Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Grave of Leo "Bud" Welch

Calhoun County Bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch passed away December 19, 2017 at the age of 85. His funeral service was Saturday, Dec. 23 at 11 a.m. at Jackson Chapel MB Church in Bruce.

Welch achieved international success in the last few years of his life and received numerous honors, including a prominent place on the Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Bruce. He played music ever since picking up his first guitar at age 12.

“I love all types of music – country, gospel, rock and of course the blues,” Welch said during a 2015 interview while sitting in his one-room home near the Piggly Wiggly in Bruce.
During his more than 60 years of playing, Welch sat in with blues legends John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and B.B. King.  “I always admired B.B. and the way he plays his guitar,” Welch said. “I love the way he chords the strings.”

Welch never tried to emulate any of the blues legends he admired, instead relying on his own self-taught method.  “I just play like I play,” Welch said. “I’m not trying to be anybody else.”

Born in Sabougla, Welch taught himself to play on his cousin R.C. Welch’s guitar.

“Whenever he would leave, me and his brother Orlando would go over and get his guitar and take turns playing,” Welch said.
The earliest songs he recalled playing were “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Navajo Trail.”

“I remember seeing Roy Rogers playing ‘Navajo Trail’ in a movie so I started playing around with it,” he said.

His first time on stage was for programs at Sabougla Grammar School, but he was truly noticed during a school performance in Pittsboro.
“We were playing up there when those people started going wild over the little boy playing guitar,” Welch said. “They were pointing at me and just going wild.”

He fell in love with the blues at a young age and began playing wherever he could, such as Otis McCain’s 3-day picnic in the Horsepen Community. He played around Grenada and landed a regular appearance on WNAG radio with Alfred Harris and the Joy Jumpers.
Other places he recalled performing were the Cotton Bowl and The Blue Flame in Carroll County.

He moved to Bruce as a teen and played frequently around the local cafes where people would provide him change.
“People would drop nickels, dimes and quarters in my pockets and even in the hole in my guitar,” Welch said. “I’d get home and have to shake all the money out of my guitar.”

He would play in a number of bands over the years including “The Rising Soul Band” with Rev. Tommie Daniel of Bruce; “The Spirituals” with Raymond “Slick” Tillman, Grady Gladney, James Foster and others; and the “Sabougla Voices” with Zoila and Betty Tucker, Marty Conley and Lovie Lipsey.

Welch continued to play most every Sunday in a church somewhere throughout his life. He most often played at his home church in Sabougla on the first and third Sundays of each month and at Double Springs in Webster County on the other Sundays.

He also hosted a show on W7BN each week entitled “Black Gospel Express.”

Up into his 80s, Welch never slowed down, playing as much as ever traveling deep into the Mississippi Delta weekly to play at clubs such as Ground Zero, Hambone’s and Reds.

“I still love playing the blues, and there’s a lot of people interested in the blues now that didn’t used to be,” Welch said. “Lot of the times I play there’s a lot more white people in the audience than black people.”

Welch can also play the harmonica and fiddle, but prefers the sound of his electric guitar for a few reasons. One is because it’s easier for him to hear after suffering some hearing loss from 30 years of cutting timber.

“I love gospel but I really enjoy playing those old blues songs, too,” he said. “People still love them. The blues are just a history of life. They make people feel good.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Family Values, Roadhouse Blues at Junior's

Larry Nager - The Commercial Appeal - September 1994

It's business as usual at Junior's, a little country roadhouse 10 miles out Miss. 4 near Holly Springs. As Sunday afternoon turns to evening, a few old men sit inside, nursing their Budweisers and comparing various ailments; out in the parking lot, young men drink malt liquor and discuss cars and girls.

But as the sun sets over the dusty, kudzu-covered countryside, talk turns to the blues, and the action moves inside as the proprietor rises out of his duct tape-covered chair and haltingly makes his way across the cement floor to the band area.

