Friday, January 17, 2014

Louis "Gearshifter" Youngblood

Louis Arzo Youngblood, aka “Gearshifter,” is a Jackson-based guitarist and vocalist who performs a unique blend of country blues, modern soul-blues, and everything in between. Louis was born in Picayune, and grew up in Jackson, Bogalusa, and, mostly, Tylertown. There Louis was raised in a simple rural environment surrounded by older relatives. As a young boy Louis learned from his great aunt Essie Mae Youngblood the rudiments of guitar. She also taught him several of the songs he performs today, including the traditional folk song "Rabbit In A Log" and the Tommy Johnson song "Bye Bye Blues". Essie Mae was influenced directly by Johnson, one of the most significant bluesman in the greater Jackson area, who married her sister Rosa in the 1930s and lived briefly in Tylertown. Johnson had a profound influence on a number of artists in the Tylertown area, including Louis’ grandfather and namesake, Arzo Youngblood. At 16 Louis joined the Job Corps, in which he learned to operate heavy machinery at camps in Arizona and New Mexico. He played informally with a band during his three-year tenure, and in the process became more interested in developing his skills on the guitar. After leaving the Corps Louis returned to Jackson, but often stayed in New Orleans with his grandfather Arzo, who had lived there since the early ‘60s. Arzo’s home in the 9th Ward was a gathering place for older musicians, including Boogie Bill Webb. Louis didn’t study directly with the older men, but their music was nevertheless influential on the development of his music and repertoire. He occasionally performed in the city with the Jackson-based group Roosevelt Roberts and Sons. Although he never recorded commercially, Arzo was recorded by field researchers David Evans, who was investigating the influence of Tommy Johnson, and Axel K�stner. Recordings of Arzo by Evans appeared on several now out-of-print LPs; several of the recordings made by K�stner are on the Evidence CD boxed set Living Country Blues. In the ‘70s Louis began performing in Jackson together with artists including Robert Robinson and Tommy Lee at clubs including Dorsey’s and the Queen of Hearts. Mostly though, he worked as a heavy machinery operator at sites across the country. In the late ‘70s he lived in Miami, where he performed with Bahamians in a Calypso band. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s Louis performed irregularly in Jackson, and became more active in recent years. In 2003 he played regularly at the E&E Lounge in Jackson with T.C. and the Midnighters, and since late 2003 has played every weekend at Monte’s Fine Dining in Jackson fronting the Delta Blues Boys. Recently Louis has been performing more as a solo acoustic artist, creating a distinctive mix by blending the country blues he learned as a youth with soul/blues classics and electric blues standards. In this capacity he has performed at Hal and Mal’s Restaurant in Jackson, the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, and the Rootsway Roots and Blues Food Festival in Parma, Italy. -Scott Barretta See Also: Youngblood's myspace page.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Terry "Harmonica" Bean

Terry “Harmonica” Bean is still relatively young, but has decades of experience with the blues. A lifelong resident of Pontotoc, Bean first heard downhome blues at home. His father Eddie Bean, a native of Bruce, sang and played blues guitar and prior to Terry’s birth traveled with an electric blues band. For many years Eddie Bean, who died in 1985, hosted informal music and gambling gatherings at the family’s house on “Bean Hill” in west Pontotoc. He also worked as a sharecropper, enlisting Terry and other of his fourteen children to pick cotton in the surrounding fields. Terry began playing guitar and harmonica as a child, and eventually his father began featuring him at the home gatherings and taking him along to other house parties. Although Terry was a “natural,” he stopped playing around the time he was twelve because several of his brothers were jealous of the attention he received. Today his brother Jimmy plays bass in church and occasionally in Terry’s blues band, while brother Jerry Lee sings gospel as well as lead vocals in the Pontotoc-based Legends of the Blues. Terry turned his attention instead to baseball, and was a star pitcher on American Legion league teams and his high school team, which he led to the state championship in 1980. Equally adept with both hands, Terry pitched five no-hitters and attracted scouts from several professional teams. A professional career in baseball was curtailed, however, when Terry was injured in a motorcycle accident and he lost his competitive edge. Nevertheless, he continued to play semi-pro ball in his ‘20s until he was involved in another automotive accident. Terry decided to “get serious” about the blues in 1988 after visiting the Delta Blues Festival in Greenville. He went there to see Robert Junior Lockwood, who played with Terry’s idol, harmonica legend Little Walter, but inadvertently fell in with the Greenville blues scene. Every weekend for three years Terry traveled to Greenville and its environs to play harmonica with James "T-Model" Ford as well as Asie Payton at various juke joints. He also played across the Delta with artists including Lonnie Pitchford. Back home he formed a band, and began playing guitar himself after becoming frustrated with teaching others his ideal sound. Following the lead of Arkansas bluesman John Weston, he started using a harmonica rack and performing as a one-man band, stomping his feet for percussion. Since the mid-‘80s Terry has worked full-time at a furniture factory in Pontotoc, but he has maintained a busy performance schedule as both a solo artist and with the Terry Harmonica Bean Blues Band. He has performed at festivals across Mississippi as well as in Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee, and regularly works at clubs across the region. Since 2002 he has released six self-produced CDs that document both his band and solo performances. Terry is consciously dedicated to “keeping alive” older styles of blues. “What’s stimulating to me,” he says, “is people hearing the blues played like they used to hear it.” -Scott Barretta