Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mississippi Gabe Carter

Mississippi Gabe Carter was born in South Bend, Indiana. He was raised in rural Southwest Michigan. He was the only child of divorced parents and moved around among towns within the area. Carter was given his first guitar at age five. The guitar was purchased, by his father, for $5.00 at a garage sale. Carter started by teaching himself to play blues on one string. He also played along with his father, who played blues on the piano. As a young man Carter saw a guitarist by the name of Jack Owens -- of Bentonia, Mississippi -- in a documentary that had been rented on video from the local public library. Carter, from that point on, was deeply influenced by the music of Owens; and the school of music that is native to the Bentonia region of Mississippi. By far, the most well known musician from Bentonia was Skip James. During Carter's last decade of living and busking on the streets in Chicago, he earned the nickname "Mississippi" through his front porch, "down-home" style of playing. Today, Carter's blues has remained firmly rooted in the blues tradition and style of Bentonia; and has grown into something completely original and unique to the genre. In the summer of 2009 Carter played at the now legendary Deep Blues Festival of Minneapolis. In March of 2010 he performed at the Blues Autour du Zinc, blues festival in Beauvais, France. In the spring of 2010 he toured the South American country of Peru. And he also traveled to Bari, Italy to perform at the Tra Blues e Avant-Garde, blues festival in July of 2010.Carter has released two solo albums, Midnight Dream and Live at Duke's with Uncle Walt, both having received worldwide critical acclaim.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jimmy "Duck" Holmes

Jimmy "Duck" Holmes is a blues musician and proprietor of the Blue Front Cafe on the Mississippi Blues Trail.Jimmy Holmes was influenced by Jack Owens, who is part of the Bentonia School of blues musicians. He is one of the oldest active purveyors of the country blues tradition.Jimmy "Duck" Holmes is the proprietor of one of the oldest juke joints in Mississippi, the Blue Front in Bentonia. In the mid-2000s he began performing blues actively after many years of performing casually, and has already garnered several awards and many accolades. He is a practitioner and conscious advocate of a distinctive blues style from his hometown whose most famous proponent was blues pioneer Skip James. Holmes was born to sharecroppers Carey and Mary Holmes in 1947, the year before they opened the Blue Front Café. He was one of ten children and his parents also raised four children of Mary’s deceased sister. The children all grew up partially at the Blue Front, which served hot meals, sold groceries, housed a barbershop, and sold bootleg corn liquor to both its African American customers and to whites who would buy it out of the café’s back door. With the money they earned from the café and harvesting cotton, the Holmes sent most of their children to college. Musical performances at the café have historically been mostly informal, and notable out-of-towners who played there included James "Son" Thomas and Sonny Boy Williamson II. It also hosted musicians who played in what has been called the "Bentonia School" of the blues, which is characterized by distinctive tunings (E-Minor and open D-Minor), the use of falsetto, dark lyrical themes, and an overall eerie" quality. Holmes, who never met Skip James, studied the music of Jack Owens(another Bentonia Bluesman);learning songs including "Cherry Ball", "Hard Times", "I’d Rather Be the Devil", but didn’t perform very actively until relatively recently. He promoted blues through the founding in 1972 of the Bentonia Blues Festival, which took place annually until the mid-‘90s and was revived in 2006. He took over the Blue Front in 1970 after the death of his father, and beginning in the ‘80s the café became a popular destination for blues tourists, including annual visits by busloads of Japanese fans. In 2006 the St. Louis-based record label Broke & Hungry released Holmes’ debut CD Back to Bentonia. He was joined on the record by Spires and drummer Sam Carr, and in addition to some originals songs, Holmes also covered the Bentonia standards "Hard Times" and "I’d Rather Be the Devil". The CD was well received, and garnered several Living Blues Awards and to multiple festival bookings, including the Chicago Blues Festival and the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival. Holmes, who normally works as an educator, has traditionally been a somewhat reluctant performer, but has enjoyed the opportunity to share his music and talk about the Bentonia tradition. "You don’t get nervous when you’re doing your hobby," he says of performing. In 2007 Broke and Hungry released a second CD, Done Got Tired of Tryin’, which followed a similar formula, and included James’ "Cherry Ball". The CD was nominated for a 2008 Blues Music Award for Acoustic Album of the Year, and National Public Radio listed it as one of the "Top 10 Blues Albums" of the year. Holmes also received national publicity in August 2007 when a Mississippi Blues Trail historic marker was dedicated in honor of the Blue Front Café.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Eddie Kirkland - Gypsy of the Blues

