Discover who's Playing on the Backporch at Rev. KM Williams' CountryBluesTown!
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.