Thursday, December 20, 2012
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Friday, November 30, 2012
Friday, November 16, 2012
The Campbell Brothers are an American Sacred Steel gospel group from Rush, New York composed of three brothers and one son.African-American gospel music with electric steel guitar and vocal. This tradition is just now emerging from the House of God Keith Dominion Church, where for over sixty years it has been an integral part of worship and a vital, if little known, American tradition.Secular audiences are now able to appreciate a performance both devoted and rocking.Pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell and his lap steelplaying brother Darick are two of the finest in this tradition. Rounding out the band, which has been playing together for nearly two decades, is a high-energy rhythm section featuring brother Phil Campbell on electric guitar and his son Carlton on drums. Classic, gutsy gospel vocals by Denise Brown and Katie Jackson complete the ensemble. The Campbell Brothers present a compelling, rich variety of material from the African-American Holiness-Pentecostal repertoire with a new twist: the growling, wailing, shouting, singing andswinging voice of the steel guitar.A soul-stirring blend of gospel, electric blues and rock.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Monday, October 1, 2012
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Friday, August 17, 2012
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Monday, July 16, 2012
Cedric Burnside is the grandson of North Mississippi blues legend R.L. Burnside. He is the winner of the Blues Music Awards "Best New Artist Debut" for the record: 'The Two Man Wrecking Crew' in 2009 and "Drummer of the Year" in 2010. After many successful years of touring the world with Lightnin' Malcolm as 'the Juke Joint Duo', Cedric has started a new band: The Cedric Burnside Project. His first debut album 'The Way I am' is coming soon, and he is touring the country bringing you new original foot-stomping hill-country blues music. In 2010, Cedric collaborated with his younger brother, Cody Burnside, and his uncle, Garry Burnside, to create The Cedric Burnside Project. They have created a new genre of music by infusing Mississippi Hill Country Blues, Funk, R&B and Soul that will keep your foot stomping all night long! Cody Burnside - vocals Cody's raps are always percussive, funky and entertaining. He can freestyle with the best of them, and is constantly writing new deep and unique lyrics. His flows can be uplifting, thoughful, sexy, dramatic, or darnright funny. The blend of hill country blues and rap might surprise some people, but it is actually a natural combination that reflects the reality of where this music comes from... Trenton Ayers - guitar Trenton Ayers grew up with Cedric in North Mississippi, where the is known for his deep knowledge of the blues, and skills on both the guitar and the bass. He plays in many genres, from blues, soul and Jazz to R&B, funk and fusion. Trenton respects the roots and always keeps it fresh, new and exciting. After years playing in legendary local acts in The Hill Country, he joins his childhood friends Cedric and Cody on their mission to bring the North Mississippi sound to the world.
Friday, July 6, 2012
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Ryan Perry (19) -- vocals, guitars Kyle Perry (17) -- bass Taya Perry (13) – drums “These young kids have got energy, talent and do the blues proud with their own flavor. I believe they’ve got a GREAT future ahead.” – B.B. King How does a seven-year-old kid get the blues? Ryan Perry, now 16, laughs heartily at the notion—like he’s a father himself, maybe even a grandfather, as if fondly recalling his precocious past self. “We haven’t had any bad xperiences as a family,” says Perry, who sings and plays guitar in the Homemade Jamz Blues Band (HJBB) with his brother Kyle (14, bass) and sister Taya (10, drums). He understands the irony of a world-weary anklebiter but more importantly the simple, youthful concept of doing what comes naturally. HJBB started in Baumholder, Germany when father Renaud Perry returned from military service in Korea. Young Ryan found a Stratocaster copy among dad’s bags and wanted it. A week later, Ryan had composed a short instrumental tune (which he’d play at his school talent show) and was playing along to commercials. When the family relocated to Tupelo, the passion stayed with him. Returning home, Ryan, now 11, dove head first into the blues.“I heard B.B. King, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he recalls, “and I would listen to them all the time and try to emulate them.” Having found his muse, Ryan’s playing progressed “like, tenfold. As soon as I knew which direction to go, it really took off.” Two years later, Ryan was playing live with a drum machine and little brother Kyle, then nine years old, wanted in on the action. After first trying piano and becoming frustrated that he didn’t progress as fast as Ryan, Kyle switched to bass, teaching himself the nuances of the instrument and its role in the blues. Soon he was playing out with his brother, as confident as any wizened old pro and digging his role. “[I] keep the timing and lock down the beat along with the drummer, which allows the lead guitar player to do his own thing while everyone is juking to the beat.” Eventually proud papa Renaud called Robert Stolle of Clarksdale’s storied Ground Zero Blues Club and insisted on an audition, HJBB—Ryan, Kyle and an unrelated drummer wowed Stolle enough to get a booking. When that drummer didn’t work out, seven-year-old Taya wanted to give it a shot. Already possessing a rhythmic sense from playing tambourine, Taya settled onto the stool and in two months was providing the beat behind Ryan and Kyle. “It's very exciting to play drums,” she says. It’s likewise energizing to watch HJBB work out, and soon the cherubic trio was a hot ticket. Ryan’s gruff vocals and visceral, stinging, guitar licks, Kyle’s solid rumble and Taya’s cool stomp have electrified crowds across the country, up and down Memphis’s famed Beale Street and on the festival and blues cruise circuit. The band saturated their local media, appearing numerous times in several local papers and national blues magazines, and on local and national TV—including a feature segment on CBS Sunday Morning when the band played the WC Handy Festival last July. Even B.B. King said in a YouTube video, “In my 82 years, I’ve never seen something musically… so remarkable.”
