|CAT HEAD UPDATE NEWSLETTER
"All the blues (and gifts) that's fit to print"
|Happy 4th of... uh... Hallow... wait... Thanks......mas...
|Hey y'all! Since time is flying, one has to assume that we're all having fun. I know we are in Clarksdale and the Mississippi blues Delta! It was an incredible summer (and year) of blues festivals, club shows, international media and other assorted cool stuff. Our little blues town at the crossroads enjoyed more festivals and blues shows than ever before, plus we've had some bonus excitement just in the past few weeks with a prime-time 60 MINUTES TV feature, another Grammy nomination for Clarksdale's KINGFISH, more folks moving here, etc. On a much sadder note, the blues world also paid tribute recently to Hill Country blues legend and friend to all... RL BOYCE, after his untimely passing on November 9th... RIP.
More on all of this plus upcoming events, past event pics/recaps, new holiday gift ideas, the latest Kingfish (double!) album, some hot new music books, February's upcoming Clarksdale blues pilgrimage to sunny Florida, my weekly KSDS Crossroads radio show... and so much more in this edition of the sporadic but rockin' CAT HEAD UPDATE e-newsletter.
Plan your PILGRIMAGE to Clarksdale, Mississippi:
MUSIC CALENDAR: www.cathead.biz/music-calendar.
TOURISM LODGING & APPS: VisitClarksdale.com.
CROSSROADS DELTA BLUES HOUR (my radio show): jazz88.org.
Shop CAT HEAD—Mississippi's blues store in Clarksdale since 2002—Mon-Sat 11am-5pm & Sun 11-3. (Closed Christmas Day.) WEB STORE open 24/7 and 365 at www.cathead.biz.
THANKS for over 21 amazing years in Clarksdale (so far),
(aka The Head Cat Head)
and my faithful store pug, Ayler
A few recent PHOTOS:
- blues journalist Don Wilcock and yours truly discussing how to jimmy open the locked doors at the Malco Theater prior to our King Biscuit Blues Symposium
- just a sampling of the exciting new gift ideas in-store and online at your CAT HEAD store
- Ayler Pug making a case for her own social media accounts
- Ayler doesn't accept failure well
- Texassippi Raquel sports her new 'Cat Head Ponytail' hat at Pinetop Perkins Homecoming
- When you next visit the Visit Clarksdale Tourism office, be sure to get a free pic with whoever happens to be standing around. In this case the lovely Henri & Charlie Musselwhte and the hardest working tourism director on the planet... Bubba O'Keefe!
|SOUNDS AROUND TOWN — Clarksdale's blues bible for weekly happenings at the Crossroads!
|Check out this past seek here, PLUS keep up with FUTURE club and festival music listings on my Cat Head Music Calendar webpage at https://www.cathead.biz/music-calendar. Clarksdale hosts 'live' blues events every day of the year—including over a dozen annual festivals! Need lodging? See the full list (from hostels to hotels, from luxury lofts to rustic shacks) at https://www.visitclarksdale.com/stay-all. Also, don't forget about our FREE Visit Clarksdale "Audio Walking Tour" app featuring 20 different Clarksdale voices telling you history as you walk (or drive) around downtown: voicemap.me/tour/clarksdale-mississippi/mississippi-delta-why-clarksdale-rocks-the-blues/sites. For that matter, consider booking a fabulous guided tour with Billy Howell at deltabohemiantours.com. And/or a guided trip on the Mighty Mississippi River with Quapaw Canoe Company's John Ruskey at island63.com. After all, CLARKSDALE IS A MULTI-NIGHT STAY, y'all.... not just an off-night spent on the road to somewhere else. Dig in, and have the time of your life!
|60 MINUTES prime-time TV feature on Clarksdale's blues scene and international blues star, Kingfish...
|Blues revival in Mississippi Delta brings "Kingfish" to music scene:
Mississippi Delta, an area where the music first flourished. (Originally aired Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023; view now online.)
Recently, the long-running CBS TV news program 60 Minutes ran major features on Clarksdale blues and Christone "Kingfish" Ingram—putting Mississippi blues in millions of living rooms. Musicians and personalities shown or interviewed included Super Chikan, Kingfish, Big T, Big A, Ghalia Volt, Sean "Bad" Apple, Morgan Freeman and more. Producer David Levine worked on the features for a year and a half—first filming at 2022 Juke Joint Festival and then returning with the on-screen correspondent to complete the main interviews. I truly enjoyed working with David and his crack team of professionals behind the scenes (from JJF recommendations to artist contacts, from location suggestions to fact checking) and was really looking forward to my on-screen interview (to discuss Clarksdale's bigger picture of maximizing blues music and history to fuel downtown redevelopment, etc.); unfortunately, when the show returned a year ago November to do the correspondent interviews...... what for it..... yup, I had Covid. Ha. Well, as I like to say, Morgan and Christone handled things for me instead (not really). In all seriousness, it was a great (and I would say pretty well-balanced) piece re: the center of the blues universe and our 20 years of marching steadily into a better future for locals and visitors alike.
|Also, from the archive... PBS NEWSHOUR TV on Clarksdale's blues-fueled downtown revitalization...
|The super-cool 60 Minutes piece made me think about the fabulous PBS NewsHour visit to Juke Joint Festival—pre-pandemic—in 2019.
