine Habit" and "You May Leave" to his lead vocals on "Bottle It Up and Go" and "Stealin' Stealin'" -- a song that has been covered by Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, the Grateful Dead, and countless modern jug, bluegrass and old-time bands.

Charlie Burse 
To Shade's quiet wit and behind the scenes organizing, Burse was the perfect complement: boisterous and energetic, with a punchy resonator tenor guitar, a voice that could cut through a busy market or hotel lobby, and hip gyrations that would influence Elvis. He spoiled more than one recording by stomping too hard on the studio floor, and he earned a reputation as a smart mouth at a time when black men were expected to be deferential. Yet he also had a serious side, holding a day job as a carpenter and painter, and providing for his wife and three children.

Burse assembled a combo with saxophone, bass, and drums for a lengthy recording session in 1939, and added a very rock-and-roll sounding piano when invited to record for Sam Phillips's fledgling record label in 1950. But by that time, he was at least twice the age of a typical recording star, and Phillips decided to focus on younger talent. Burse kept on doing his thing, recording with Will Shade for field researchers like Sam Charters and Alan Lomax, until his death in 1965.

Charlie Burse was laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery in Memphis, without a headstone. The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund is in touch with his daughter and grandchildren as well as the current owners of the cemetery, which was abandoned and unmaintained for years. Your donation will help install a memorial at the cemetery and organize a dedication ceremony, to give Burse some long overdue recognition as a singular talent and a key piece of American music history.


In the documentary American Epic (
Will Shade and Charlie Burse are featured performing in Memphis. 
Congratulations to all those who won a Grammy.  

The two enjoyed a brief resurgence toward the end of their lives due to their rediscovery in 1956 by Samuel Charters, who, later in 1963, recorded their final collaboration, Beale Street Mess-Around.  This video is from the 1958 television program, "Blues Street."

"One night in February 1928, Son [Brimmer] was walking along Beale Street, stopping to say hello to friends, and dropping in most of the bars to keep warm. There was another recording session scheduled with Victor the next morning, back in the studios in the McCall Building. In one of the barrooms, Yardbirds, a man was entertaining in the back room. He played a four-string tenor guitar, using the swinging rhythms of country dances, rather than the blues rhythms that the six-string guitar players like Son used. He was short and thin, dressed in loud clothes, laughing as he sang. His name was Charlie Burse, a country musician from Decatur, Alabama. Son liked his playing and his singing and he asked Burse if he wanted to record the next morning. Burse was willing; so Son took him home and they rehearsed all night, while Jennie slept in the other room. Burse gave the band an excitement and style that it had never had before. His laughter on the shouted vocal duets he and Shade did became one of the band's trademarks. They stayed together for the rest of the band's recording activity, making a tour of Chicago, and recording hundreds of songs for several record companies. Their music and their blues compositions had a raucous quality and a rich vein of country humor…"

from Samuel Charters, The Country Blues

Photo: Bill Pichette (May 2017)

Charlie Burse is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Memphis, TN. Our initial preliminary search of the burial ground was unsuccessful in locating the musician's grave. However, we did locate the grave of his mother, Emma Burse.

Born on May 20, 1874 to Lewis Hill in Alabama, Emma Burse had been living in Memphis at 589 Walnut Street and working as a “domestic” for about twelve years when she came down with a fatal case of pneumonia. A physician began attending to her on February 27, 1940, but she succumbed two days later at 12:43 p.m.  The undertaker at Southern Funeral Home handled her funeral arrangements and buried her remains in Rose Hill Cemetery on March 4, 1940.

Photo: Bill Pichette (May 2017)

The burials records for Rose Hill Cemetery were lost in 1979 when the owner of the burial ground was stabbed and killed. The authorities in Memphis later found the records inside a car submerged in the Mississippi River. Due to their inundation, the records were no longer legible.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Where is the Love for Willie Love?

Many of our great Mississippi bluesmen have been laid to rest in remote places often without a headstone to mark the site of their internment. Never before has an organization from outside the state partnered with a local blues society and been so cheap that the marker dedicated to the artist was too small to leave on site, but that is exactly what happened when the Killer Blues Headstone Project partnered with the Central Mississippi Blues Society for a publicity stunt in Elmwood Cemetery on November 18, 2017. According to the Central Mississippi Blues Society president, Malcolm Shepard, 

“The partnership with the Killer Blues Project from Michigan has graciously provided funding for the headstone at the grave of Mr. Willie Love, Jr., as they fulfill their mission to honor blues legends of the past by helping them receive final resting place honors. Placing of a headstone will give prominent and lasting recognition to industry giants that did not receive accolades while they were alive. Seating a headstone is a final tribute that will forever be an outward symbol for Mr. Love’s family and blues lovers of the future to educate them about his contributions and give him a place in the annals of history.”