The jukebox, which has spent the afternoon pouring hard blues and Southern soul out of its shredded speaker, is silenced, and Junior Kimbrough, 64, picks up his Gibson electric guitar and tunes it to his liking. Two of his sons, David Jr. and Kenny, both in their 20s, dutifully take their places at the bass and drums.

At Junior's there's no such thing as a blues revival. Here, the blues is alive and well and being passed on to a new generation. At 29, David says he's the oldest of Junior's numerous children, many of whom play with their own blues bands or back up their father, who has become something of an international celebrity thanks to his appearance in the Robert Palmer/ Robert Mugge film, Deep Blues.

Despite its unprepossessing appearance, Junior's has become an important stop on the worldwide blues circuit, as fans come from as far away as Japan and England to pay their $2 cover charge and get a dose of the real thing. A recent Sunday night even brought a group of Russian blues lovers to the wood-paneled juke joint lit up by Chinese lanterns, Christmas lights and its namesake's powerful Delta blues.

The center of all that attention seems singularly unimpressed by it all. ``I'm thinkin' about quittin','' Junior says casually as he chain smokes Kools early in the evening. ``I done got too old to play now.''

A stroke in 1976 may have slowed him down, but the popularity of Deep Blues has kept him on the road, playing concerts and festivals throughout the States and Europe. And when he gets going, his hands moving over his guitar strings as he plays the hypnotic, single-chord style of blues that has become his trademark, there's no stopping him.

``Pull your clothes off baby,'' Kimbrough jauntily shouts into the microphone, a cigarette dangling beneath the remnants of his pencil mustache. At his side, David and Kenny pick up the repetitive riff, driving it home as the growing crowd, mostly locals in their 20s and 30, pack the dance floor in front of the band.

"It's a family thing,'' says Kimbrough's son Larry Washington, who runs the club. ``We're all like one big family.'' The extended family includes the Burnsides, the children of Kimbrough's Deep Blues co-star R. L. Burnside.

Gary Burnside, 17, plays with both his father and Kimbrough. "I like rap, but I'm mostly into blues,'' he says with a grin. "I just like playing it. I've been overseas to Italy and everything.'' He also plays with a band that includes John `JoJo' Hermann, keyboardist for the rock band Widespread Panic, when Hermann is off the road and at home in nearby Oxford.

Widespread Panic's members are fans of Kimbrough's; their new album, "Ain't Life Grand,'' includes Junior, based on a Kimbrough riff and credited to the bluesman. Kimbrough appreciates the honor but quickly adds, ``I didn't get nothin' out of it yet.''

When not playing bass with his father, David Kimbrough Jr. can be found fronting his own group as David Malone, so as not to be confused with the better-known Junior.

Kimbrough/Malone has lived the classic Mississippi bluesman's life, having spent seven years in Parchman Farm State Prison on burglary and drug charges. But he says music has helped him straighten out his life.

He has recorded ``I've Got the Dog in Me,'' an album he says his father's record company, Fat Possum, is shopping to the major labels.

In this photo, entertainment attorney Portuondo Zapata
(aka Larry "The Feverdog" Hoffman) poses for his last
known photo before his murder, contracted by the Dixie Mafia.
He's proud to carry on his father's tradition. ``I respect my dad,'' he said solemnly. ``He de man. But I'm the son.

"My father's old, but with him we've got a backbone in the family. If my father passes on, we've got people who can carry it on, my brothers and myself.''

And carry it on they do. As the night wears on and Junior gets tired, he passes his guitar to Duwayne Burnside, while a young white guitarist sporting a shiny new Stratocaster slides in to play rhythm. David Jr. anchors the band on bass as Duwayne plays in a single-string style more modern than Junior's. But the sound is still pure Delta, and the churning, dancing crowd keeps right on moving as the blues continue rolling out into the Mississippi night.