Eddie Kirkland (August 16, 1923 – February 27, 2011) was an American electric blues guitarist, harmonicist, singer, and songwriter. Kirkland, known as the "Gypsy of the Blues" for his rigorous touring schedules, played and toured with John Lee Hooker from 1949 to 1962. After his period of working in tandem with Hooker he pursued a successful solo career, recording for RPM Records, Fortune Records, Volt Records, and King Records, sometimes under the stage name Eddie Kirk. Kirkland continued to tour, write and record albums until his death in February 2011. Kirkland was born in Jamaica to a mother, aged 11, and first heard the blues from "field hollers",and raised in Dothan, Alabama until 1935,when he stowed away in the Sugar Girls Medicine Show tent truck and left town. Blind Blake was the one who influenced him the most in those early days.He was placed on the chorus line with "Diamond Tooth Mary" McLean.He joined the United States Army during World War II. It was racism in the military, he said, that led him to seek out the devil. After his discharge Kirkland traveled to Detroit where his mother had relocated. After a days work at the Ford Rouge Plant, Kirkland played his guitar at house parties, and there he met John Lee Hooker. Kirkland, a frequent second guitarist in recordings from 1949-1962. "It was difficult playin' behind Hooker but I had a good ear and was able to move in behind him on anything he did." Kirkland fashioned his own style of playing open chords, and transformed the rough, porch style delta blues into the electric age by using his thumb, rather than a guitar pick. He secured his own series of recordings with Sid Nathan of King Records in 1953, at Fortune Records in 1958 and, by 1961, on his own album It's the Blues Man, with the King Curtis Band.Kirkland became Hooker's road manager and the two traveled from Detroit to the Deep South on many tours, the last being in 1962 when Hooker abandoned Kirkland to go overseas. Kirkland found his way to Macon, Georgia and began performing with Otis Redding as his guitarist and band leader.As Eddie Kirk, he released "The Hawg" as a single on Volt Records in 1963.The record was overshadowed by Rufus Thomas's recordings, and Kirkland, discouraged by the music industry and his own lack of education to change the situation, turned to his other skill and sought work as an auto mechanic to earn a living for his growing family. It was during the mid 1970s that Kirkland befriended the British blues-rock band, Foghat. Kirkland remained with Lowry, Trix, and was based in the Hudson Valley for twelve years. It was during this period that Kirkland appeared on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert with Muddy Waters, Honeyboy Edwards, and Foghat. These were also the years that Kirkland again energized his sound. "Eddie's thumb pick and fingers style give him freedom to play powerful chord riffs rich in rhythms and harmonic tension. He plays like a funky pianist, simultaneously covering bass lines, chord kick, and counterpoint".A documentary short entitled PICK UP THE PIECES was made about a year in Eddie's life (2010) and it could be viewed on up until Eddie's death when the family asked that it be removed. It followed Eddie's struggles as an uneducated African American trying to make it as a Blues musician and it chronicled his hard life that included taking three lives in self defense, his stint in the armed forces resulting in an unfair discharge, his struggles with poverty, his many children ( he claimed 73), and his love of music. Kirkland died in an automobile accident on the morning of February 27, 2011 in Crystal River, Florida.