The Jackson Advocate reported that a "headstone [would] be seated at the gravesite of Mr. Willie Love, Jr., on November 18, 2017 in the Elmwood Cemetery, located at 2002-2215 Decatur Street, Jackson, MS." 

Yet, no marker sits at the gravesite of Willie Love, wherever that is exactly, as the location of his grave was never discovered.

So, many questions remain. Why not take the time to follow the procedure established by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund in the 1990s?  Why not graciously purchase a larger, heavier marker that will not get stolen from the urban cemetery if the cheap footers are so prone to theft? Why not graciously donate more for a stone that does live up to all the rhetoric and flowery language in the president's statement? Why not visit the Amistad Archives in New Orleans and search through the records of the funeral home that buried Willie Love in the 1950s to actually find out where he is buried?

One answer is that a photograph was all that was wanted and no one cared enough to find his grave or any family and mark his grave properly. A photograph shows a tiny stone sitting on a brick structure with several people standing around it, but the marker is not there either. A celebration was later held at a music venue.  For what I'm not quite sure.

From what I understand the grave marker sits in someone's garage--NOT ON HIS GRAVE!

Maybe you can get some facts and information, contact the Central Mississippi Blues Society at 601-613-7377.

For more about Willie Love, please click HERE

The Beautiful Melodies of Manard - "Mississippi (Why You Gotta Be So Mean?)"

"I've been drinking dangerous moonshine since 6am," were the first words out of Red's mouth, as he slid into Carl's truck. The unprompted admission was Carl's first indication of what kind of day it was going to be. They were both stagehands, though Red was mostly retired at 68. Like most people in a "feast or famine" industry, odd jobs filled in the gaps. They were on their way to install a lift chair in a stairwell in the home of JR Pickett, one-time concert promoter, sometimes AV contractor, most of the time crook, and all of the time son of a b---h. Carl didn't much like it, and had told Red as much, but Red insisted, and a hundred bucks was a hundred bucks. Carl was about 50, stoutly built and quiet. He could be considered handsome, in a working-class way, with thick forearms and curly salt and pepper hair, worn a little shaggy. Red was tall, thin, had a shock of coarse white hair in a ponytail, and a gold tooth made more prominent by the fact that it was the only one in his mouth. Red was a constant talker." 

For the rest of this story, click HERE 

Album Review: Tony Manard Know Why -

The same site, on the main page, will get you to a place where you can pick up the above album by Tony Manard, who perhaps goes around wanting to "know why" everything is the way it is. I don't "know why" that's the name of his album, but if a man was to use his intuition and intellect and think of what might be on said album, he might not be all that surprised to find six of these songs coming from Manard.  In truth, I'm no Manard expert, but like all plural beings, I possess the ability to profile and judge folks, perhaps cold-read is a more acceptable term in our times. So I make assumptions and speak truth to power despite the offensive potential to a gracious and cordial individual who seems a genuinely kind soul. 

In my own mind, "Mississippi (Why You Gotta Be So Mean?)" is the artist taking on the role of a blue-collar southerner who wants to murder his employer, yet also desires some sort of job security so that he can grow old with a little grace and get a taste of the not-so-complicated twilight of life. There is also a tinge of sympathy for the plight of the unskilled laborer (read: redneck) in today's society whose job prospects are dwindling. While it's not mentioned directly in the song, it's implied that the increasingly diversified population and economy in the southern states is going to require folks to attain a different skill set to maintain their productive status in society. Of course, many of our brothers and sisters find themselves lost and feel as if they have no options, nothing to lose, and many people go the same route of our protagonist, learning the hard way that they had more than most. I think I hear Cecil Yancy back there on a harmony, and Alice Hasen demonstrates her abilities as a catgut scraper too on the opening track.  A full-length video directed and produced by Libby Brawley, one of the newer filmmakers in the Memphis-New York connection, is embedded below. 

The track that stands out to this lifelong admirer of the music of Beck and Leonard Cohen is "Track 6: B-Movie Actor," which contains lyrics that remind me of a love affair between two beatniks.  The most interesting aspect is the rhythm and the melody and even the vocal. It's a shakeup for Manard. Granted, it may be a bit groggy on the highs, but compared to the tone on the rest of the album, I'm actually quite refreshed and invigorated by its steadiness. Manard's skill as an instrumentalist cannot be denied by any sober critic, but I always felt that Robert Jr. Lockwood said it well when he said, "Don't play too much." Unlike a few other places on the album, the business of filling up space is abandoned in favor of pedantic, progressive rhythm on this aural delight, which should not fail to peak the curiosity and interest of Manard's more dedicated following. It is notable for nothing else if not Vincent Manard's closing with the Aztec Death whistle.  It makes you feel as if things will be all right despite a lot having gone wrong.  With no more ado, enjoy the show - TDM

"Mississippi (Why You Gotta Be So Mean?)"
Tony Manard