I love blues, I love folk music, and I love the simple music of the people. Here’s a video of an old Philadelphia street performer named Blind Connie Williams singing an old Gospel. Take my Hands Precious Lord. I love his guitar playing and the tenor of his voice.
Justin Johnson has been in Nashville for several months working at Cash Cabin on a new double album, Drivin’ it Down. This one is different in that he’s using a whole band along with vocalists. Among the songs recorded was Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode but they had no plans to video and release it until Chuck Berry suddenly passed away.
Drivin’ it Down will be released on April 1, 2017 and may be ordered from Justin’s website.
Album credits include:
•Filmed and Recorded at Cash Cabin Studio, Nashville TN
•3x GRAMMY Award Winning Artist Bill Miller on Vocals
•Justin Johnson on Lead Guitar
•Executive Producer of “Drivin’ It Down,” Ian McDonald, on Rhythm Guitar
We had lunch yesterday with a couple of Janet’s cousins and their spouses at Beaugard’s Southern Barbecue in Wilmington. Hadn’t been there in couple of years but Beaugard’s is as good a cue as can be found above the Mason-Dixon Line. I didn’t have a column written for today so with the zing of Beaugard’s hot sauce still on my tongue I decided to reprise something BBQ related from the past. Here’s an article that was published in the Times Gazette in 2002.
Barbeque I’ve Known
February 3, 2002
Maybe it’s because I was born in South Carolina but, I never tire of going south. When most folks think of the South visions of magnolias, antebellum homes, pine trees or NASCAR may come to mind. For me, it’s barbeque.
In 2005 I decided I wanted to take a class in becoming a certified barbecue judge. So off I went to Memphis for a day in the classroom of the Memphis Barbecue Association. Afterwards I headed south into Mississippi on what may have been my first field trip into the heart of blues history. I spent several days in and around Clarksdale which literally is ground zero for the blues. The following is an article I wrote for one of the local newspapers and a couple of years ago Ron Coffey asked about it. There was something I said that he liked and I was unable, till now, to find the article.
Anyway, I found it and decided to republish it as my offering for this day. Hope you enjoy.
Originally published in August, 2005.
For many years I’ve been interested in Southern culture and food. About fifteen years ago this interest evolved into a love of blues music and blues history. The blues that most people are familiar with is probably that performed by such greats as Stevie Ray Vaughn and B.B. King. The blues that I’m most interested in is far more raw and basic. It’s the blues that was born in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta and came out of hard times and hard living.
Just like going to the mailbox used to have certain elements of surprise, mystery, and excitement I get the same each morning when I log into Facebook. I never know what’s waiting for me and this morning it was, to my great pleasure, a new song from my favorite French sleazy bluesman, Delbarjo. He’s playing one of the coolest looking and sounding three string box guitar on the planet. Merci mon ami.
When blues fans gather and the chatter turns to BB King the one thing most share is the opinion that King’s 1964 album, Live at the Regal, was his best. I own the CD and I really can’t disagree, the man was at the top of his game that evening.
Today I watched a video of BB’s 1983 appearance on PBS’s Austin City Limits and came away convinced his game hadn’t lessened over the intervening twenty years.
Just when I think I seen everything Delbarjo has produced along comes one that’s new to me. Here he is demonstrating a simple three-string fretless box guitar. Basic blues pattern but damn it sounds wonderful to me.
My French cigar box guitar friend, Ludovic Fonteraud (aka Delbarjo), recently received a great new three-string from another CBG friend in Finland who builds under the name, Hobo 63. Here’s a great demo Delbarjo posted on YouTube demoing his latest instrument. It is just so smooth!
I bought my first guitar in the early 1960s and have owned at least one for most of my life. I love guitars and just enjoy having one sitting in the corner to stare at occasionally. I know lots of chords and can “noodle” out melodies to myself but I don’t speak music.
Several years ago I broke my left shoulder and the result was greatly reduced range of motion making it painful to play an ordinary instrument. That doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my love of these things or that I don’t own one. Matter of fact, just last fall I bought a new Gretsch acoustic resonator guitar in the hope that it having a shorter neck I’d be able to play it more comfortably.
My new axe is a Gretsch G9200 and it both looks and sounds wonderful. I have a friend in France, Delbarjo, who is a great guitarist and he recently posted a version of the G9200 on Facebook along with a video of one being demonstrated. Looking for other videos I came across one by Toby Walker playing my Gretsch version and decided I’m going to watch this over and over and imagine it’s me playing if only I’d been born into a musical family, had an entirely different brain, and higher level of coördination.
In other words this will never be me in a video.
Tommy Emmanuel is an Australian guitar slinger who’s almost unequaled in his versatility with the instrument. I came across this video of him playing a “twelve bar blues tune in the key of E.” To my ear it’s more of a boogie than a traditional twelve bar blues tune but it makes no difference, the man’s fingers are smokin’!
If you enjoy Playing for Change, love the blues, love impromptu jam sessions, are a fan of Grandpa Elliott, you’re going to love this video. Eight minutes plus of just folks just having fun.
As lots of blues songs begin, I woke up this mornin’. Well, I woke up this morning to the news that the King of the Blues had passed away. B.B. King left the building during the night and the world was left with a void. Years ago I had written a story about B.B. and went looking for it. For the moment it remains lost in several terabytes of stored data but I did come across a story I wrote in 2005 about a trip I made to Mississippi and the home of so many great bluesmen like King. This story first appeared in the Times Gazette and sometime later Ron Coffey asked me for a copy but I couldn’t find it. So for Ron, and in homage to King and all those who gave the world Blues, here it is.
|Published August, 2005|
|For many years I’ve been interested in Southern culture and food. About fifteen years ago this interest evolved into a love of blues music and blues history. The blues that most people are familiar with is probably that performed by such greats as Stevie Ray Vaughn and B.B. King. The blues that I’m most interested in is far more raw and basic. It’s the blues that was born in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta and came out of hard times and hard living.
