If you know me you know that I love blues music and blues history. Thumbing through YouTube recently I came across a wonderful documentary about the birth and growth of British blues and thought I’d share it with you fellow blues lovers.
Back in 2005, I was deeply involved in searching for the best BBQ in America and had heard Owensboro, KY mentioned several times. What got that town mentioned so often was it is in Davis County in Western Kentucky and when the locals say BBQ they’re often referring to mutton or mature sheep.
I did a little research and learned that the soil and terrain of that area are well suited for raising sheep and the people who settled it came from parts of Europe that were heavy into raising and eating sheep. Well before this I had learned that BBQ is a somewhat regional thing. In Texas it’s beef. In Western North Carolina it’s pork shoulders while in the Eastern part of the state it’s the whole hog. Memphis is ribs and Columbia, SC is fresh ham.
I was an early convert to folk music back in the 1950s and one of the first songs I learned to play on my cheap Harmony guitar was Freight Train. Like so many folk songs I just assumed the author was long gone and long forgotten.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered Elizabeth Cotton, the very old and very talented lady who on her cheap Sears & Roebuck guitar, wrote the folk classic, Freight Train.
In January of 2012, my brother Joe and his wife Ruby, Elzia and Carol Hicks, and my wife Janet and I spent a couple of days in New Orleans before embarking on a seven-day Caribbean cruise. Of all the places we ate the one we liked best was a legendary chicken joint called Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the Treme neighborhood.
In the early 1980s, my sister in law’s parents began letting my family and me stay at their Atlantic Beach, NC cottage for a week each year. On our first trip, we discovered Wilber’s BBQ in Goldsboro, NC and to this day it has remained the standard by which we have come to measure pulled pork. Over the years none of us have ever driven along Highway 70 and not stopped at Wilber’s going and coming. Often we would stop just to bring home bottles of his famous vinegar-based sauce and several frozen pounds of his whole-hog hickory-smoked delight.
Back in 2005, I decided I’d like to judge a BBQ contest so I did a little research and discovered I’d have to take a class through either the Kansas City BBQ Society or the Memphis BBQ Network. I decided on Memphis because it was closer and I’d heard more about the Memphis in May events which included a huge BBQ festival and competition.
So, off to Memphis went I and after the training session, I decided to meander through the Delta for several days. I’d been there before but always with family and always on a schedule. I was retired now and my time was my own.
Most music lovers have probably never heard of Sam Hopkins. But call him Lightnin Hopkins and maybe the light bulb switches on. Hopkins was from Texas and before his death in 1982 he became one of the best known of all the early blues pioneers. He was also one of the most prolific and frequently recorded.
People always reference Robert Johnson’s style of guitar playing as being the best but best is something hard to define. I personally don’t know any blues picker better than Hopkins.
Ohio never had much of a barbecue heritage and growing up there I had no knowledge of what real barbecue was. I also had no knowledge of the great variety and the forever argument over who has the best. Barbecue to us buckeyes was what you got at a drive-in restaurant and it usually came out of a can, sauce and all.
My first experience with real Carolina ‘cue was at Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, NC. We spent a week at Atlantic Beach and when we’d talk to people on the beach they’d ask us if we had stopped at Wilber’s for the barbecue. At the end of the week, on the way back to Ohio, we stopped and had a large family style meal of pulled pork, vinegar slaw, potato salad, hush puppies, sweet tea, and banana pudding. For years we went to Atlantic Beach every year and never passed Wilber’s without stopping for a plate. It was my first and to this day, remains my favorite. Matter of fact, there’s a bottle of Wilber’s Eastern Carolina vinegar sauce in our fridge at this moment.
Today marks the fourth day of Black History Month for 2019. As has been my custom I try to write about some aspect of the Black experience in America. Here’s my current offering. I hope you both enjoy it and learn a little of our nation’s history.
My father’s family was from South Carolina and during the 1950s I would occasionally spend a summer with them. Because of that, I became aware of Jim Crow or segregation laws. I never tried to understand these things and as a kid just accepted them as being, “the way things were.”
As an adult, I began to learn and question the truth and subsequently became a sometime student of Southern and Black History. This eventually led to an interest in blues music history and from this, I became aware of the Chitlin Circuit, a loose association of entertainment venues that catered to Black performers. Traveling the circuit meant Black entertainers needed services. They needed fuel and car maintenance, food, shelter, medical care and so much more that wasn’t easily found in a segregated America.
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 my wife’s cousins and their spouses at Beaugard’s Southern Barbecue in Wilmington. Hadn’t been there in a couple of years but Beaugard’s is as good a que 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.