Friday, June 1, 2012
Friday, May 18, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
My Distance relative is Elmo Williams, a Raw,Authentic Bluesman from Natchez, MS! Enjoy some real modern blues - Rev KM Williams
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Chaney Sims: vocals, handclaps
Bill Sims, Jr.: vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, handclaps
Junior Mack: vocals, electric and electric slide guitars, dobro
Vincent Bucher: harmonica. Listen to their debut album, or witness a live performance by the Heritage Blues Orchestra and you'll recognize this group as something breathtakingly new even as they honor old African-American musical traditions. How can something so deeply rooted in the past still seem so adventurous-even audacious?
Heritage Blues Orchestra delivers by serving up a compelling new take on America's Blues legacy. This utterly contemporary group is digging into innovative musical territory and making a distinct contribution to the African-American musical canvas.
From the grit of low-down country and urban blues to the bold brass of New Orleans; from the hand-clapping, hustle and bustle of gospel to fiery postmodern, jazz-infused horn arrangements; from the haunting cries of work songs to pulsating drums that reach back to the roots of it all-if you are lucky enough to hear the Heritage Blues Orchestra, you'll experience this and more.
From the first of the twelve tracks on their debut album And Still I Rise, Junior Mack's propulsive rendition of Son House's Clarksdale Moan, Heritage Blues Orchestra unapologetically stomps onto the scene and digs in with both heels-taking us from Bill Sims' hard-shuffling version of the immortal Muddy Waters classic, Catfish Blues to the solemn dirge of Chaney Sims' interpretation of Leadbelly's, Go Down Hannah to magnificent three-part harmonies against a slippery slide guitar in their head-nodding version of Get Right Church.
The group is driven by the powerful rhythms of Grammy-awarding winning blues drummer Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith; it is buttressed by the churning, precise and percussive rhythms of harmonica virtuoso, Frenchman Vincent Bucher; and ablaze with some of New York City's heaviest horn players who have worked with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Sting and Springsteen.
Heritage Blues Orchestra also boasts contributions from Bruno Wilhelm, the group's highly esteemed tenor saxophonist and horn arranger. A native of France, Wilhelm is influenced by an extensive palette of jazz styles. Whether with ethereal musings or hard-hitting section work, his arrangements punctuate every song they touch.
This combined with Bill, Chaney and Junior's collective history in jazz, R&B and gospel help articulate and underscore the Heritage Blues Orchestra's striking voice. At the heart of the group is a broad spectrum of the blues and the longstanding musical mingling between America and Europe that brings together African-American music, Modern Jazz and Western European harmony.
Nowhere is the breadth of Heritage Blues Orchestra's vision and reach better evidenced than on the album's closing piece, Hard Times. This song, in 3 movements, demonstrates it all: the traditional call-and-response between a lone voice and guitar; a bewitching horn composition peppered with Miles Davis' A Silent Way; and a final transition to a roof-raising funk jam that leaps out and shoves you onto the dance floor.