Friday, November 16, 2012

THE CAMPBELL BROTHERS - gospel music with electric steel guitar and vocal

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

Get To Know Your 2012 DOMA Best Blues Nominees

Leading up to our November 10 showcase, we'll be getting you familiar with some of our Dallas Observer Music Awards nominees, either via past features we've done on them, or new ones. You can vote for your favorite acts, venues and more right here. Best Blues Act Hunter Hendrickson Band It hasn't gone unnoticed that Hunter Hendrickson has been a blazing show-stealer in the past year or two. Recent opening slots for legends such as John Mayall have yielded grand remarks around town. He's a young and brilliant guitar slinger that's more master than student, to be sure. Reverend K.M. Williams While Dallas is famous for another musical Reverend, ordained preacher and guitarist K.M. Williams would surely drive more folks into church if his raw, R.L. Burnside-esque tunes were featured in more houses of worship. Williams knows the truth. With all due respect to Jim Heath, a new musical guide is here, not for Saturday night sin, but for Sunday morning healing. Jason Elmore Guitarist Jason Elmore knows that fiery blues can be doled out whether the amps are plugged in or left in the van. It's with his full band, Hoodoo Witch, however, that Elmore's insane licks are greasier than the flat-top grills at the joints he regularly plays. Aaron Burton Like so many blues musicians, Aaron Burton is a student of his art's bountiful history. Of course, it's also nice that his knowledge and passion translates into some boogie-worthy country blues, the type Deep Ellum was famous for a few generations ago. Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King Kubek, from a national standpoint, might be as respected a musician as we have in North Texas. For more than 20 years, he's repped the unique nature of Texas-style blues to crowds across the globe. Add the jazzy tones of King, and it's easy to see that only an expert duo can offer up such a convincing interpretation of blues-jazz fusion.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

CeDell Davis

CeDell Davis (born Ellis Davis, June 9, 1927)is an American blues guitarist and singer. Davis is most notable for his distinctive style of guitar playing. Davis plays guitar using a table knife in his fretting hand in a manner similar to slide guitar, resulting in a welter of metal-stress harmonic transients and a singular tonal plasticity. He uses this style out of necessity. When he was 10, he suffered from severe polio which left him little control over his left hand and restricted use of his right.[1] He had been playing guitar prior to his polio and decided to continue in spite of his handicap, and developed his knife method as the only way he could come up with of still playing guitar.Davis was born in Helena, Arkansas, United States, where his family worked on a local plantation. He enjoyed music from a young age, playing harmonica and guitar with his childhood friends. Once he sufficiently mastered his variation on slide guitar playing, Davis began playing in various nightclubs across the Mississippi Delta area. He played with Robert Nighthawk for a ten year period from 1953 to 1963. While playing in a club in 1957, a police raid caused the crowd to stampede over Davis. Both of his legs were broken in this incident and he was forced to use a wheelchair since that time. The hardships resulting from his physical handicaps were a major influence in his lyrics and style of blues playing. Davis moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas in the early sixties and continued his artistic work. In recent times, Davis' music has been released by the Fat Possum Records label to much critical acclaim. His 1994 album, produced by Robert Palmer, Feel Like Doin' Something Wrong, received a 9.0 from Pitchfork Media who called it "timeless." The Horror of It All followed in 1998. Davis took time away from recording after these releases, and spent the next four years writing and performing. When he returned to the recording studio, he drafted musicians like R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey, The Screaming Trees' Barrett Martin, and soul keyboardist Alex Veley. The final results, When Lightnin' Struck the Pine, was released in 2002.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Duwayne Burnside - The Future of North Mississippi Blues

