The Day the Blues Cried

bbkingAs 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.

MHS Band Booster’s Annual Duck Race

duckWanna buy a duck? Well you can buy one duck or six hundred for this years McClain High School Band Boosters annual Duck Race. Tickets are on sale at Jett’s Embroidery and the Corner Pharmacy for $5 each. First place pays $300, second $200, and third $100. The race, which is part of G3’s annual Paddle on Paint Creekfest will begin at 2:00 pm at Greenfield’s Felson Park on Sunday, May 17th.

Advanced reservations for kayak and canoe trips during the Creekfest may be made at…

eventbrite pay button

2015 G3 Paddle on Paint Creek Fest is Coming!

It’s time to mark you calendars and pre-register for Greening Greater Greenfield’s 2015 Paddle on Paint Creek Fest. Sunday, May 17 th promises to be bigger and better this and far more organized by using Eventbrite as a method of pre-registering, and paying online with major credit cards. Simply click on the Eventbrite button and choose the vessel and time you want to hit the water and you’ll receive your ticket via email. Hopefully no more long lines like last year.

eventbrite pay button


And don’t forget to buy your duck for the MHS Band Booster’s 2015 Duck Races. Cash payouts to the winning ducks.

See the flyer below for all details.

PonP Flyer 2015 - Final Version-jpeg

In Session

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.

srv albert kingAs 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.

Continue reading In Session


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.

Cottonfields & Smiles of Warmth

It’s March 5, 2015 and I’m looking out my window at a fresh five-inch coat of snow. This winter has turned into one of the coldest and snowiest in several years. Like a gift from on the wings of a snow-white dove, however, came a link to a Playing for Change video that brought sunshine and warmth into our living room. Sit back and enjoy a collage of P for C’s musicians, all located in warm places, playing Cottonfields.

Delbarjo on Racism

hobo 63 delbarjoMy French friend, Delbarjo, has a new toy and a new video. An American cigar box guitar builder who builds under the name Hobo 63 made a 3-string custom box for Delbarjo and apparently it just arrived on French soil. While it’s a couple of days late for Black History Month the theme certainly brings to mind a sad part of our nation’s history. To tell the truth, my old ears can’t pick out the words but the pictures tell it all. Whatever the lyrics the instruments sound and its playing are of the highest quality. Keep it sleazy bluesman!

The Swamp Drivers


Since becoming  involved with cigar box guitars I’ve made a number of contacts in the world of these often weird homemade instruments. One of the newer friendships is with Ted Toscano who is a builder, musician, and member of a blues band named the Swamp Drivers. Ted and the band hail from Utica, New York and we are both members of a Facebook cigar box guitar group.

Continue reading The Swamp Drivers

Got Me a Big Smile This Morning!

Tri-Dowel CBG (11)I’ve been learning the ins and outs of building cigar box guitars and other roots instruments for a couple of years now. Some of the earlier ones  made better wall decorations than they did music. But as time has passed I’ve gotten better and before Christmas I created a nice 3-string, fretless, instrument  made from a common cigar box and three 1/2″ dowels as the neck. Judy Beatty saw pictures of it on Facebook and purchased it as a gift for her son Lynn.

Lynn took a little time getting the hang of it and today sent me a video of him playing the Hank Williams classic, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Die” on my creation. I’m not much of a player and it is just overwhelming to see and hear something you created in the hands of a talented artist. Thanks so much Lynn!

The Axeman Cometh!

chikan johnsonI love music but I’m one of the most unmusical people on earth. It’s like loving to hear the French language but not being able to speak it. I love music but I have no fluency. Over the years, however, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some of the best. Back in 2010 at the Wheeling Heritage Blues Festival I was first exposed to James “Super Chikan” Johnson and his band, The Fighting Cocks.” The Chikan may have been playing the first homemade guitar I ever witnessed, a real double-edged axe made into a playable guitar.

Continue reading The Axeman Cometh!

G3’s 4th Annual Winter Blues, Brews & Stews Festival

soupsIt’s the deepest, darkest, days of winter and you’ve had all the snow, ice, and despair you can bear. What’s you gonna do about it? Well, get off that sofa, put your rags and mukluks on, and come party a bit with Greening Greater Greenfield (G3). We got a hot live blues band, adult beverages, and lots of warm comfy food to help make the gloom outdoors disappear. Details are:

  • What: G3’s 4th Annual Winter Blues, Brews 7 Stews Festival
  • Where: VFW Ranch, 12868 Watt Rd., Greenfield, OH
  • When: Saturday, February 28, 2015
  • Time; 7:00 – 10:30 pm
  • Costs: $10 a person (includes live blues music and sampling of some great soups, stews, and chilies). Public decides whose soup or chili is best.
  • Band: Back Talk Blues Band from Dayton

Knights of Columbus will be serving up some great beers and other adult malted beverages. Soft drinks will also be available.
All proceeds to further the efforts of G3 to better the community that means so much to us all; Greenfield, Ohio.

Children must be accompanies by an adult.

If you, your family, your organization, church, friends, or business would like to enter a recipe for tasting and judging the rules and application form is available at www.lechap.com/g3/chili.

My Cyber Chimney

Blind Boy PaxtonBeing a member and supporter of Playing for Change is like having Santa Claus sneak down your chimney several times a year rather than just once in December. But unlike the real Santa, who you know will pay a visit on Christmas Eve, P for C’s Santa just pops up, unexpected. I got up from a nap this afternoon, checked my email, and down my cyber chimney came the present of a new video, Playing for Change Project 108 featuring “Blind Boy” Paxton performing the old blues standard, Candy Man Blues. Knowing that it better to give than receive I’ll pass this gift along to you. Enjoy and let it bring you peace.

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton (born January 26, 1989) is an American multi-instrumentalist blues musician and vocalist from Los Angeles. He plays banjo, piano and violin and his musical influences are mainly rooted in the early blues from the 1920′s and 30′s. Jerron’s family, originally from Louisiana, moved to LA in the 50′s where he grew up before moving to New York city in 2007, where he currently resides. With a strong interest in blues and jazz music before World War II, Paxton’s sound is influenced by the likes of Fats Waller and “Blind” Lemon Jefferson. According to Will Friedwald in the Wall Street Journal, Paxton is “virtually the only music-maker of his generation—playing guitar, banjo, piano and violin, among other implements—to fully assimilate the blues idiom of the 1920s and ’30s, the blues of Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson.”