This group is an inspiring testament to the enduring power, possibilities and boundless beauty of African-American music. It drives us down Highway 49 from Clarksdale to New Orleans, journeys across the Middle Passage, takes us from chain gangs and juke joints, to orchestra pits and church pews, and even to back porches.
What begins as a loving celebration of tradition gives rise to a whole new adventure in music with a singular sound. Join us in welcoming the exciting arrival of the Heritage Blues Orchestra.
"HBO is one of the new and exciting faces of the Blues! Elegant, fabulous and refreshing! " - Maestro Taj Mahal
Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith: drums and percussion
Matthew Skoller: harmonica solo on "Big-Legged Woman" HORN SECTION
Bruno Wilhelm: horn arrangements, tenor saxophone
Kenny Rampton: 1st trumpet
Steve Wiseman: 2nd trumpet
Clark Gayton: trombone, sousaphone, tuba
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Blues vocalist & guitarist, Ellisville,MS.
Lee Chester “L.C.” Ulmer is a native of south Mississippi who for 50 years played music all over the U.S.—“like horse manure, everywhere!”—before returning home to the Ellisville area in 2001. He is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, keyboards, drums, fiddle, banjo mandolin, kazoo, and harmonica, and performed for many years as a “twelve piece” one-man band. Today he plays mostly just guitar at live performances, and performs mostly original compositions in a distinctive style with a propulsive boogie beat.
Ulmer was born in 1928 in Stringer, Mississippi, and later moved with his parents Luther and Mattie, six brothers, and seven sisters to a plantation near Moss Hill. His father played guitar, harmonica, and “jew’s harp.” Most of Ulmer’s siblings played music, and his mother’s cousin (Charlie Lindsey) was a bluesman. Many musicians visited the house to play and drink whiskey, the most famous being Meridian’s Jimmie Rodgers.
At 80 years young, L.C. brings boogie music from South Mississippi. He drove a truck for the last 40 years out of Chicago and moved back to his home state of Mississippi 2004. L.C. has driven railroad spikes, picked cotton, had a one man band in Joliet, Illinois, worked as a janitor, a yardman, and a shoeshiner to name a few.
Ulmer began playing guitar when he was nine years old and was soon playing with family and other local musicians on the family’s porch. He played by himself for tips, and often played together with white musicians, and remembers old square dance numbers he used to perform. He recalls with delight listening at home to 78rpm recordings by artists including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Tampa Red, and Peetie Wheatstraw,
One of Ulmer’s biggest influences was the guitarist and street musician Blind Roosevelt Graves, who Ulmer would see when he visited Laurel to visit his sister. Graves made numerous recordings in both gospel and blues in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, and Ulmer closely studied his slide guitar technique. Ulmer later built his own slide out of stainless steel.
From age 14 to 16 Ulmer built railway trestles across Lake Pontchartrain, and for the following five years or so worked out of a camp in Heidelberg, Mississippi, building railways spurs to oil wells. During this time he played regularly at a juke joint in nearby Paulding.
In 1949 Ulmer traveled to Kansas City, Kansas, to visit his sister, and stayed there on and off for two years. He played guitar for various gospel quartets, and his blues jobs included backing Chicago-based J.B. Lenoir at a local club. From 1951-55 Ulmer was based mostly in Laurel, where he played as a one-man band at local clubs including the Top Hat, Cotton Bowl, Wagon Wheel, and Twenty Grand. He also performed in juke joints in Meridian.In 1955 he traveled to Holbrook, Arizona, where he found work at the Motoaurant, a 24-hour establishment on Route 66 that featured a truck stop, museum, restaurant, and nightclub, “The Cock’n’Bull.” Ulmer recorded advertisement songs for the Motaurant, and met and/or played with many famous musicians there including Elvis Presley, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino, and Louis Armstrong. He also performed regularly at a lumber camp in McNair, Arizona, and at a local Mormon church.
In 1957 Ulmer moved to San Bernardino and then Hollywood, California, where he made a living playing on the streets and joined the musicians union—he still carries his original card in his wallet. He continued to travel regularly back and forth to Arizona “every three or four weeks,” traveled up through Canada up to Alaska.
In 1964 and 1965 he lived in Picayune and Pascagoula, where he worked at a missile plant, and following a brief stay in Laurel moved to Joliet, Illinois, where he lived for the next 37 years.In Joliet he performed on shows with Chicago-based blues artists including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Hound Dog Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Thompson, and many others.