"Can a Mississippi music festival cure the economic blues?" (first aired 6/14/2019): In Mississippi’s Clarksdale, the heart of the rural Delta, a celebration of the blues has been drawing thousands of fans to the area for the past 16 years. The Juke Joint Festival, named for bars and informal music venues scattered throughout the African American South in part as a response to whites-only clubs, has helped revitalize a city whose economy was struggling. Jeffrey Brown reports.
Watch it now at https://www.pbs.org/video/juke-joint-festival-1560549286/.
|North Mississippi Hill Country passing of blues great and friend to all... RL BOYCE... RIP.
|Such sad news earlier in November from Como, Mississippi. RL BOYCE, REST IN PEACE. Deepest sympathies go out to his loving family and his thousands of friends and fans around the world.
RL greeted everyone with a smile. Always. He could play the heck out of some blues and turned every room into an instant blues party.
We were very fortunate to have RL play here in Clarksdale dozens of times at places like Red's, Bad Apple and Ground Zero as well as festivals like Juke Joint Festival, Deep Blues Fest and Sunflower. (We also had a beautiful trip to Florida Gulf Coast University back in 2022 with Little Willie Farmer, Lady Trucker and Sean "Bad" Apple.)
Around 2006, musician Steve “Lightnin’” Malcolm invited Jeff Konkel and me to drop by one of RL Boyce’s legendary yard parties in Como on a Sunday afternoon. It was truly an unforgettable experience.
A later yard party we attended included a blazing tire fire (that also incorporated sofa cushions from the living room), cowboys riding horses bareback through the yard, a crazy moonshine run and someone ultimately yelling out the front door, “Don’t eat the meat! It’s got worms in it!” By that point, of course, we had absolutely eaten the meat. Never a dull moment. And a good time had by all.
The photo shown here is a personal favorite, shot by Lou Bopp at yet another legendary yard party. RL could make anybody look good with his smile hanging in the air! RL and his family were always so welcoming to friends—both new and old.
What follows are transcribed excerpts from an interview I did with RL for Blues Revue Magazine, circa 2008:
“I don’t read no music. I play by these ears. I got me a tub one day. I said, ‘I’m going to do this [play drums].’ So I went ahead and tried. I been out there a long time. I was born in Panola County, Mississippi, right down the hill from L.P.’s. That was a juke joint back then, but they cut it out now.
“Back then was good times. I’m talking about sure enough good times, and that’s for damn sure. Now they hard. Music was every day back then. Wasn’t just weekends. I got a hold of mine from a guy called Fred McDowell, and Son Thomas, Big Jack, Lightnin’ Hopkins. I said, ‘I’m going to be like those boys one day’ — old Burnside, Junior Kimbrough. RL Burnside was my first cousin. I played with all those dudes. I said, ‘One day I’m going to be like y’all.’ So here I am.
“I was born in 1955. When I was coming up, it was the cotton fields. Back then people were picking cotton and corn, sorghum molasses. Right down by my house. So hot, boy, I get out there, aw, man, stripping them stalks. [Sings] ‘Lord, don’t let the sun shine in the morning. If you just let it rain one more time, I’ll be alright in the morning. Don’t you dare let the sun shine one more time.’ [Laughs.] Oh yeah, sing to make the time pass. [Sings] ‘Lord, if you can let me make it one more time till the sun goes down Friday, I’m going to juke with you in the morning, oh, just let me lay down so I can get that [woman] one more time.’ You don’t know nothing about that. [Sings] ‘I just ain’t no good if I can’t get that [woman] one more time.’ We played hard back then. Times was rough.
“There was 13 of us. I tell kids now, back when I come up, I had to tote water and stove wood. Kids now don’t want to even carry the garbage out. I used to tote water in two five-gallon buckets. Way out there, boy. I went to Vaseline School. That’s that school where you slip in and slip out. [Laughs.] But sure enough, when I went to school, I wanted to beat drums so bad. I was going to Como, right there at the railroad tracks where I lived then. Man, I’d get there in the morning, and I’d get off the bus, go around the corner, and get me a drink of whiskey. I’d stay there till two o’clock in the evening, come back, get on the bus, and go home. Mosquitos used to tear you up back then, making that moonshine. [Laughs.] You’d stay there all night long, boy, seeing that stuff running.”
“My guitar style? I just pick it up and chop in there. You know what? I don’t try to play like you, and you can’t play like me. Don’t be like nobody else. Be your own self. That’s what I try and do. I want to be like Rural [RL Burnside], but I can’t do it. See, if you had my hand, you wouldn’t be sitting right there, would you? [Laughs.]
