Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Delta Blues Odyssey . . . B.B. King

Riley B. King . . . still playing the blues at the age of 86 . . . 15,000 plus performances over a 60 year span.

The home B.B. King was born in was located near this spot on Bear Creek just outside of Berclair. Nothing remains of the house. If you visit the B.B. King Museum you can view a film of him revisiting the area.

I am not sure why, but the historical marker for the B.B. King birthplace is about 1/2 mile from the actual site.

The B.B. King Museum in Indianola (unfortunately no photography was allowed in the exhibit area). This place is a state-of-the-art facility. A buttload of money went into preserving all that is B.B. King. Now don't get me wrong . . . I like B.B. King just fine, but spread the wealth a little. With all of the major players that had something to do with this region of Mississippi (Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Jimmy Reed, etc.), surely some of the space could have been allotted to them with still enough room to tell the story of local boy made good.

The museum structure incorporates this part of an old cotton gin where B.B. King once worked. As this space is available for rentals and such, it is the one photo I could take within the walls of the museum.

Touching greatness . . . Rolling Stone lists B.B. King as number 6 on their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list.

This is the corner in Indianola where B.B. King cut his musical teeth.

A who's who of musicians travelling the “chitlin circuit” passed through the doors of Club Ebony (Ray Charles, Count Basie, B. B. King, Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Albert King, James Brown, Ike Turner, Clarence Carter, Howlin’ Wolf, etc.). B.B. King now owns the establishment, which is located in Indianola.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Delta Blues Odyssey . . . The Mississippi Sheiks

The Mississippi Sheiks were one of the most popular string bands in the south during the 1930's. Walter Vison and the Chatmon brothers Lonnie, Sam and Bo (with Lonnie and Walter being the constant core of the group) first recorded as the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930. They were responsible for one of the greatest songs of all time . . . "Sitting on Top of the World."

Worked all the summer, and all the fall,

Just trying to find my little all in all.
But now she's gone, I don't worry,
I'm sitting on top of the world.

Bo Carter (Armenter Chatmon) was said to have played on the steps of this storefront (plantation office?) in Nitta Yuma. He is supposedly buried in a nearby cemetery, but we could not find it . . . not that it really mattered, because I don't think he has a headstone. For better or worse, Bo Carter is now mostly remembered for his double-entendre songs.

Was in the spring, one summer day,
Just when she left me, she's gone to stay.
But now she's gone, I don't worry,

I'm sitting on top of the world.

The historical marker for Sam Chatmon is located in the "Blue Front" area of Hollandale, which was once "famed for blues, liquor, and gambling."

Don't you come here runnin', holdin' up your hand,
Can't get me a woman, quick as you get a man.

But now she's gone, I don't worry,

I'm sitting on top of the world.

Apparently Bonnie Raitt and John Fogerty contributed to this memorial headstone for Sam Chatmon.

It have been days, I didn't know your name,
Why should I worry and pray in vain.

But now she's gone, I don't worry,

I'm sitting on top of the world.

In his later years, during the 1960's and 70's, Chatmon was "re-discovered" and was able to record again and play the festivals. Take a gander at this short interview with Chatmon . . . pretty cool stuff.

Went to the station, down in the yard,
Gonna get me a freight train, work done got hard.

But now she's gone, I don't worry,

I'm sitting on top of the world.

"Sitting On Top Of The Wolrd . . . World"

The lonesome days, they have gone by,
Why should you beg me and say goodbye.

But now she's gone, I don't worry,

I'm sitting on top of the world.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Delta Blues Odyssey . . . Robert Nighthawk

While maybe not as famous as some of the other entries on our blues odyssey, Robert Lee McCollum, the Prowling Night-Hawk, was a very influential slide guitarist. A representative story to illustrate his badassitude was when he played at Muddy Waters first wedding (as if that isn't cool enough), the crowd got so worked up that the floor caved-in.

Little Jailhouse Gumbo standing outside the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale (there will be a future blog entry on our stay there) holding a suitcase left at the establishment by Robert Nighthawk not long before he died. "Rat" (the proprietor of Riverside who can be seen in the background standing at the door conversing with Screamin' Killer Davis) related the story of how his mother threw away the contents, but kept the suitcase after Nighthawk's death.

Historical marker along the Mississippi Blues Trail for Robert Nighthawk in Friars Point. He was a man constantly on the move, but he called Friars Point his home more than a couple of times.