Since returning to Mississippi in 2001 Ulmer has performed locally as well as at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, The Shed Blues Festival in Ocean Springs, and at the Blues Today Symposium in Oxford. In June 2007 he performed at the Roots and Blues Festival in Parma, Italy. In June 2008, he performed at the Chicago Blues Festival for the first time.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
In the early 1970s, Ulmer joined Ornette Coleman; he was the first electric guitarist to record and tour extensively with Coleman. He has credited Coleman as a major influence, and Coleman's strong reliance on electric guitar in his fusion-oriented recordings owes a distinct debt to Ulmer.1983's Odyssey, with drummer Warren Benbow and violinist Charles Burnham, was described as "avant-gutbucket," leading writer Bill Milkowski to describe the music as "conjuring images of Skip James and Albert Ayler jamming on the Mississippi Delta."
Ulmer has recorded many albums as a leader, including three recent acclaimed blues-oriented records produced by Vernon Reid. He also performs solo.Ulmer was also a judge for the 8th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists.
In a 2005 Down Beat interview, Ulmer opined that guitar technique had not advanced since the death of Jimi Hendrix. He stated that technique could advance "if the guitar would stop following the piano," and indicated that he tunes all of his guitar strings to "A". Fast forward to December 2006. James Blood Ulmer is gathered with "The Memphis Blood Blues Band" at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans. The seven-piece unit, who were named after the Grammy Award-nominated album Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions which they recorded in 2001, features Vernon Reid on guitar, Charlie Burnham on fiddle, David Barnes on harmonica, Leon Gruenbaum on various keyboards, Mark Peterson on bass and Aubrey Dayle on drums. This is the third album they're recording together as a band and the follow-up to the critically-acclaimed No Escape From the Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions released in 2003. As a group, they're razor sharp from several tours of Europe over the past year.
Ulmer alternately growls out direction as to the songs' arrangements and shouts his encouragement as they take form. He possesses a singular vision for the music that's shaped by his childhood playing gospel in the Baptist church, his early 20's working the Midwest juke-joint circuit with artists like Hank Marr and his later years on the avant-jazz scene immersed in Ornette Coleman's harmolodic theory. Ironically, blues as a pre-determined style of music means little if anything to Ulmer. But the "concept of the blues" is a whole other thing entirely. A lyric from Ulmer's "There Is Power In The Blues" might best set the tone: "Let's put the color back in the blues, way down here in New Orleans, let's start over just one more time, use the concept of the blues to feel our way around."
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Friday, February 3, 2012
In late 1954, he teamed up with harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold, drummer Clifton James, and bass player Roosevelt Jackson, and recorded demos of "I'm A Man" and "Bo Diddley". They re-recorded the songs at Chess Studios with a backing ensemble comprising Otis Spann (piano), Lester Davenport (harmonica), Frank Kirkland (drums), and Jerome Green (maracas). The record was released in March 1955, and the A-side, "Bo Diddley", became a #1 R&B hit.
McDaniel adopted the stage name "Bo Diddley".It originates from the a one-stringed instrument called the diddley bow. A "diddley bow" is a typically homemade American string instrument of African origin, probably developed from instruments found on the coast of west Africa. Bo Diddley was well known for the "Bo Diddley beat," a rumba-like beat similar to "hambone", a style used by street performers who play out the beat by slapping and patting their arms, legs, chest, and cheeks while chanting rhymes. Somewhat resembling "shave and a haircut, two bits" beat, Diddley came across it while trying to play Gene Autry's "(I've Got Spurs That) Jingle, Jangle, Jingle". Three years before Bo's "Bo Diddley", a song that closely resembles it, "Hambone", was cut by Red Saunders' Orchestra with The Hambone Kids.
In its simplest form, the Bo Diddley beat can be counted out as a two-bar phrase:His songs (for example, "Hey Bo Diddley" and "Who Do You Love?") often have no chord changes; that is, the musicians play the same chord throughout the piece, so that the rhythms create the excitement, rather than having the excitement generated by harmonic tension and release. In his other recordings, Bo Diddley used a variety of rhythms, from straight back beat to pop ballad style to doo-wop, frequently with maracas by Jerome Green.