“Back when I learned, it was gospel. It was the Jubilee Hummingbirds. I don’t know if you ever known of them or not. Then after that, I played Fred McDowell, ‘Shake ’em On Down.’ Then I jumped from there back on Burnside, put them ‘Jumpers On the Line.’ ‘You Got Me Way Down Here.’ Fred McDowell raised me. Right there on Honeydew Corner. Man, when I was a little boy, Fred would come around there every Friday and Saturday night with that hair slicked on his head. My mom and daddy would say, ‘You kids get right back over that hill.’ I’d say, ‘No, Mama, I want to stay here and see Fred.’ Fred would stay there and play from seven that evening till seven that morning. Him and Rural. I sat there and watched. Nobody learn me how to play nothing. Nobody. I don’t read no kind of music. Yeah, R.L., Fred, and Otha. Napoleon Strickland. All us were right there.
“The [Otha Turner family] picnics have been going as long as I know. Ever since I been in the world. Back in the day, it was different than things is now. ’Cause back then, when I was playing drums, you usually had to put it by the fire and let that head warm up. And boy, you could hear that thing from here to Mars. But now, if it get cooled down, it’ll go down. You put it by that fire and let it warm up. [Imitates drum sound.] ‘Uh oh, they’re playing over there at Otha’s.’ Back then, when I was playing with Otha, man, I used to lay on my back with one stick in my mouth and one in my hand, and heat that bass [drum] up. But, see, the older you get ... I got shot back in ’85. It’s a long story. But my back made it so I couldn’t play like I used to. Couldn’t nobody beat me playing that bass [drum] back then.
“Otha is dead and gone. That’s one man who used to depend on me. He used to tell me, ‘We got to leave. Let’s go.’ He couldn’t read. But me and him stuck together. The two that could really play that fife was Napoleon and Otha. Others was playing stuff back then, but it wasn’t no fife. See, Napoleon could beat Otha, but Otha always thought he could beat Napoleon.
“Jessie Mae Hemphill was the first lady I played with. I used to be her drummer. ‘Standing in My Back Door Crying.’ Yeah, Jessie Mae and me did that song together. Whew, man, that was a mean woman! You got to come right with her. If it ain’t right, she don’t want it. Now, Junior Kimbrough’s [juke joint] ... Oh, man. I just about stayed there. Paid rent there. Water bill, gas bill, all that! [Laughs.] You’d go out there to Junior’s place back then. The door was open for everybody. Didn’t make no difference who you was or where you come from. If Rural didn’t play, I played. If I didn’t play, Junior played. Anybody. It just keep right on jumping. You knew you had to go to work on Monday morning, but you’d be right there. Headache hanging over. Like I said, good time.”
|SIGNED BOOKS MAKE A GREAT GIFTS! Buy signed copies online of my books and Bob Mugge's.....
|Shop now for signed copies of my Hidden History of Mississippi Blues AND Mississippi Juke Joint Confidential... PLUS... the last signed copies of music film director extraordinaire Robert Mugge's much-acclaimed Notes from the Road. Visit CAT HEAD store in Clarksdale everyday at 11am, or SHOP NOW ONLINE at cathead.biz/books-art.
|What's been up down in the Delta? LOTS OF FALL FESTIVALS! From Red's to Hambone and beyond...
|Holy Delta hot tamales! For the love of Muddy! Somebody play that thang! It was another heckuva blues festival and special event summer/fall in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Between September 2nd and October 28th, Clarksdale hosted at least 8 festival-like events featuring dozens of stellar music acts and more. Highlights included the Sunday of Biscuit week with Clarksdale Super Blues Sunday... and so many other crazy fun happenings. DON'T MISS OUT NEXT YEAR, Y'ALL! Plan now (and find your rooms ASAP via visitclarksdale.com/stay-all) with my 2024 Festival Calendar on my Music Calendar page at https://www.cathead.biz/music-calendar. Make your pilgrimage to the proverbial "Crossroads," and make the memories of a lifetime and maybe even move here. #comeforthemusicstayforthepeople
|Have you heard my radio show? I spin blues and talk Clarksdale on KSDS 88.1FM at Jazz88.org, y'all!
Tune into this week's CROSSROADS DELTA BLUES HOUR radio show for a hohoho heckuva kick-off to the holiday season with frosty 'n festive blues—during my second week of the "ohmygodaretheholidaysreallyhere" special! Listen 'live' Saturdays at jazz88.org (5pm PT, 7pm CT, 8pm ET). Plus, hear past episodes (including last week's Christmas Blues Week I show) at www.jazz88.org/programs/Crossroads_Delta_Blues_Hour. The CROSSROADS DELTA BLUES HOUR comes to y'all from historic Clarksdale, Mississippi, via San Diego's rockin' jazz & blues station KSDS 88.3FM. #ksds #crossroadsdeltablueshour #visitclarksdale
|NEW KINGFISH ALBUM gets Grammy nomination! The album is fabulous, and Cat Head's got 'em!
|CAT HEAD GIFTS ROCK, Y'ALL!! Shop now online at www.cathead.biz or in-person (limited quantities).
