There are many things on my list of things I love. At the top are my wife, my children, and my family. Not too much down that list is all things related to blues music and its history. I love the music, the stories of the people who made it, the culture it evolved from, and the simple gatherings that kept the traditions alive.
The Internet has made experiencing all this more available than it’s ever been. Websites like AllMusic and YouTube are vast depositories of biographical information, music samples, performance videos, guitar lessons, and so much more. In my spare time I often dig around YouTube looking for rare video clips of people I’m interested in and often run across those I never knew of.
Recently I came across a film called Blues Houseparty that was produced in 1989 by various regional arts councils around Virginia. At first I thought I was watching a get together of just some local amateurs to share a little libation, some food, and exchange licks. About halfway through the hour-long film I saw the names Cephas and Wiggins and that rang a bell. I did a little online research and discovered that John Cephas and Phil Wiggins had a successful career as a blues act in the Washington, DC area. I recognized their names from having purchased one of their CDs at a yard sale several years ago.
Other people appearing in the film included Archie Edwards, John Jackson, James Jackson, Cora Jackson, Flora Molton, Larry Wise, John Dee Holeman, and Quentin ‘Fris’ Holloway. None of these are names that I recognized but further digging told me they were all recognized musicians in DC, Virginia, and North Carolina. Many have since passed but you can get a real feel for who they were by watching the film.
I was particularly taken by John Dee Holeman because of his versatility. He could spin a tale, do a buck dance, wield a guitar, and had a way with a song that reminded me of the late Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins. Holeman is still with us and if you search for him at AllMusic you can listen to a number of his tracks.
Blues Houseparty is an excellent film taking about 57 minutes to view. A wonderful window on how life was for so many African-Americans when Jim Crow ruled the land and left them with few options.