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Duwayne Burnside is one of 14 children born to legendary North Mississippi musician R.L. Burnside and his wife, Alice.Duwayne Burnside was born in the late sixties in Senatobia, Mississippi and grew up hearing his father, R.L. Burnside, and family, as well as neighbors play music; guitar driven Mississippi hill country blues.Duwayne became an outstanding rhythm player with the ability to blend with all styles of music and any musician. He has been a frequent performer with the North Mississippi Allstars since the early 1990s, when that group, fronted by Luther and Cody Dickinson, formed. The young Burnside learned his first few guitar licks and chords from his father, but proved a quick study and soon began playing with local club owner Junior Kimbrough and the Soul Blues Boys. Growing up in Holly Springs, he was close to Memphis, and as soon as he was able to get to Memphis, he did, and soon had the chance to sit in with Little Jimmy King, Albert King, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and others. Duwayne also began playing in his Dad’s band, Sound Machine Groove, where he further honed his skills as a guitarist and showman. He recorded for Hightone and Fat Possum Records with his father’s group before moving to Memphis, where he opened his own club, Burnside Kitchen and Grill, near Highway 61. He booked the music, cooked the food, sold the beer, and had his own band perform there on a weekly basis. In 1998, Duwayne traveled to Los Angeles to record his first album, Live at the Mint, as Duwayne Burnside & the Mississippi Mafia. After returning to Memphis, he decided to take a break from the bar business and settled back home in Holly Springs. In 2001, he joined the North Mississippi Allstars on-stage for the first time in Birmingham, Alabama, and that led to incessant touring with the band. He recorded with them on their third album, Polaris, and is featured on two of the group’s EP’s. In 2004, he opened another version of the Burnside Blues Cafe in Holly Springs and formed a new band that fused soul blues with hill country blues. His albums under his own name include Live at the Mint (1998) and Under Pressure (2005), both for B.C. Records. An album celebrating his father’s life and music remains in the works. One of the last things he asked his father to do — R.L. Burnside passed at age 80 in 2005 — was sing with him at the massive, popular Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee. Burnside continues to tour, helping to keep the North County, Mississippi hill-style blues flourishing. Richard Skelly, Rovi

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reverend KM Williams at the 2012 Pickathon

Pickathon 2012: Reverend K.M. Williams Posted by Aaron Sharpsteen on August 7th, 2012 at 12:22 PM / 1 Comment Reverend KM Williams at Pickathon 2012. Photo by Aaron Sharpsteen Reverend K.M. Williams seemed to bring some Texas heat with him when he came to play Pickathon over the weekend. On Saturday he brought the blues to the Galaxy Barn in the afternoon. While his traditional Texas blues were certainly searing and authentic, the real highlight of his performance was the way he handled a classic instrument, known as the diddley bow. While pulling out the contraption, made out of a cigar box, a hand made pickup, and a broomstick, he explained its African origins and how it made its way into blues music. The tone produced by the diddley bow was incredibly fuzzy and rich, and he played it expertly, leaving many of those in attendance feeling close to blessed.

Reverend KM Williams - Hard Times Everywhere - Pickathon Beardy Session from Natural Beardy on Vimeo.

Monday, October 1, 2012

T-Model Ford - Boss of the Blues

James Lewis Carter Ford (born c. 1920, Forest, Mississippi, United States) is an American blues musician, using the name T-Model Ford. Unable to remember his exact date of birth, he began his musical career in his early seventies, and has continuously recorded for the Fat Possum label, then switched to Alive Naturalsound Records. His musical style melds the rawness of Delta blues. with Chicago blues and juke joint blues styles.Ford's year of birth is between 1921 and 1925. According to his half-sister (still alive in Tennessee), he was born in 1922.Starting with an abusive father who had permanently injured him at eleven, Ford has lived his entire life in a distressed and violent environment, towards which he is quite indifferent. Ford, an illiterate, had been working in various blue collar jobs as early as his preteen years, such as plowing fields, working at a sawmill, and later in life becoming a lumber company foreman and then a truck driver. At this time Ford was sentenced to ten years on a chain gang for murder. Allegedly Ford was able to reduce his sentence to two years.According to music writer Will Hodgkinson, who met and interviewed Ford for his book Guitar Man, Ford took up the guitar when his fifth wife left him and gave him a guitar as a leaving present. Ford trained himself without being able to read music or guitar tabs. Hodgkinson observed that Ford could not explain his technique. He had simply worked out a way of playing that sounded like the guitarists he admired - Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Ford toured juke joints and other venues, for a while opening for Buddy Guy.] In 1995, he was discovered by Matthew Johnson of Fat Possum Records, under which he released five albums from 1997 to 2008. Since 2008, Ford worked with the Seattle-based band, GravelRoad. The project began as a single event, with Ford needing assistance to play the Deep Blues Festival in Minnesota in July 2008. GravelRoad, longtime fans of Ford and performers already scheduled for the festival, agreed to provide support for a ten-show US tour for Ford through July. Ford had a pacemaker inserted at the end of that tour, but appeared on stage again with GravelRoad in 2008, 2009 and 2010. He suffered a stroke in early 2010, but despite difficulty with right-hand mobility, managed to complete a successful tour with GravelRoad. This tour concluded with an appearance at Pickathon Festival. Ford and GravelRoad opened the third day of the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival, in New York over Labor Day weekend, 2010, curated by American independent film-maker Jim Jarmusch. GravelRoad backed Ford on his 2010 and 2011 albums, The Ladies Man and Taledragger, both released by Alive Naturalsound Records.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Reverend John Wilkins - ‘Prodigal Son’