|Shop local, first. Then, hit the CAT HEAD store—in-person 7 days a week at 11am on ONLINE IN THE CAT HEAD WEB STORE NOW at www.cathead.biz. Leave the Amazonian warehouses and coughing malls for later. CAT HEAD—Mississippi's blues store in Clarksdale since 2002—is chock full of amazing giftables for everyone on your shopping list (including you)! #hohoho #thanksyall
|Quasi-annual migration of CLARKSDALE BLUES TO SUNNY FLORIDA coming in February via FGCU...
|Pack your bags, pay up your insurance, grab your spare liver... Clarksdale blues is headed back to the beach!! That's right. This coming February 2024's blues caravan will bring 81-year-old Australia "Honey Bee" Jones along with old-enough-to-know-better Anthony "Big A" Sherrod and his Allstars (drummer Lee Williams and bassist Preston Rumbaugh) and yours truly to Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Fort Myers, Florida, for a FREE show on February 13th. Thanks to our prof buddy Clay Motley & Crew for always making these trips such a blast. #floridabluesorbust
THE 2024 EVENT POSTER:
FLASHBACK PHOTO FROM PREVIOUS TRIP featuring Bilbo, Clay Motley, Big A, Stan and yours truly... relaxing in our bikinis on the beach:
|HAPPY BIRTHDAY (recently) to the self-proclaimed "King of the Juke Joint Runners"... RED PADEN!
|HAPPY (recent) BIRTHDAY to one of the last of the old-school juke-joint gangsters—Clarksdale's RED PADEN of Red's Lounge. In honor of Red's commitment to hosting real-deal blues week in and week out, below are a few words of wisdom from our 2012 film "We Juke Up in Here!"...
"In my heart, I know I'm the only real 'blues man' in this town. You know, and the people who know about blues know this, too. So, you know, I don't have to pretend.
A lot of these younger people that's coming up, they into the fast money. I'm moving at my own pace. Lot of the older guys have told me that if you get to moving too fast, you weren't going to be here so long. And so I'm trying to stay.
The game is for life. Whatever you do in this lifetime is going to follow you. You can't get away from your trail, now. Somebody's gonna know what you done done. So that's for life. That's till the day you die. And when you dead, somebody's gonna be able to speak about that there."
THIS (current/past) WEEK AT RED'S:
Wed - Deak Harp
Thurs - 19th Street Red & Hawg Killers
Fri - Anthony "Big A" Sherrod & Allstars
Sat - Lucious Spiller Band
Sun - Watermelon Slim
#redslounge #thegamesforlife #visitclarksdale
|Plan now to attend the 14th annual CLARKSDALE FILM & MUSIC FESTIVAL — January 26-28, 2024
|Book your lodging today, and plan to attend our 14th annual CLARKSDALE FILM & MUSIC FESTIVAL in downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi. Each year, we feature Blues-related and Mississippi-connected films, special guests and live music in an intimate setting. We'll announce our 2024 pop-up theater venue soon, and the exciting lineup will be unveiled in early January at www.clarksdalefilmfestival.com. We're working on plans to host the world premieres of Jimbo Mathus' "Postcards to Rosetta" about bluesman Charley Patton, his daughter Rosetta and the Delta blues (trailer: youtube.com/watch?v=T5MSU1hYm9s)... AND Mark Rankin & Brian Wilson's "Super Chikan: A Life in the Blues" (youtube.com/watch?v=LOpuhrR0mBY&t=5s)..... among other stellar cinematic offerings. Films on Friday and Saturday (w/daily 5pm live music receptions) PLUS an afternoon of blues music on Sunday. All for the super-cheap cost of a $10 weekend pass. More info soon online.
|Celebrating 15th anniversary of Blues Music Award winning, blues road-trip film M FOR MISSISSIPPI
|(Please note: The memories below are based on my latest column in Poland's premiere blues magazine, Twoj Blues. You can buy that issue or subscribe at www.twojblues.com)
TIME FLIES. MEMORIES REMAIN.
A lot can happen in 15 years. A lot of people, places and things can disappear. A lot of new, previously unimaginable events and technologies can emerge. Some positive. Some otherwise.
15 years ago, a blues buddy and I embarked on what we initially called simply "The Project." It was to be our heartfelt tribute to the Mississippi blues music, down-home house parties, rural juke joints and truly unbelievable characters we loved. After a year or so of planning, it had a name: M for Mississippi. And it had a mission: To capture some the last of the best on both video and audio and attempt to deliver it to the world.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
BROKE & HUNGRY IN MISSISSIPPI
On Friday, October 7, 2005, I had Big George Brock playing at Po Monkey's Lounge in a cotton field, just a mile and a half off Highway 61 South, just outside Merigold, Mississippi. Juke joint proprietor Willie "Po Monkey" Seaberry would pass away in his beloved party place some eleven years later, but tonight, his place was rockin'. I must have had someone taking cover charges (only $5!) at the door because I was where the action was, and busy trying to hawk the then-new Big George "comeback" CD, Club Caravan.