Also an influential guitar player, he developed many special effects and other innovations in tone and attack. Bo Diddley's trademark instrument was the rectangular-bodied Gretsch nicknamed "The Twang Machine" (referred to as "cigar-box shaped" by music promoter Dick Clark). Although he had other similar-shaped guitars custom-made for him by other manufacturers, he fashioned this guitar himself around 1958 and wielded it in thousands of concerts over the years. In a 2005 interview on JJJ radio in Australia, Bo implied that the design sprang from an embarrassing moment. During an early gig, while jumping around on stage with a Gibson L5 guitar, he landed awkwardly hurting his groin. He then went about designing a smaller, less restrictive guitar that allowed him to keep jumping around on stage while still playing his guitar. He also played the violin, which is featured on his mournful instrumental "The Clock Strikes Twelve", a 12-bar blues.
On November 20, 1955, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular television variety show, where he infuriated the host. "I did two songs and he got mad," Bo Diddley later recalled. "Ed Sullivan said that I was one of the first colored boys to ever double-cross him. Said that I wouldn't last six months". The show had requested that he sing the Merle Travis-penned Tennessee Ernie Ford hit "Sixteen Tons", but when he appeared on stage, he sang "Bo Diddley" instead. This substitution resulted in his being banned from further appearances.The request came about because Sullivan's people heard Diddley casually singing "Sixteen Tons" in the dressing room. Before long, Diddley's distorted, amplified, custom-made guitar, with its rectangular shape and pumping rhythm style became a familiar, much-imitated trademark, as did his self-referential songs with such titles as "Bo Diddley's A Gunslinger", "Diddley Daddy" and "Bo's A Lumberjack". His jive-talking routine with "Say Man" (a US Top 20 hit in 1959) continued on "Pretty Thing" and "Hey Good Lookin'", which reached the lower regions of the UK charts in 1963. By then, Diddley was regarded as something of an R&B legend and found a new lease of life courtesy of the UK beat boom.
Over the decades, Bo Diddley's venues ranged from intimate clubs to stadiums. On March 25, 1972, he played with The Grateful Dead at the Academy of Music in New York City. The Grateful Dead released part of this concert as Volume 30 of the band's Dick's Picks concert album series. Also in the early 1970s, the soundtrack for the ground-breaking animated film Fritz The Cat contained his song "Bo Diddley", in which a crow idly finger-pops along to the track.
Bo Diddley spent many years in New Mexico, living in Los Lunas, New Mexico from 1971 to 1978 while continuing his musical career. He served for two and a half years as Deputy Sheriff in the Valencia County Citizens' Patrol; during that time he personally purchased and donated three highway patrol pursuit cars. In the late 1970s, Diddley left Los Lunas and moved to Hawthorne, Florida where he lived on a large estate in a custom made log-cabin home, which he helped to build. For the remainder of his life he spent time between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Florida, living the last 13 years of his life in Archer, Florida, a small farming town near Gainesville.
He appeared as an opening act for The Clash in their 1979 US tour; in Legends of Guitar (filmed live in Spain, 1991) with B.B. King, Les Paul, Albert Collins, George Benson, among others, and joined The Rolling Stones as a guest on their 1994 concert broadcast of Voodoo Lounge, performing "Who Do You Love?" with the band. Sheryl Crow and Robert Cray also appeared on the pay-per-view special.In 1998, Bo appeared alongside legendary guitarists B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter as members of the Louisiana Gator Boys in the film Blues Brothers 2000.
In 2003, Bo was cast as himself in an episode of According to Jim, titled Bo Diddley.
Bo Diddley died on June 2, 2008 of heart failure at his home in Archer, Florida. Garry Mitchell, a grandson of Diddley and one of more than 35 family members at the musician's home when he died at 1:45 a.m. EDT (05:45 GMT), said his death was not unexpected. "There was a gospel song that was sung (at his bedside) and (when it was done) he said 'wow' with a thumbs up," Mitchell told Reuters, when asked to describe the scene at Diddley's deathbed. "The song was 'Walk Around Heaven' and in his last words he said 'I'm going to heaven".
