Earl “Little Joe” Ayers is a blues guitarist and singer based in Holly Springs, Mississippi. For over thirty years, he was a member of the Soul Blues Boys, Junior Kimbrough’s long-time backing band.
Ayers was born in nearby Lamar and began performing at house parties in the area when he was 15. When asked what inspired him to begin playing the guitar, he replied, “It was something that other people weren’t doing.” He also saw the enjoyment that his second cousin, Lindsey Boga, and Junior Kimbrough derived from their musical pursuits, and “didn’t want to be left behind.”
Boga was a contemporary of Kimbrough’s as well as the first person he performed publicly with. Ayers bought his first guitar from Boga’s father for $4 and began learning from his second cousin. “I was around Junior about every other Sunday; I was around [Boga] every other day,“ Ayers says. After Boga went into the Army, Ayers learned more from Kimbrough himself, “picking up his sound.” Ayers absorbed Kimbrough’s unique style so well that eventually Kimbrough asked him to play with him, and in 1965 he joined his band.
Calling themselves the Soul Blues Boys, the band was initially composed of Kimbrough and Ayers on guitar and George Scales on bass. Kimbrough later added a drummer to their group; John Henry Smith, John Henry McGee (both now deceased), and Calvin Jackson all served terms behind the drum kit for Kimbrough. Scales was frequently absent due to the demands of his job as a concrete finisher for a construction firm, and during his long absences Ayers began to play bass in his place. He remained the bassist for the Soul Blues Boys until Kimbrough’s death in 1998.
Ayers toured extensively in the region with Kimbrough and company, but drew the line on playing overseas as he doesn’t care for flying. They made the rounds of the festival circuits in the summertime, and played at house parties and local jukes such as Marshall Scruggs’ in winter. They also frequently performed with members of the Burnside family. “It became almost like a combining thing,“ Ayers recalls. “Whenever they’d have a gig, we’d get one; whenever we’d get a gig, they’d get one.“ In 1991 Ayers played bass behind Kimbrough in Robert Palmer’s documentary Deep Blues; their performance of “All Night Long” was filmed before the release of Kimbrough’s debut album of the same name on Fat Possum Records, which was also produced by Palmer.
Ayers has performed irregularly since Kimbrough’s death. In recent years he has made appearances at the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic in Potts Camp, as well as at Red’s in Clarksdale. He also occasionally sits in with fellow Hill Country blues musicians such as Kenny Brown. Having recently retired from his job as an electrician for the Holly Springs School District, he and fellow Soul Blues Boys George Scales and Calvin Jackson are discussing a possible return to full-time performing. Ayers has four children and two grandchildren; his son Trenton Ayers is also a bassist, and currently performs with the Mississippi Delta-based blues-rock band The Electric Mudd. Ayers released "Backatchya", a solo album, on Devil Down Records in September 2011.
The Mississippi Blues Trail’s Hill Country Blues marker, Holly Springs, MS: http://www.msbluestrail.org/blues_trail/hills/holly/hill_country/hill_country.swf Junior Kimbrough’s artist’s page at Fat Possum Records’ website: http://www.fatpossum.com/artists/junior.html The Electric Mudd’s MySpace Page: http://www.myspace.com/themudd Devil Down Records: http://devildownrecords.com/backatchya
81 Year Old Mississippi Bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch Makes Debut Album
By Casebeer– November 7, 2013
Posted in: Blues, Blues Articles, Delta Blues, Hill country Blues, Mississippi Blues, News.(BRUCE, MS) — It seems incredible that Leo “Bud” Welch has, until now, remained unknown to the wider musical world.
A casual call from Bud to the Oxford, Mississippi record label, Big Legal Mess began a chain of events that would lead to the debut album of the blues and gospel man at the young age of eighty one.
Born in 1932 in Sabougla, Mississippi, Welch has lived his entire life in the area. Raised with four brothers and seven sisters, Welch’s musical ability was first noticed by his family when he and his cousin took to an older cousin’s guitar quicker than it’s owner, R.C. Welch.
Soon, Leo and R.C. were picking out tunes from the radio and playing them for family and friends. Welch also picked up the harmonica and fiddle along the way.
As the years passed, Bud continued to entertain at picnics and parties in the area. His repertoire consisted of many of the blues and radio standards and favorites of the day.
On several occasions, Welch came to the attention of professional musicians, but planned auditions or jam sessions never materialized. When the Mondays rolled around, Welch was back at work, logging with his chainsaw or working on a local farm.
Yet Bud played on, absorbing songs from the radio. Gospel music was a particular favorite and he learned from his church and the Fairfield Four on Nashville’s WLAC. Even the name of Welch’s then current group, Leo Welch and the Rising Souls, suggests a belief in spiritual redemption anticipating the direction the Mississippi native would take.
One possible reason Welch flew under the radar for so long was his move into the church around 1975. The vast network of churches in Mississippi and the South offered consistent, safe venues to perform. Welch’s brand of blues was becoming old fashioned and gigs were harder to come by. The churches offered a place where a musician like Leo could still play his style, just slightly modified for the gospel. To this day, these music programs and services often pass unnoticed to even lifetime residents in the local communities.
Outside music enthusiasts who have obsessively canvased places like the Mississippi Delta and Hill Country over the last 75 years have largely overlooked the churches in their ceaseless attempts to discover a juke joint out of time. It wouldn’t be that far from overstatement to say that any single county in Mississippi probably has more churches than the all-time sum total of juke houses.
But Welch never let the blues go. He has never seen any reason to:”“I believe in the Lord, but the blues speaks to life, too. Blues has a feeling just like gospel; they just don’t have a [bible].” Welch continues to sing with two local gospel groups in the Bruce, Mississippi area; The Spiritualaires and Leo Welch and the Sabougla Voices, as well as hosting The Black Gospel Express TV show every 1st and 5th Sunday on WO7BN-TV.
“So don’t go looking over your shoulder when listening to Bud’s music,” says the liner notes. “Come on into this church, there won’t be any old church ladies staring you down from the self-righteous section of the pews. Despite what some folk might insist, church isn’t always under the steepled roof. Where ever you are, have a sip, tap your foot, stomp it even fellowship with your friends and rejoice with the Lord and Leo ‘Bud’ Welch. Crank it.”
Sabougla Voices will be released on January 7th on CD and vinyl.