A 30-something man from St. Louis who I had recently met in my Cat Head blues store in Clarksdale bought a copy of the Big George CD that I had just released that August. We exchanged words, and we all went on with our lives. Or so I thought.
About two weeks later, the man—Jeff Konkel—walked back into my store and announced that he had launched a new record label called Broke & Hungry Records, with the intention to record some of the last of the best "country blues" acts in the Magnolia State. We became fast friends and, eventually, lasting ones. (I think he enjoyed the Big George CD and thought, "Well, I met Stolle, and if that idiot can start a label, then so can I!") Anyone who is willing to navigate the incredibly rough and tumble landscape of distrusting strangers, quirky musicians, all-night recording sessions and an almost assured financial loss is absolutely all right with me.
Soon after, Jeff recorded the then very obscure and woefully undocumented Bentonia, Mississippi, bluesman Jimmy "Duck" Holmes (also the proprietor of the Blue Front Cafe juke joint). Honestly, when he said Duck was to be his first recording project, I was surprised, since Duck hadn't done any commercial recordings in the past and rarely played 'live' shows in the present. Thankfully, Jeff saw the promise and potential, embarking on a four-album journey to introduce Duck to the wider world. And it worked. Jeff's albums and efforts led Duck to gigs at major national and international festival stages and ultimately to the opportunity to record with blues-rocker Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys—which led to a Grammy nomination.
But that was all to come later.
In 2005, Duck was virtually unknown to all but the biggest blues fans and academics. And Jeff was just plain virtually unknown.
"THAT'S THE PROJECT!"
Jeff started visiting Clarksdale regularly as we both took on different recording projects, festival bookings, etc. We were always searching for the next obscure, deep bluesman to discover and record. And so one Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves in the yard of Como, Mississippi, bluesman R.L. Boyce. What ensued was less about an afternoon of North Mississippi Hill Country Blues music, specifically, then it was about the sense of culture and character, people and place. It was something of an impromptu, moonshine-fueled yard party, and it could have been happening in 2006 or 1966. (Jeff didn't ultimately opt to record an album on R.L., but when someone else finally did, it, too, garnered a Grammy nomination.)
Later, crazy days and nights spent with bigger-than-life blues characters like James "T-Model" Ford, Robert "Bilbo" Walker, Pat Thomas, L.C. Ulmer, Odell "O.D." Harris, Wesley "Junebug" Jefferson, "The Mississippi Marvel" and others found us gathering our thoughts in pale-ale-aided conversations (often at our favorite old-school restaurant, Ramon's)—conversations that inevitably ended in one of us making the statement, "That's The Project!"
The Project was our shorthand for creating something bigger than just a one-artist CD. It was about creating something bigger that would capture the essence of why I had moved to Mississippi, of why Jeff kept visiting, and of why this music (and its culture) were so important and worthwhile. It was about using the odd, the crazy, the funny and the confusing to pull people into something that on its surface many might say, "Oh, that's not for me." Simply releasing a set of studio albums on various artists wouldn't accomplish our mission. It had been done—creating great music to be enjoyed in living rooms around the world but not necessarily prompting people to buy airline tickets and book hotel rooms in order to see the real thing in its historic home. Simply creating a formal, educational documentary film wouldn't do it either. Those existed (mostly in the dustbins of academia prior to a YouTube world), and they motivated few to visit as well. No. We envisioned something more personal. More inviting. Something closer to a comic book adventure than the Great American Novel.
We envisioned a full-length feature film with CD soundtracks, created on-location in a small window of time—live without a net. We envisioned involving all our favorite, seemlingly "undocumentable" Mississippi blues acts. We also envisioned getting the project out ASAP while the musicians and venues could still leverage the attention.
M FOR MISSISSIPPI IS BORN
On that first Big George Brock album, Club Caravan, he had a song called "M for Mississippi." At some point, it replaced "The Project" as our title. And the game was on.
In Fall 2007, Jeff and I hired filmmaker Damien Blaylock of Jackson, Mississippi, to join our project team. I had met Damien through a mutual friend during a ridiculous two-day stint with Big George up in Memphis at the old House of Blues Recording Studio while the "actor" Steven Seagal was recording his "blues" album. (That's a whole 'nother story of boasts and brags, Albert King guitars and Seagal energy drinks!) Soon after, I hired Damien to make the documentary feature Hard Times, about the life and music of Big George, so I knew he was talented, easy to work with and willing to work on a blues budget.
As part of our preparations for M for Mississippi, we started the long, slow process of publicity and fundraising by describing our non-existant film/recording project like this: This timely road movie will explore the thriving underbelly of a dying American art form in the land where it began—Mississippi. Planned as a weeklong journey through the birthplace of the blues, M for Mississippi seeks to capture the proverbial "real deal" in its home where it is most comfortable and authentic -- the jukes, the front yards, the cotton fields. More than just a collection of concert performances, the film will collect the sounds, the images and the feel of both the performers and their native landscape—an environment essential to their livelihoods and inseparable from their art. Cultivating the fertile ground between such landmark theatrical travelogues as Buena Vista Social Club and Deep Blues, M for Mississippi aims to appeal to more than just the average blues fan. By showcasing such a fascinating foreign land so close to home, the filmmakers hope to inspire countless others to make their own road trips down Mississippi's blue highways. (Can you tell Jeff and I were P.R. and marketing guys, respectively?)