Getting There: Junior's is open on Sunday nights only and the music starts around 9 p.m. From Memphis, take U.S. 78 to the Miss. 7 exit in Holly Springs. Take a right and follow 7 to Miss. 4. Take a right and go 10.2 miles on 4, and you'll see Junior's just off the road on the right. There's no sign, but the parking lot should be full of cars.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Blues Waters Run Deep in Son of the Delta

By Parry Gettelman - The Orlando Sentinel - Jan 1998

Most younger blues fans were introduced to the music through rock 'n' roll radio. Blues-rock artists such as Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and Stevie Ray Vaughan eventually led them back to the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and then maybe even further back to early pioneers such as Robert Johnson, Son House and Charlie Patton. 

Growing up near Clarksdale. Miss., however, Jas. (a k a Jimbo) Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers heard the original versions of songs like "Love in Vain" before hearing the super-star covers. Through the radio and his father's record collection, he developed an early love of Patton, Johnson, Jimmie Rogers, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly and other giants. 

But although he can't remember a time when he wasn't steeping in the blues, Mathus grew up not realizing that he had a personal acquaintance with Charlie Patton's daughter and sole heir. Mathus knew Rosetta Patton Brown only as the kind lady who started working for his aunt and uncle when his younger cousin, William Hardin, was born, and who baby-sat William and Jimbo. 

Charlie Patton was the first great star of the Delta blues and an influence on Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and many others. However, he had died way back in 1934, and his daughter never thought to mention him to any-one in Mathus' family.

"I don't even know how many people in her community knew," Mathus said from Carr-boro, N.C., where he and his blues side project, the Knock-down Society, were rehearsing for a tour that brings them to Orlando's Sapphire Supper co Club Monday. 

Mathus finally learned about Brown's illustrious heritage 6 through a group of Japanese blues fans who came to the U.S. on a pilgrimage.

"They are really fascinated with blues, rock 'n' roll and Elvis, all this kind of stuff," Mathus said. "A lot of the more adventurous tourists venture down to the Delta and go to different places, like Muddy Waters' birthplace, Charlie Patton's grave, Sonny Boy Williamson's birthplace and different spots in Clarksdale, this kind of thing." 

Brown was still living in Patton's old house, the one she was raised in, and the tourists came to pay homage, an interpreter in tow, Mathus said. "She let them up on the porch, and she said they smiled and bowed and sat around and grinned a little while," Mathus said. "She said they were real nice — and they brought her a royalty check from this Japanese label." The visit did not go unremarked. "Word just got around that Rosetta's daddy's famous, and then it got around who it was," Mathus said. 

Mathus didn't spend too much time in contemplation of Brown's parentage at first. She was just a member of his own extended family, whom he continued to visit whenever he was home in Mississippi. But after she suffered a stroke two years ago and became unable to work, he started thinking about how she had never received any U.S. royalties from her father's work. And he decided to make an album to help get her some money. "I was in a position to help her, and since I knew her, I asked if it was all right, and she thought it would be great. So we did it." Mathus left Carrboro, where the Squirrel Nut Zippers are based, for Clarksdale, his old stomping grounds and home of the Rooster Blues label. 

He put together a band, the Knock-down Society, that included Zippers bassist Stu Cole, former Blind Melon drummer Glenn Graham, Rebirth Brass Band founder Wolf Anderson, veteran jazz musician Jack Fine and Luther and Cody Dickinson, sons of noted musician-producer Jim Dickinson and erstwhile members of Gut-. bucket. The Knockdown Soci-ety also recorded some tracks in New Orleans. The Society's lineup was somewhat flexible, especially in Clarksdale. "We were sitting out in my grandmother's carport rehearsing, and we ended up having a big party out there," Mathus recalled, letting loose with a long chuckle. "We had a bunch of people driving by, and of course, in Clarksdale, there's not that much else to do. So they saw signs of life and started flocking around." The resulting Songs for Rosetta includes some of the tunes Patton used to do, some traditional blues numbers and some Mathus originals. Brown was pleased with the album, Mathus said, although not excited per se. 

