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.
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.
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.
There was a time in the American South when juke joints were to be found at every dirt road crossing. Sometimes they were ramshackle houses or abandoned commercial buildings but often, they were small buildings assembled from whatever could be found. Rough cut boards, disassembled shipping crates, and rusting metal roofing were common.
Inside these places could be found fried catfish, smoked pork, cold beer, corn liquor and a couple of guys with cheap instruments pounding out the rhythms that we know today as the blues. If there wasn’t live music there’d be a jukebox playing records and thus the name, juke joints.
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.
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.
For several years I’ve been fooling around with cigar box guitars and other primitive instruments. I’ve been to several cigar box guitar festivals and concerts and witnessed some pretty incredible performances. None have come close to this guy, however. Possibly the amplifier and loop box are the only things not homemade. I may be wrong about even those. Get your foot tapping and enjoy.
Most of you know I’m a great supporter of Playing for Change. Beginning in January the announced they planned to release a new project each month of this year. In February the feature was based on Buddy Guy’s Skin Deep. This month is the lively Gospel number, Everlasting Arms with NOLA’s Dr. John and a cast of many. Enjoy and consider giving your financial support to PforC.
If your state is possibly the poorest, least educated, most conservative state in the nation; well, that’s what’s wrong with it. It also doesn’t help if your state’s flag still includes a version of the Confederate flag. Having too many of the people portrayed in the attached video also doesn’t speak well.
I’ve been to Mississippi many times and things are slowly changing. The state and local governments have done some amazing things in creating a blues and music based tourist economy. But despite the steps forward there are too many people who would take it back to the pre civil rights era. Mississippi’s overwhelming support of Donald Trump is a strong statement to this.
Couple of years ago I heard a black Mississippi judge speak of the new Mississippi. The fact that he was black and a judge speaks to things new. Unfortunately there’s too much old in Mississippi.
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.
I was digging around the Internet and came across an article from Rolling Stone Magazine about some of the various collaborations Chuck Berry performed with other personalities. I found them historically interesting and thought some of you might also enjoy them. Click on the button to be linked to the RS story and videos.
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
Many of you are familiar with the music and talent of Micah Kesselring, the young Bloomingville, Ohio blues musician who has twice appeared at Greenfield events.
Micah has several CD collections on the market and has started an Indiegogo project to help fund another one. Indiegogo is a major crowd sourcing company and is often used by musicians to make themselves known and help fund their creations. I’ve participated in several and always gotten a sense of satisfaction, along with a copy of the CD, for my contribution. I’ll never be a Renaissance Medici type patron of the arts but for a couple of bucks I can feel a little warm and fuzzy.
To make a contribution to Micah’s project you can give as little as a buck and get back a thank you. For a little more you can get a thank you and the right to download his new CD when available. For a lot of money he’ll come to your home, prepare you a great vegetarian meal, and sing you a few ballads. Want to help out a starving artist? Click on the Indiegogo logo or the album cover below.
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.