This blues is called country blues or Delta blues. It is acoustic music played on cheap instruments by people with no formal musical training and only the most basic vocabularies. It is rough, and crude, and unrefined, but the lyrics tell great stories of life, be it hard times or good, love gone wrong or love at its best. It’s the music that reinforced how tough life could be and it is also the music that swept away reality on Saturday night when a few dollars could buy you some beer at a local juke joint.
There are lots of places that lay claim to being the birthplace of something. Memphis claims to be the home of rock and roll and Jackson, Tennessee, claims rockabilly. But, if any town has a valid claim, it’s Clarksdale, Mississippi. The proof is in drawing a fifty-mile wide circle on a map with Clarksdale at its center. Then create a list of bluesmen that were born, raised or spent much of their adult lives inside that circle. The list will include such names as Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, Charlie Patton, Bukka White, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Besides these who became famous, there are dozens more who achieved little or no fame. The musicologist Alex Lomax once said that Clarksdale was responsible for more bluesmen than any place on earth.
The Clarksdale area is filled with historical icons of Delta blues history. The nearby town of Tutwiler is where W.C. Handy (considered the father of the blues) first observed a black itinerant musician singing about a place where two railroad lines cross and accompanying himself on a cheap guitar using a pocketknife as a slide. According to Handy, “It was the weirdest music I’d ever heard.” Because of this historical occasion, Tutwiler also lays claim to being the birthplace of the blues and proclaims such high on its water tower.
Tutwiler is also the final resting place of Sonny Boy Williamson II. Williamson, also known as Rice Miller, is considered to have been the greatest blues harp player in history. His style set the standard for all who followed.
In the rural areas around Clarksdale were huge cotton plantations such as Stovall and Hopson. It was on these plantations that many of the greats were born, grew up, worked, learned the hardships of being poor, and later fled. Several plantations still exist and one, Hopson, is trying to keep its place in blues history by offering tours and converting its field hand housing into sleeping quarters for tourists.
In Clarksdale itself, you’ll find the Riverside Hotel on Sunflower Ave. Once a Negro hospital, it is the site where Bessie Smith died following an automobile crash in 1937. After World War II the hospital was converted into a hotel, catering to black travelers it became a haven for black musicians performing in the area. You name the artist and he or she has spent time at the Riverside Hotel. The hotel is still open and caters to blues fans from all over the world. The room in which Smith died is filled with mementos about her and open to the public.
Depending on which music historian you want to believe, the Riverside can also lay claim to being the birthplace of rock and roll. In 1951, in the hotel’s basement, Ike Turner cut a demo tape of Rocket 88, a number that many to consider to be the first rock and roll tune. The tape was later sent to Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis and turned into a hit for Turner.
Further down Sunflower, and across from the cemetery, sits Red’s Lounge. Red’s is probably the last true juke joint in Clarksdale. It’s only open when Red is in the mood and I was fortunate enough to be there when he was. Greenwood, MS’s T-Model Ford was the attraction that night. T-Model is nearing 80 but still plays a strong guitar. Testifying to the international popularity of the blues there were at least four Germans, an Englishman and a young man from Japan in the crowd that evening. The Germans and the Brit even picked up instruments and took a turn at the microphone between sets.
Doing much to keep alive the blues tradition of the Clarksdale area is the Delta Blues Museum. Located in the old railway station and adjoining warehouse, the museum is a major repository of blues history and memorabilia. It is the place where you’ll want to begin your visit to Mississippi’s Delta.
Located next door to the museum, in an old commercial building, is the Ground Zero Blues Club. It was founded in 2001 by Clarksdale homeboy and actor, Morgan Freeman. The attempt was to recreate the look and feel of a traditional juke joint and breathe new life into the area’s native music. Guessing from the Saturday evening I spent there, it is working. The place was packed with people from many backgrounds, races and nationalities; all sharing in the emotion of this thing called the blues.
A few miles out of Clarksdale I stopped along the roadside and walked a few feet into a cotton field. Standing there in the 105-degree temperature I reflected on what it must have been like to spend endless twelve-hour days chopping cotton in these fields, countless years of backbreaking toil for little money and even less chance of attaining a better way of life. It’s easy to see why Mississippi’s Delta became the birthplace of the blues.
In 2000 I was taking a tour of the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, MS and towards the end of the tour I noticed the background music contained sounds, riffs, and styles I could attribute to a couple of familiar blues players. I knew what my ears were telling me but my knowledge base just couldn’t make it real.
As I walked into the gift shop at the tour’s end I ask a clerk what the music was. He said it was Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King playing together on a CD called In Session. So happened they had it in stock and I picked up a copy to listen to during the remainder of the fishing trip I was on.
Later I discovered The session had taken place in 1984 at a studio in Ontario, Canada and had been filmed. I learned of the film while channel surfing and coming across a PBS channel that was replaying the video during a fundraiser.
Obviously some are better at multitasking than others. I’m one that’s not too good at it and getting worse as time passes. I can still walk and chew gum at the same time but don’t ask me to throw in scratching my hair or rub my belly, let alone playing a guitar, blowing a harp, singing, and playing drums with my feet.