“The Reverend John Wilkins is the latest star in a long line of gospel bluesmen, and You Can’t Hurry God puts him right up there with the greats. The son of singer Robert Wilkins (who contributed ‘Prodigal Son’ to the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet), the Memphis-born, North Mississippi-bred Wilkins has a career stretching back to the 60s playing guitar for O.V. Wright, before following in his father’s footsteps into the ministry in the 1980s. Wilkins draws on a variety of blues styles for his debut album, from acoustic country blues (Robert’s ‘Prodigal Son’) and the electrified version of same, to boogie, straight gospel and soul balladry, displaying an easy mastery of all of them.” Though born in Memphis, Tennessee, Reverend John Wilkins is a child of the North Mississippi Hill Country. His mother was born in Holly Springs and his father was from Hernando. While Wilkins grew up in the city, family parties and neighborhood picnics featuring country blues and fife and drum bands were never farther than a short drive over the Mississippi state line. John Wilkins’ father, the venerated blues and gospel singer Robert Wilkins, was the principal influence on his young son’s development as a musician. Wilkins’ father had made a series of recordings in the 1930s that included the original “Prodigal Son” (initially recorded as a secular song called “That’s No Way To Get Along”), which was later recorded by the Rolling Stones. The elder Wilkins developed a gospel style that was based on his earlier country blues style – a style that developed into the rock ‘n’ roll sound that Memphis, and then the world, would later claim as it’s own. When the young John Wilkins was learning to play guitar, he picked up his father’s gospel and country blues styles. He also absorbed the citified soulful sounds that were being pioneered by local musicians and recorded by legendary Memphis labels like Sun, Stax and Hi. As he approached adulthood in the 1960s, John Wilkins could be found playing in church, at parties, and at clubs. Like his father before him, Wilkins walked a similar musical line between the sacred and secular. He played guitar on O.V. Wright’s famous 1965 single “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” and later in the early 1970s recorded as a member of the M & N Gospel Singers for Style Wooten’s Designer Records. In the early 1980′s, Wilkins life came full circle when he followed his father’s call to ministry. He became pastor of Hunter’s Chapel Church and ever since, Wilkins has led a congregation that includes generations of Tate county locals, as well as the late fife players Othar Turner and Napolian Strickland and their families, and numerous other regional parishioners and North Mississippi musicians. In the early 1980′s, Wilkins life came full circle when he followed his father’s call to ministry. He became pastor of Hunter’s Chapel Church and ever since, Wilkins has led a congregation that includes generations of Tate county locals, as well as the late fife players Othar Turner and Napolian Strickland and their families, and numerous other regional parishioners and North Mississippi musicians.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jesse Thomas