Robert Nighthawk's guitar and amplifier exhibited at the Delta Culture Center in Helena, Arkansas.

The gravestone for Robert Nighthawk (on the right) and the gravestone for Frank Frost of the Jelly Roll Kings (on the left) in Helena, Arkansas. Robert Nighthawk's son Sam Carr was also in the Jelly Roll Kings.

Even though Nighthawk only died in 1967, the grave was unmarked and the location within the cemetery is unknown, so his monument was placed next to fellow bluesman Frost.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blues to Bluegrass . . . Bill Monroe

Taking a break from our Delta Blues Odyssey (we still have a butt-load of entries for that trip, so keep checking back over the next couple weeks), this post shifts from the Blues to Bluegrass. Taking advantage of what will probably be one of the last pretty weekends of the year, we travelled north an hour to Rosine, Ky. and the Bill Monroe Homeplace.

Dudeboy in the front yard next to the original dinner bell.

This was Bill Monroe's room. You can see that originally it was a dogtrot. Needing the extra room when Bill came along, it was framed-in so he didn't have to stay in the"boys' room" with with his five brothers (he also had two sisters who had a separate room).

This suit of clothes were actually worn by Bill on stage.

The back of the house.

This was the nearby home of his brother Charlie Monroe.

The gravestones of brothers Birch Monroe (left) and Charlie Monroe (right). Bill's first band, The Monroe Brothers, was with Birch and Charlie . . . along with Larry Moore. Later Bill and Charlie had success as a duo, before he formed the Blue Grass Boys.

The grave of "Uncle Pen" Vandiver. Pendleton was Bill's beloved uncle who had such a huge influence on his music and life.

Bill Monroe's gravestone in the Rosine Cemetery.

Bill and Stormy . . .

Friday, November 18, 2011

Delta Blues Odyssey . . . Sonny Boy Williamson II

"You name it whatcha wanna
You name it your mammy, if you wanna"

"King of the Harmonica" . . . Alex "Rice" Miller . . . Sonny Boy Williamson II

He was the quintessential bluesman, in that so much about him is caught up in myth, conflicting information and dates, etc., much of it just outright lies/claims by Sonny Boy himself. For instance, the name Sonny Boy Williamson . . . that "II" is on there for a reason. Even though Rice Miller claimed to be the "real" Sonny Boy Williamson, another bluesman by that same name had been playing since the early 1930's, and was murdered in 1947. The shame is that because his name was appropriated by Rice Miller, John Lee " Sonny Boy" Williamson I has become somewhat forgotten . . . even though you are familiar with some of his songs . . . "Good Morning, School Girl."

Rice Miller was born in Glendora, MS . . . a sleepy little town that harbors a very dark and depressing past (we will touch upon this in a future blog entry).

Some of Glendora's dark past relates directly to Rice Miller for he was "born on a plantation owned by Selwyn Jones, who was called to task by Mississippi Governor Earl Brewer for mistreatment of African Americans in 1915; in earlier years at least a dozen lynchings had been reported in Tallahatchie County, including several in Glendora."

Finally a museum that was open and allowed photography . . . The Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas. If we were able to stay a few more hours we could have taken part in a live radio broadcast by the KFFA studio, which is now located in the museum.

Little Jailhouse Gumbo and the famous the King Biscuit Time drums. The King Biscuit Time radio program is the longest running radio program going, and it is where Rice Miller became Sonny Boy Williamson. The sponsor of the radio program, the Interstate Grocery Company, began to bill Rice Miller as Sonny Boy Williamson to capitalize on the popularity of the original (who rarely came south). After John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson died, Rice Miller started billing himself as the "original" Sonny Boy!

What remains of the rooming house where Sonny Boy Williamson died in Helena, Arkansas.

Capitalizing on the success of the radio program, the Interstate Grocery Company put out Sonny Boy Corn Meal. This old trailer is parked across the street from where the original building for the company once stood. Apparently, it had been donated to the Delta Cultural Center, but was in such bad shape (like much of Helena) that it had to be demolished.

Part of the logo for Sonny Boy Corn Meal . . . Little Jailhouse Gumbo got a t-shirt with this image on it.

"The weirdest music I had ever heard" . . . W. C. Handy

It was here in Tutwiler, MS, that Handy first encountered the blues (while waiting for a train). Credited by many as "the Father of the Blues," he was more of a popularizer of the musical form.