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Robert Belfour’s story begins with his birth on September 11, 1940 in Holly Springs, MS, and it is a tale not unlike a lot of those classic blues biographies that commenced in Mississippi during the tail end of the Great Depression. Of humble origins, the Belfour family lived in a wooden “plank” house without the modern conveniences that we take for granted - electricity (which necessitated oil lamps and wood-burning stoves) and running water. “I guess we were a little better off than other folk because my father wasn’t a sharecropper. He actually rented a parcel of land from the Hurdle cotton plantation a few miles away,” said Robert. From most accounts, his father was quite a musician and spent a lot of time honing his prodigious skills on wooden guitar which had a metal cone-type device, a resonator, for amplifying the sound. “It was old timey blues he was playing, like way back when Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton were around,” he said. But, nonetheless, the young lad was hooked and hounded his father for the opportunity to try it on his own. Finally, he relented when his son was but seven years old. “When I first tried to play the regular way, it was too large to handle; so I had to put it on my lap and strum it like that,” added Robert.
In 1953, his dad and mother separated and he moved with the latter and two brothers to Red Banks, in the “hill country” a few miles from Highway 78. Because even the new home was not wired, his mother bought a battery-powered radio to entertain the household and it soon became a source of inspiration to the young Robert, just on the verge of adolescence. “Yeah, it opened a new world to me. By that time, blues was on the air from Memphis and we got WDIA with disk jockeys like Rufus Thomas and Nat D. Williams. B.B. King also had a show sponsored by Hadacol and there was gospel music on Sundays,” said Robert.
WDIA at 1070 AM, which billed itself as “America’s first black radio station” actually began as a weakly transmitted C&W venture (730 AM) in 1947. But when its white ownership, including principals John Pepper and Bert Ferguson, after a trial run, discovered that it could tap into a huge Afro-American market, the station soon applied to the FCC to increase its power to the maximum allowed 50,000 watts. For optimal effect, its antenna was beamed directly south to the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf Coast. In fact, so strong was its signal, that WDIA claimed to have reached as much as 10% of the black population of the entire nation.
At about the time that Robert Belfour began listening to clear channel WDIA (1954), some of the original disk jockeys there had already achieved a legendary status (and following), such as the aforementioned Nat D. Williams, the emcee of “Tan Town Jubilee,” and Rufus Thomas, who presided over both the 15-minute “Sepia Swing Club” and the two-hour, late night show, “Hoot ‘N’ Holler.” This was the same Rufus Thomas who went on to record with Sun records - “Bearcat” - and later Stax -“Walking the Dog.” Although B.B. King shamelessly plugged the folk remedy Hadacol during his daily, 15-minute segment, the station’s bread and butter commodity was actually another similar cure-all of dubious repute - Pepticol. A good portion of Sunday was devoted to spiritual music and was invariably the domain of former blues singer, the now-Reverend Dwight “Gatemouth” Moore. Oddly enough, in the early days of this trailblazing initiative, there was a Baltimore connection, a DJ, the irrepressible motor mouth, Maurice “Hot Rod” Hulbert, who later in the mid-50s moved over to Charm City’s WEBB (1360 AM) and who was forever immortalized by Savoy records honker and ubiquitous session man, Hal Singer, with his eponymous instrumental in 1955.
Suffice it to say that the newly emerging, electrified crop of second generation blues figures regularly broadcast over WDIA, including Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett) and Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield), had a profound effect on the young Robert Belfour and he became thoroughly familiar with their repertoire. Although now he was without a guitar, one song in particular, “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” impelled him to take matters into his own hands, much to the chagrin of his mother. “I began pulling the metal wire off the bails of hay and nailing them up on the sides of the house, plucking them like an instrument,” he said.
However, he did not have continue very much longer in this makeshift manner, as his father passed away shortly thereafter, leaving his trusty guitar to his son. “I worked hard as a farmer. But it seemed that with every spare moment I was trying to teach myself something. I learned how to find and make the chords and how to tune it. And once I was able to do it right, I never forgot it. Even today, when I take a break from it for a while, I can just pick it up without skipping a beat. But back then, I just couldn’t let it alone,” Robert asserted.
In 1960, tough times again struck the Delta and this new recession almost rivaled that of the Great Depression. His brother found his now newly married sibling employment as a laborer for the Choctaw Construction Company (for which he would toil off and on for 35 years) based in Memphis, a job which entailed a brutal daily commute of one hundred miles, round trip. “In those days, you had to do what you had to do to survive,” he said.