On Saturday, September 13, 2007, Jeff, Damien and I filmed a movie preview trailer with a handful of the blues characters who would end up in the final film—including Wesley "Junebug" Jefferson in a cotton field, Pat Thomas at home and T-Model Ford (and Red Paden) at Red's Lounge juke joint. In those pre-Kickstarter/pre-GoFundMe days, we launched a more old-school/organic fundraising campaign to help defray some of the costs of the project. (By the way, it's probably worth noting here that with all of our films, we always paid everyone involved—crew, musicians, venues, etc. It wasn't always "big" money, but we always did the best we could do.)
In October, Jeff and I posed my 1999 white Dodge van in a Mississippi cotton field just off Highway 1 ("The Great River Road") and snapped some photos. This was to be our main vehicle representing our film's "Mississippi road-trip," so we thought it would be fitting artwork for the front cover of the final DVD.
Jeff and I both dropped a sizable amount of our personal savings into the proverbial bucket, along with money raised from supporters (most notably the Roots & Blues Association of Parma, Italy), and we were off. Oh, we also secured a tax-incentive package from the Mississippi Film Office that required all kinds of reporting but which ultimately helped us get back all of the Mississippi sales tax that we spent while making the project.
We spent that Winter raising funds, planning logistics, booking musicians (and in some cases venues) and fleshing out the dozens of details required to film and recording a 7-consecutive-day road-trip through the small towns and cotton fields of North Mississippi. This included hiring the incredibly talented Bill Abel in Duncan, Mississippi, to jam his home recording studio into his old Volvo station wagon, creating the Big Toe mobile recording unit. His mission was to create "studio-quality field recordings" on-location, at all hours of the day and night, with no second takes. And for the love of Muddy, he did it. Incredible job. Really.
A HECK OF A LOOONG WEEK, Y'ALL
Between March 29th and April 5th in 2008 was D-Day (D-Week?). And it was crazy. And cool.
Averaging two locations per day, we captured a dozen blues musicians at fourteen different locations in at least nine different towns over seven days of shooting. It was exhausting and stressful since our micro-crew did everything—packing/unpacking gear, driving two vehicles to and from locations, arranging meals, booking all of the performances/interviews, directing the action, interviewing the musicians, filming/recording everything, paying everyone, getting contracts signed in duplicate, etc. Oh, well, okay. Then, there were the late-night beverage-fueled debriefs and planning sessions. It was hard work, I tell you.
So, who all did we capture on film and tape?
- Foster "Mr. Tater" Wiley (the last of the Mississippi street musicians) on my Cat Head store porch, where he played almost daily for tips.
- Terry "Harmonica" Bean (one-man band representing the next generation of traditional Delta bluesmen; he also nearly played baseball in the Major Leagues) at Ground Zero Blues Club.
- Wesley "Junebug" Jefferson (a walking interview in the cotton field where he grew up) at Stovall Plantation.
- Robert "Wolfman" Belfour (representing one of the last old-school North Mississippi Hill Country bluesmen) at Red's Lounge.
- Robert "Bilbo" Walker (known as much for his wigs, colorful suits and stage antics—including one-handed guitar dance and Chuck Berry duckwalks—as for his country/rock blues style) at Sarah's Kitchen.
- Wesley Jefferson Blues Band (a revue-style band that bridged traditional blues with modern soul blues to attract both black and white audiences) at Do Drop Inn juke joint.
- "Cadillac" John Nolden and Bill Abel (Cadillac was old then, but today is now 96 years old and still performing; he started playing harmonica when his wife left him and took everything—"even the curtains from the windows"—from their shack) at Cadillac's little apartment on Happy Street.
- Pat Thomas (folk-artist, blues playing son of James "Son" Thomas) at home and at his father's gravesite.
- James Lewis Carter Ford A.K.A. T-Model Ford (bluesman who served time on a chain gang and was ultimately married 6 times with over two dozen children) at home.
- Jimmy "Duck" Holmes (last practitioner of the Jack Owens/Skip James/Henry Stuckey lineage of "Bentonia Blues") at his family's long-time Blue Front Cafe juke joint.
- RL Boyce (known for his legendary yard parties, though heavy rains turned our visit into a house party) at his home.
- L.C. Ulmer (a lovely deep bluesman who claimed to have met Elvis, Les Paul, etc., and once had a "12-piece one-man band"; from Ellisville, but due to scheduling issues, filmed in Taylor) at an artist's studio.
- The Mississippi Marvel (who was both a church deacon and a double-entendre juke joint bluesman; because of the so-called "Devil's Music," we could not use his name or show his face) incognito at home and an undisclosed location.
DID ALL THAT REALLY HAPPEN?!