Jesse "Babyface" Thomas (February 3, 1911 - August 15, 1995) was an American Texas blues guitarist and singer.Known at different times as "Baby Face" or "Mule", and occasionally billed as "The Blues Troubadour", Jesse Thomas popped up all over the blues map in his eight decade career. Born in Logansport, Louisiana, United States, Thomas is best known for the song "Blue Goose Blues", which he recorded for Victor in 1929. His clipped, dry-toned guitar-playing, which sound rather meagre on "Blue Goose Blues", gained greatly from amplification, and his 1940s-1950s recordings, mostly made in Los Angeles, California, are fascinatingly varied responses to tradition and innovation.In 1953, for instance, on a Speciality single, he coupled a minor key blues in the current West Coast idiom, "When You Say I Love You", with a re-examination of the old Texas gambling song, "Jack of Diamonds" - an entirely characteristic gesture. In 1994 he appeared at the Long Beach Blues Festival. He had a long musical career spanning over 60 years, continuing to perform until his death. The Texas bluesman, Ramblin' Thomas, was his brother,and fellow Louisiana blues guitar player, Lafayette Thomas, was his nephew. A longtime resident of the Lakeside neighborhood of Shreveport, Louisiana, Thomas died there on August 15, 1995 at the age of 84.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ramblin’ Thomas

Ramblin' Thomas (1902–1945) was an American country blues singer, guitarist and songwriter. He was the brother of another blues musician, Jesse Thomas. Thomas is best remembered for his slide guitar playing, and recording several pieces in the late 1920s and early 1930s.Blues scholars seem undecided if Thomas's nickname of Ramblin' was in reference to his style of playing, or itinerant nature. Willard Thomas was born in Logansport, Louisiana, one of nine children. His father played the fiddle, and three brothers Joe L., Jesse, and Willard learnt to play the guitar, with Willard particularly practising slide guitar techniques. Thomas relocated to Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas in the late 1920s, and was influenced by the playing of Lonnie Johnson. He performed in San Antonio, Oklahoma and possibly St. Louis, Missouri in his subsequent travels. Thomas recorded in both Dallas and Chicago between 1928 and 1932, for Paramount Records and Victor Records. Thomas reportedly died of tuberculosis in 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee. Document Records are amongst the record labels (previously there were LP issues on Heritage, Biograph, and Matchbox Records) to have released retrospective compilations of Thomas' work on CD.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cedric Burnside Project

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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Homemade Jamz Blues Band"Youngest Blues Band in America"

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

The Fieldstones

One of the few remnants of the homegrown Memphis blues scene since its virtual cessation at the end of the 1950s, the Fieldstones made some rough and ready electric blues with soul and rock influences from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s. Their sound was characterized by a two-guitar front line and a raw, chunky groove not too far removed from the sort of Mississippi juke joint blues that Fat Possum recorded in the 1990s. The Fieldstones did some recording in the 1980s for David Evans' Highwater label, but never established much of a following outside of Memphis, and disbanded in the early '90s. ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide ..

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lightin' Hopkins in Europe

One of the best Lightnin videos I Know

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Elmo Williams & Hezekiah Early [Bigged legged woman]

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

The Heritage Blues Orchestra

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

L. C. Ulmer

L.C. Ulmer
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

James Blood Ulmer

James "Blood" Ulmer (born February 2, 1942) is an American jazz and blues guitarist and singer. Ulmer's distinctive guitar sound has been described as "jagged" and "stinging." His singing has been called "raggedly soulful". Ulmer was born in St. Matthews, South Carolina. He began his career playing with various soul jazz ensembles, first in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1959-1964, and then in the Columbus, Ohio region, from 1964-1967. He first recorded with organist John Patton in 1969. After moving to New York in 1971, Ulmer played with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Joe Henderson, Paul Bley, Rashied Ali and Larry Young.

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.[4] 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."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bo Diddley - A Father of Rock and Roll