But eventually the grind exacted its toll, prompting Robert Belfour and his bride, Norene, to move to Memphis in 1968. Ironically, just after settling there, he was laid off and had to accept a succession of odd jobs, including security guard and truck driver of materials to building sites. Against Robert’s wishes, his chronically ill wife in the late 70s began working as a cook at Ronnie Grisanti & Sons restaurant at Marshall Avenue and Union, the same street where nearby was situated the famed Sun Studio of the recently late Sam C. Phillips. When Grisanti’s later relocated to historic Beale St., she also tagged along. It was there that she noticed that a number of bluesmen, like harp player Blind Mississippi Morris and the mysterious guitarist Uncle Ben and others, some of decidedly lesser skills than her husband, were plying their trade as street singers. Returning home many an evening, she prodded her husband to do the same, but for a long period, the shy and retiring guitarist gently rebuffed her entreaties. It wasn’t until 1981 that Robert Belfour mustered enough courage to demonstrate his remarkable guitar work to the public, first at Handy Park. There, after hearing his plaintive howls, an admiring German tour guide christened him “Wolfman,” a name which, the more he thought about it, seemed to suit him. And subsequently, he attracted the attention of Joe Savage, who was instrumental in introducing him to the Handy Museum on 4th St, where he became fixture playing concerts.
Moreover, he became (and still is) an institution on Beale St., itself, performing at the Rum Boogie, the Hard Rock Café, and B.B. King’s Club. “I remember entertaining indoors at the Blues City Café [138 Beale St.] one cold December day and hearing the news about the death of Albert King [December 21, 1992], who had played there just one week before me. It was such a shock to realize that he was gone,” said Robert. Not only Beale St. beckoned but other gigs about town. “A fan of mine in a rock band introduced me to Murphy’s uptown [Murphy’s Public House at 1589 Madison Avenue] and I wound up being there on Fridays and Saturdays for about ten years [late 80s-90s],” said Robert.
Needless to say, such an extraordinary talent as Robert Belfour could not long escape the discerning ears of local record producers, including that of Dr. Dave Evans of Memphis State University, who took an early interest in this new kid on the block of Beale St. Longtime musicologist Evans had lovingly recorded (even singles) many of the obscure musicians of the Delta region on his High Water label in the 70s and 80s, a project supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. Some of these indigenous artists who probably would never have been approached by a major label, included harmonica player, Hammie Nixon, The Hollywood All Stars, Little Applewhite, guitarists Jessie Mae Hemphill and Rainie Burnett, saxophonist Raymond & Lillie Hill, the Fieldstones, and guitarist Junior Kimbrough, the latter who “woodshedded” with Robert Belfour on many occasion, before the latter’s “coming out.”
Dave Evans, assuming the role of benefactor and mentor, first introduced Robert Belfour to the listening audience of Memphis during his regular 7-9 p.m. time slot over WEVL FM, a station still noted for its blues programming. And later he served as an intermediary, securing for Robert a junket abroad to Germany in the early 90s under the auspices of heralded Teutonic booking agent, Ewe Gleisch, who accompanied the then-novice voyager to all his gigs. It would be the first of many trips to Europe, which have included Switzerland, France (Paris), and Scandinavia - Norway (2002). “I’ve gotten kind of independent over the years and even drive myself to the airport and leave my van on the lot if I’m not gone too long a time,” said Robert, who lost his beloved wife a couple of years ago.
The dawn of the 90s also began a flurry of recording. In Memphis, Dave Evans, perhaps to take advantage of Robert’s triumphant tour “over the pond,” taped an album’s worth of material which he leased to the German record label, Hot Fox. Entitled The Spirit of Blues Lives On, it sold moderately well, especially overseas, but Robert is still disappointed that it never saw the light of day stateside. Another 90s project, which included Carl “Blue Suede Shoes” Perkins and begun at the celebrated Sun Studio was an album for none other than Johnny Rivers, the same stellar guitarist who had such runaway chartmaking hits in the 60s as “Memphis,” “Poor Side Of Town,” “Secret Agent Man,” and “Summer Rain,” all on Imperial. When asked how he got embroiled in an undertaking involving such diverse artists, Robert seemed puzzled as to an explanation. “We finished it at B.B. King’s place on Beale. I guess it was supposed to be a blues album. And wouldn’t you know it. I never even got a copy,” he said dejectedly.