"She's pretty mellow," he explained. "She doesn't get excited too much — she was born in 1917." Brown isn't really a blues fan, but she likes singing in the church, Mathus said. "She said one time she likes playing and singing almost as much as preaching. But preaching was first," he recalled. In fact, Mathus said, Brown told him her father never played the blues when he played around his daughter —only gospel tunes. He didn't live with the family after separating from his wife but used to come visit and bring them money when he was playing in the area. The original tunes were all written with this project in mind, Mathus said. They wouldn't work for the Zippers, in any case, because he considers that strictly a jazz-influenced group. (And their old-timey jazz has proven surprisingly commercial with their second album nearing platinum status). 

The Knockdown Society is more wide-ranging, and the live show will include everything from country blues to electric blues to R&B, he said. The touring version of the Knockdown Society includes fellow Zipper Cole, Greg Humphries of Hobex ("he's got this great voice!") and the Dickin-son brothers, whose latest band, the North Mississipi All-Stars, will open the bill with their hill-country style blues (a la R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Mississippi Fred McDowell). Also in the lineup is Mathus' neighbor, mandolin player Hawkeye Jordan, who made his recording debut at 50 on Songs for Rosetta

"This is his first tour. He is real excited," Mathus said. "But he's always excited!" Actually, Mathus himself is plenty excited. He doesn't expect to make much money, taking an eight-piece band on the road, but he's glad to have the chance to do this during a three-month hiatus from the Zippers' busy schedule. "It's going to be great, a once-in-a-lifetime thing to all get together and do this," Mathus enthused. "It's going to be really good. The poster says 'a musical jubilee,' and I think that probably sounds about right."

'Slash-and-Drone' Blues is Hill Country Blues

By Pop Music Critic J. D. Considine - The Baltimore Sun - February 1993

Because bluesman R. L. Burnside hails from a small town in north Mississippi, a lot of listeners automatically assume that his music is an example of the Delta blues -- the legendary strain that produced Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Elmore James.

This doesn't really bother Burnside -- ``I kind of feel like the blues is just the blues, you know?'' he says, good-naturedly -- but he does try to put people straight on the subject. ``This country hill blues,'' he explains over the phone from his home near Holly Springs, Miss. ``You don't have to live in the Delta to play the blues.''

Neither do the country blues Burnside perpetuates sound much like the Delta variety. As critic Robert Palmer put it in the film ``Deep Blues,'' music in the Mississippi hill country ``hasn't changed as much as the music in the Delta. It's really stayed very much the same for generation after generation.''

Burnside is a perfect example of how that north Mississippi sound has been preserved. A self-taught guitarist, he learned the blues in much the same way his idols did -- by listening and observing.

``I watched other people, that's how I learned,'' he says. ``I watched Fred McDowell in his lifetime and a lot of them guys like Muddy Waters, those guys.

``I tried a harmonica and stuff, and I played picnic drums, I do that, too. But I like the guitar better.''

No wonder. Burnside is among the bluesmen featured in ``Deep Blues,'' and anyone who has seen the film or heard the ` soundtrack album undoubtedly remembers Burnside's churning, hypnotic rendition of ``Jumper on the Line.'' It's a solo performance, just voice and guitar, but there's no mistaking the deep, trance-like pulse.

Palmer describes Burnside's style as ``slash-and-drone,'' and rightly so, since Burnside generates more groove with his unaccompanied strum than many drums-and-bass rhythm sections do. Hearing him in this context (which is how he'll be performing at the Walters on Saturday), he seems like the sort of performer who'd have no need whatsoever for a band.

As it turns out, though, Burnside does have a band -- a group called the Sound Machine, consisting of his sons and son-in-law. 

``They like the blues,'' he says of his children. ``We do some ourselves that we make up, and we do some by other people -- just change the lyrics on it or something on it.''

At the moment, Burnside is working on material for his next album, a studio session to be produced by Palmer.

Writing a blues song, he says, is in many ways more challenging than learning how to play the blues.

``It's kind of hard,'' he says. ``Let's say you'd be sitting around, and things come to you, and you just try 'em and see what it sounds like. And you keep doing it till you get it to where you would like it.

``But that's kind of hard to learn,'' he adds. ``It takes me a good while to get it.''