Ellas Otha Bates (December 30, 1928 – June 2, 2008), known by his stage name Bo Diddley, was an American rhythm and blues vocalist, guitarist, songwriter (usually as Ellas McDaniel), and inventor. He was also known as "The Originator" because of his key role in the transition from the blues to rock & roll, influencing a host of acts including Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, The Who, The Clash, The Yardbirds, and Eric Clapton.He introduced more insistent, driving rhythms and a hard-edged guitar sound on a wide-ranging catalog of songs. Accordingly, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and a Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He was known in particular for his technical innovations, including his trademark rectangular guitar. Born in McComb, Mississippi, as Ellas Otha Bates,he was adopted and raised by his mother's cousin, Gussie McDaniel, whose surname he assumed, becoming Ellas McDaniel. In 1934, the McDaniel family moved to the largely black South Side area of Chicago, where the young man dropped the name Otha and became known as Ellas McDaniel, until his musical ambitions demanded that he take on a more catchy identity. In Chicago, he was an active member of his local Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he studied the trombone and the violin, becoming proficient enough on the latter for the musical director to invite him to join the orchestra, with which he performed until the age of 18. He was more impressed, however, by the pulsating, rhythmic music he heard at a local Pentecostal Church, as well as an interest in the guitar.Inspired by a concert where he saw John Lee Hooker perform,he supplemented his work as a carpenter and mechanic with a developing career playing on street corners with friends, including Jerome Green (c. 1934–1973),in a band called The Hipsters (later The Langley Avenue Jive Cats). During the summer of 1943–44, he played for tips at the Maxwell Street market in a band with Earl Hooker.[9] By 1951 he was playing on the street with backing from Roosevelt Jackson (on washtub bass) and Jody Williams (whom he had taught to play the guitar). Williams later played lead guitar on "Who Do You Love?" (1956).In 1951 he landed a regular spot at the 708 Club on Chicago's South Side, with a repertoire influenced by Louis Jordan, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters.
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.[24][25] 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 - The Lone Wolf

But at the time I couldn’t find a handy retort, a concrete example of such an accomplished player, who, for some rea-son, slipped through the cracks; that is, until I found Robert “Wolfman” Belfour, not long ago. Now, it’s a fact that he has had some notoriety of late, having recorded a couple of fine albums for Fat Possum. But this reclusive and reluctant Delta blues guitarist probably would have never been discovered had he not, at his wife’s urging, gone to downtown Memphis and played gratis in Handy Park. Otherwise, he’d still be home on his front porch picking his blues in total obscurity. And there must be others out there just like him who never had the temerity to make a public appearance. Thankfully, someone, before it was too late, found this diamond in the rough.The always impeccably attired Robert Belfour, although he plays in a totally different genre - Delta blues - often with a slide, reminds me quite a bit about our recently dearly departed national treasure of bluesman, the Piedmont blues singer/guitarist, John Jackson. Preferring to just play rather than put on a show, both artists are/were pictures of intense concentration, with eyes closed, deeply focused and immersed in the songs. Serious and business-like, they go about the job at hand, caring much less if they display a dynamic stage presence--their style--than conveying the substance of the music itself. And both, espousing an open tuning technique, prefer to play solo, since the two, although unable to read music, could provide all the essentials. “You know I play by single notes and right along with them the rhythm and bass myself. Then, I change when I want to, making it hard for anyone to follow me,” said Robert. A good example of his adherence to this individualistic approach was recently when he appeared with fellow Delta bluesman (with whom he sometimes travels in tandem as part of a Fat Possum promotional tour), James “T-Model” Ford, at Baltimore’s Ottobar, a spacious uptown room normally catering to “alternative bands.” During his set, Robert could certainly have availed himself of “Spam,” Ford’s longtime, highly demonstrative percussionist, who probably wouldn’t have minded, but, instead chose to go on, as usual, unaccompanied. And that is why, along with his inclination for solitary travel, I suggested the moniker “Lone Wolf” rather than “Wolfman.” But more about his colorful nickname later.
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

Ben Prestage

“When my father was growing up in Mississippi,” states Ben, “ they never had running water and the only electricity was one light bulb that hung from the ceiling, but they had it better than some of their neighbors, because they didn’t have dirt floors. I grew up in rural Florida, on a 14-mile-long dirt road, near the headwaters of the Everglades. It was 7 miles either direction to the nearest paved road, and when you got to pavement, you still weren't near a town. It was panther, gator, and cottonmouth country. Out there, there was only one kind of music in the house. Whether it was being played on an instrument, or on a recording, it was Blues.

“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.