But recognition was just around the corner. Now, quite established as a local legend, Robert Belfour was brought to the attention of Oxford, MS - headquartered Fat Possum, a still up-and-coming blues label, which specializes in living music from this region (in fact still releasing vinyl singles on its For The Love Of Jesus subsidiary), including Cedell Davis, Junior Kimbrough, Robert Cage, the Jelly Roll Kings (Frank Frost, Big Jack Johnson, and Sam Carr), and the aforementioned T-Model Ford, as well as blues patriarchs who have passed on - Furry Lewis, Robert Pete Williams, Scott Dunbar, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Lately, Fat Possum has branched out to embrace even rockabilly (Hasil Adkins) and soul (Solomon Burke).
By 2002, Robert had recorded his first domestic release for Fat Possum, What’s Wrong With You (80336) and its reception was so favorable that Pushin’ My Luck (80369) followed quickly on its heels in April of the very next year. With a major label backing him, blues fans are beginning to stand up and take notice. But aside from national distribution, Robert attributes his success as a bluesman to two main factors, the first being originality and the second his style. “I try not to rehash all the old songs, especially when I go into the studio. There are only two songs on both of these albums combined that anyone has ever done previously - ‘Done Got Old,’ which I used to practice with Junior Kimbrough and ‘Black Mattie’,” said Robert. In such up-tempo numbers like the latter, Robert plays in an unusual fashion for the genre. “I call it cross tuning. It gives the song a different twist, Spanish-like. Don’t ask me how I picked it up. But it sure seems to work with the listeners,” he added.
Talking to this gentleman of the old school recently, I detected a little regret in his voice, perhaps a hint of self-reproach that he didn’t make his entrance a little bit sooner. But he is no longer going to let any grass grow beneath his feet. “I’ll even book myself if I have to,” he said, accepting any and all offers to appear, no matter how small the venue in order to “get out there.” And true to his word, even as this article was being written, he had performed at the Fort Lauderdale Blues Festival and flown to London for just one gig, opening for Koko Taylor. But Montana, as a destination, was sure a surprise to me and I tried to envision him teaching a bunch of rough and rowdy rodeo hounds the rudiments of Delta guitar licks. It must be true then that even cowboys get the blues. For if he can make a just a few converts in this stronghold of Bud-swilling, country line dancing rednecks, just think how much easier his task will be to make believers of the rest of us. And of them you can count me first. Larry Benicewicz
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
“One day though, in my early teens, I went to help a neighbor build a chicken-coop on his property. When we went inside to eat lunch, I asked him about a banjo I saw in the corner. He picked it up and I heard Bluegrass music for the first time. He was from a musical family and learned old-time banjo from his father from the South Ohio/North Kentucky hills. He lived half a mile away, but it was so quiet out there, you could hear that banjo all the way to my house, if he was on his porch and I was on mine.. He made homemede wine with my dad and when he’d come over, he’d bring his banjo and show me how to pick with my fingers instead of a plectrum.”
Later while living in Memphis, Prestage became a busker (street performer) on historic Beale Street. This is where he perfected his drum-kit. "I played out there a few times with nothing but a guitar and my voice. Once people heard me they liked it, but it was hard to get them on my side of the street with all the other music going on down there. There were some other guys out there who played drums with their feet, and they always got people's attention. I started playing drums with my feet as an attention grabber but soon found out that the drums played with foot pedals actually enhaced my music dramatically. Not only were people listening and buyin' discs, they were now dancing and hollerin' to boot. Now I am to the point where, if you close your eyes, you would think there was a professional drummer with a full-size drumkit behind me. I learned alot from the guys I shared the street with, including John Lowe, (inventor of the Lowebow, a type of diddley-bow that I play), Robert Belfour, and Richard Johnston." Ben returned to Memphis over the next few years for the International Blues Challenge (the world's largest gathering of Blues musicians) and within three consecutive years took he 4th, 3rd, and 2nd place. He is also the only two-time recipient of the Lyon/Pitchford Award for "Best Diddley-Bow Player." Ben's interesting approach to instrumentation, (fingerstyle guitar, harmonica, banjo, lap-steel, fiddle, resonator guitar, foot-drums, vocals, and his award-winning original songwriting (recipient of "The Most Unique Performer" at "The Song- writers' Showcase of America") has earned him invitations to perform across North America, Europe, and as far as North Africa. All awards aside, he has proven himself, through his live performances, to be the future of American Blues, Roots Music, Americana and is one of today’s most talented outsider.