Above . . . One of many murals in Tutwiler. This one depicts Sonny Boy who is buried not far outta town. While in town, our touristy actions garnered the attention of a fairly inebriated local who engaged me in conversation (after the requisite bumming of money) about how "everyone in these parts has a nickname." There was one called 'Red', and one called this and that (I can't remember the whole list, for it went on for awhile), and "one called 'Fly', because they say he favors a fly!" So, in my mind this begs the question . . . "well, what is your nickname?" And he replies without the slightest hint of irony, "I don't have a nickname."

If you need a harmonica, I know where you can find one, or two, or . . .

Buried near two sisters (who tragically died in a house fire at the ages of 89 and 95), Sonny Boy's grave remained unmarked for 12 years before this monument was placed by the owner of Trumpet Records.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Delta Blues Odyssey . . . Muddy Waters

While Muddy Waters claimed Rolling Fork as his birthplace, he was actually born in nearby Jug's Corner . . . which isn't on any map we had. Besides it was getting late and we still had a drive ahead of us, so Rolling Fork was good enough for us.

So, whilst we were being all touristy and such in the small downtown of Rolling Fork, a man approaches us and engages us in conversation (Screamin' Killer Davis . . . help me here. I can't remember his name). Of course, he knows we are there because of Muddy Waters. Well, after a few small pleasantries he offers that he is actually akin to Muddy Waters. He says he was Muddy Waters' great-nephew, or something to that effect. He said we had just missed seeing Muddy Waters' brother who was in town earlier that day. I asked him if he knew Muddy, and he assured me that he most certainly did.

So, I leave the conversation to Screamin' Killer Davis and Mr. Great-Nephew so I can take a few photos. And as I re-approach, Mr. Great-Nephew comes up to me and boldly states that this here fellow, meaning Screamin' Killer Davis, gave him $3.00 and that would buy him some fixin's, but he sure would like another $4.00 from me so he could get some fried chicken to go with it. I think he got $2.00 from me.

Hirsberg's in Friars Point . . . where Muddy Waters saw Robert Johnson play.

In 1941, musicologist Alan Lomax recorded Muddy at his cabin here at Stovall Farms, which is not far from Clarksdale, MS. Muddy stated, "when he played back the first song I sounded just like anybody's records. Man, you don't know how I felt that Saturday afternoon when I heard that voice and it was my own voice."

This is the site of the cabin Muddy Waters lived in as he grew up. The actual cabin, or what is left of it, is now in the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. Unfortunately, the powers that be at the museum would not allow photography (The B.B. King Museum had the same blasted policy). So, I am not able to show you the cabin, the Three Forks sign, etc.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top visited the cabin while it was still in this location. Apparently the cabin had recently been damaged by a storm, so Gibbons "salvaged" a bit of the wood and had a guitar fashioned from it. The guitar was given the sobriquet Muddywood, and now resides in the Delta Blues Museum . . . of course I have no photos, but you can view it here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Delta Blues Odyssey . . . Howlin' Wolf

"When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'" . . . Sam Phillips.

The only person ever to be named after the the 21st President Chester A. Arthur, Chester Arthur Burnett is better known today by the nickname his grandfather bestowed upon him . . . Howlin' Wolf. His boyhood home stood in the area of this road.

Downtown Whites (White Station), MS. Escaping a troubled youth, Wolf ran away from Whites at age 13 to eventually fall under the influence of Charley Patton and Sonny Boy Williamson II (who married his stepsister). Years later, after success in Chicago, Wolf would return to the area periodically to hunt and fish.

As a young boy, Wolf would sit and watch the Illinois Central trains pass by at night, inspiring one of my favorite songs. Howlin' Wolf related, "we used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning."

The Howlin' Wolf monument in West Point, MS (which is just a few miles south of Whites). The Howlin' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival is held in West Point every year.

The Howlin' Wolf Blues Museum, our first museum visit . . . and our first closed museum. Travelling the Blues Trail through Mississippi, one learns very quickly that the times posted on the door, and/or the internet are not to be taken literally. I guess what I am telling you is . . . don't schedule your blues tour according to museum hours.

The Mississippi Blues Trail marker for Howlin' Wolf's great guitarist Hubert Sumlin in Greenwood, MS. Rolling Stone magazine places Sumlin as number sixty-five in their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.