That's how it felt the day after the long film week ended. It was a warm, fuzzy blur. The amazing thing is that we documented all of it. So, like an old-fashioned slide show from a 1970s family vacation, we had a way to relive the week's magic over and over in the future. And invite others to do the same.
We released M for Mississippi as a DVD and two CD soundtracks in August 2008, featuring a free local screening at Clarksdale's Delta Cinema, followed by a multi-act 'live' show down the street at Ground Zero Blues Club. "The Project" may not have actually paid for itself, in the end, but we still chalked it up as a success. The film screened around the world at film festivals, and we took the movie and some of its stars overseas to events like the Notodden Blues Festival in Norway. It also won several awards—most notably a Blues Music Award from the Blues Foundation (curiously beating out DVDs by Santana and other big names). Most importantly, it motivated new visitors to Mississippi in search of real-deal blues, and it got both domestic and international gig work for the film's featured musicians. It also led to Jeff Konkel and I doing a couple follow-up projects—most notably the We Juke Up in Here DVD/CD set (watch trailer at wejukeupinhere.com) and our free Moonshine & Mojo Hands web series (watch 10 free episodes at moonshineandmojohands.com).
Today, I still operate my now-21-year-old Cat Head store, Jeff is a kick-a** school teacher in St. Louis, Damien is currently filming projects involving state tourism and Bill is an in-demand blues musician in the Delta. Most of the musicians and venues are gone now, and the M for Mississippi DVD is long out of print. But the memories live on. Oh, and somebody bootlegged our film online on Vimeo, so you can watch it for free right now at https://vimeo.com/300628989. Hope you like it. Actually, scratch that. I really just hope it makes you want to visit Mississippi. And as T-Model Ford might have said, "That's for damn sure!"
|Personal MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS of 2023. (Keep in mind that we have music 365 here, so these are just a few of shows I can remember from here and elsewhere. It's been a busy year!)
As always, 2023 was a wonderful year for the musical ear. LOTS of incredible performances in Clarksdale and beyond. Since I live in a town that has 'live' shows 365 nights a year (as well as over a dozen festivals) and work in the blues biz, I'll keep my list of 2023 musical highlights to a dozen or so. Maybe. We'll see. And lord knows I'm forgetting bunches of fantastic nights and festivals and such. LOL.
In no particular order (I'm pretty sure):
1. Anthony "Big A" Sherrod & Allstars played a killer show on my birthday at 8th Street Grocery (and part-time juke joint) in Clarkdale with an audience that included friends like Jeff Konkel, Jay Farrar, Big T, Robert Mugge, Jimbo Mathus, Ghalia Volt, Clay Motley, "Texassippi" Raquel and some lovely random locals.
2. Shovels + Rope (something like an Americana or folk rock act) played an acoustic show at Proud Larry's in Oxford, MS, back in October that was stunningly good. Truly. The sincerity of the married duo along with their collective musicianship and absolutely incredible harmonizing made it seem like they were simply one amazingly talented person. (Oh, and then there was my buddy Preston shutting up some small-talkers in the back of the room. Another highlight.)
3. Buddy Guy & Kingfish played the Orpheum in Memphis, TN, back in March. Raquel and I were in the nosebleed section that my wallet prefers, but still, always great to see Buddy still walking this earth and hear Kingfish on his rise to legend. (The rack of ribs at Blues City Cafe beforehand was also a highlight.)
4. James Brandon Lewis (jazz saxman) played Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN, in March. He's a personal fav who I've seen at Vision Festival in NYC a few times but never so up close and intensely as at Big Ears. Raquel and I squeezed ourselves into the front row for his one, long, windy set. A note on Big Ears, however... Great acts like Sun Ra's Arkestra, David Murray (another real hightlight), William Parker, Zoh Amba (that was crazy), etc., BUT even with an expensive ticket, you still find yourself standing in a lot of lines. Just sayin'. Great acts, though.
5. Beverly Davis with Frank "Guitar" Rimmer played B.A.M. Fest (Birthplace of American Music Festival) at Red's Lounge juke joint in Clarksdale back in June—an absolute highlight of the whole weekend when she picked up her guitar and sang.
6. Australia "Honey Bee" Jones & Little Willie Farmer played out front of my CAT HEAD store during Deep Blues Festival week, and both were absolutely fantastic and real-deal (of course)! They were both excellent at Juke Joint Festival and various other festival and club performances this year. Definitely see/hear these treasures ASAP.
7. Speaking of treasures... another annual highlight for me was 96-year-old "Cadillac" John Nolden playing with Bill Abel out front of my CAT HEAD store on the Friday of Juke Joint Festival weekend. Antique blues at its finest! Thanks to Bill for his always perfect backing of the Delta blues legend. We will celebrate Cadillac's 97th birthday on the Friday of JJF 2024, y'all, so definitely plan to be there.
8. And speaking of Juke Joint Festival... there are way to many highlights to hit them all, but they definitely included Pat Thomas, Rev Peyton, RL Boyce, all of our Burnside and Kimbrough friends, Sean "Bad" Apple, Lucious Spiller, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, etc. Honestly, since I both work and party that weekend, it is hard for me to remember everything. But all was beautiful. That much I know.
9. Terry "Big T" Williams is a regular at Red's Lounge, and that is always a blast. His shows at Red's always include a trio of female juke joint gangsters—his wife Bobby, singer Miss Gladys and fan Miss Mae—which absolutely enlivens the proceedings! Speaking of regulars at Red's, Lucious Spiller is another classic who's played many a rockin' evening there over the past year.
10. Lightnin' Malcolm returned to the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming afternoon at Shack Up Inn (and Hopson) back in October. Hill Country blues rockin' show as always... and an annual treat!
11. Other highlights from 2023 include Super Chikan at JJF, Watermelon Slim at Bluesberry Cafe, Big A at Ground Zero Blues Club, Sean "Bad" Apple at is club, Johnny Rawls at Hambone, Robert Kimbrough Sr at Red's, etc.
12. Jimmy "Duck" Holmes played out front of his historic Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, MS, at the umpteenth annual Bentonia Blues Festival—in-between storms. His set was a blast, though the drive back to Clarksdale that Friday night was absolutely harrowing in the heavy lightning, thunder, rain, hail and Lord knows what else!?! It was the worst storm I've driven through in decades. But we made it.
13. Not sure if this counts as a "show," but this year's King Biscuit Blues Symposium panel discussion that I hosted with musicians Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Burns, Kent Burnside and Jimbo Mathus definitely qualifies as a 2023 highlight. Amazing musicians, history and personalities... all the way around.
14. Perhaps my fav road-trip concert event of the year. I drove to Chicago and back (actually, my buddy Jeff Konkel drove us from STL) for a one-night avant-garde jazz show featuring the legendary Roscoe Mitchell, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, Nate Wooley, Jason Adasiewicz and Mats Gustafsson for a sold-out event at The Constellation. Totally worth the effort!
15. And finally... though it was in June... I had the pleasure of helping organizer Christine Zemla bring Big A & the Allstars to the Jersey Shore. Incredible. Just incredible music. Oh, and the pizza was damn good, too!
|Congratulations to the amazing NAN HUGHES— Clarksdale's Citizen of the Year for 2023!!!
|Without the tireless efforts of NAN HUGHES, there would be no weekly Sounds Around Town or annual Clarksdale Film & Music Festival or (especially!) Juke Joint Festival. I may be the "front man" who's always promoting everything in the public eye, but Nan is the Wonder Woman behind the scenes that makes these things happen by marshaling the collective efforts of others, dealing with the day-to-day grind of paperwork, and keeping our people and projects on a positive path. She (along with her loving husband Jim and their whole incredible family of volunteers) absolutely rocks, and I want thank her personally for all of the hardwork through the years. Please tell her "CONGRATS" the next time you see her. Also, special thanks to the Crossroads Economic Partnership/Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce for recognizing Nan for her contributions to a better Clarksdale... heck... to a better world!
PS - Congratulations also go out to the Delta Bank of the Delta, the event's other big award winner. The founder/head Chelesa Pressley has also been doing important work in the trenches for years. Google 'em and consider supporting Chelesa's efforts.
PPS - Nan doesn't like pictures, but this is a personal favorite (taken by the our buddy Lou Bopp during JJF), and this is my newsletter, sooo...
|Upcoming events from our friends in nearby HELENA ARKANSAS... Plus check out the Delta Cultural Center, King Biscuit Time, Delta Dirt & more
|Memories with our OVERSEAS BLUES FRIENDS, and hope for a peaceful (and musical) future...
|Finally, I want to send my thoughts out to my blues friends in Israel—especially Ms. Yamit, who (at least as I like to tell the story) after attending Juke Joint Festival here over a decade ago started bringing Mississippi bluesmen to Tel Aviv, Sderot, Jerusalem and beyond. Blues travelers included Robert "Wolfman" Belfour, L.C. Ulmer, Anthony "Big A" Sherrod, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, James "Super Chikan" Johnson and Robert "Bilbo" Walker. I assisted Big A and Bilbo on a couple trips, and Yamit and her amazing team of volunteers made the visits quite possibly my favorite trips abroad. (Yamit's cutting the line for a tired 79-year-old Bilbo to enter the famed Garden Tomb in Jerusalem before then bribing a random dude hauling garbage bags in a wheelbarrow to carry the exhausted bluesman back up the many steps out of Tomb will be forever etched in my memory.) Please hang in there, my friends. I hope to one day again bring some happy blues back to y'all.
A few photo memories: Bilbo and yours truly awaiting the trip's first plate of hummus in Tel Aviv. (Okay, he was less a fan of the food. I loved it. All of it.) Big A plays in front of a bomb shelter as he wows an overflowing festival audience in Sderot. He took the show to the audience, and I will always remember the old man who came up to Yamit and thanked her for creating the event since, "No one ever comes to play for us." Bilbo got the rockstar treatment at the Barby Club in Jaffa, where he held court back stage with Yamit's lovely female friends—resplendant in his white suit and black wig. Good times. Good friends. Truly.