Livin’ the Blues

Mississippi Delta Morning

Cheating. Grudges. Abandonment. Shootings. Woman trouble. Man trouble. Too much whiskey. Not enough whiskey. Flophouses and fixin’-to-die. The blues has it all.

Blues can provide I’m-down-here-in-the-ditch-and-I-can’t-get-out resignation, if that’s your preference, but there’s more to the blues than blank despair. As much as anything, the blues tend toward travel; they overflow with highways and journeys, crossroads and railroads, picking up, leaving town, heading home, or wandering off to Chicago, Memphis or Helena.  If you’re ready to make a run to Anywhere-But-Here, the blues will be happy to ride shotgun.

Robert Johnson went down to the crossroad. Tab Benoit’s night train is rollin’. R.L. Burnside did some rollin’ and tumblin of his own while grandson Cedric, along with his buddy Malcolm, bought a lemon of a car and ended up having to hitchhike home. CeDell Davis, who liked to say he intended to “live as long as I can and die when I can’t help it,” finally couldn’t help it and moved on, but before he left he suggested we might want to heave ourselves up out of our own chairs and get packing, since sitting around isn’t going to get us anywhere.

James Lewis Carter Ford — T-Model to his friends, admirers, and detractors — did the last of his worldly traveling in 2013, dying of respiratory failure at the age of 88 — or 83, or 93, depending on who’s doing the calculating.  Davis outlived him by four years; he died at age 91 in 2017, thanks to complications after a heart attack. That either man lived so many decades may prove the old saying that the Lord protects drunkards and fools. On the other hand, it may have been sheer luck.

I met Davis and Ford in Clarksdale, Mississippi, at the annual Juke Joint Festival. On Saturday afternoon, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Cedric Burnside were scheduled to play in the alley behind the Rust Restaurant; most people had no idea T-Model and CeDell were planning to join them. When the men appeared, shivers of excitement and anticipation ran through the crowd.

While friends helped CeDell get settled in his wheelchair, T-Model worked the crowd, shaking hands and grinning. Slowly, the crowd began to transform itself into a house party. While family and friends made a little music, the gathered crowd would glimpse shared roots and shared lives in a way impossible at concerts.

Cedric Burnside

Cedric Burnside, grandson of blues great R.L. Burnside and son of drummer Calvin Jackson, has played for years with a variety of musicians including Junior Kimbrough, Kenny Brown, and the North Mississippi Allstars. After teaming up with Steve “Lightnin'” Malcolm, another young Mississippi native who lived for a time with CeDell Davis, the pair began writing and composing.

I don’t just sing about the blues, but I live it, too,” they sang, with a straight-faced irony probably lost on the blues tourists surrounding them:

Some people say they read about the blues,
been readin’ about it for a while.
Well, I don’t have to read about the blues —
been livin’ it since I was a child.

CeDell Davis, a native of Helena, Arkansas, certainly began livin’ the blues as a child. After contracting polio at age nine while living with his brother near Tunica, Mississippi, he was forced by his disability to give up the harmonica and re-learn his guitar skills. He grew creative, telling an interviewer:

I was right- handed, but I couldn’t use my right hand, so I had to turn the guitar around. I play left-handed now. But I still needed something to slide with, and my mother had these knives, a set of silverware, and I kinda swiped one of ’em.

Later, he told David Ramsey, in an interview for The Oxford American:

Almost everything that you could do with your hands, I could do it with the knife. It’s all in the way you handle it. Drag, slide, push it up and down.

It was the perfect solution for someone unable to put a slide on a finger and use it conventionally. He wasn’t the first to use a knife, but he was in good company. In a famous autobiographical passage, W.C. Handy remembers his experience in the Tutwiler, Mississippi train station around 1903:

A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags, his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages.
As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularised by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song too, struck me instantly. “Goin’ to where the Southern cross the dog.” The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard.

“Weird” is an apt description, since a metal knife handle on metal strings produces a sound akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. Robert Palmer, the late New York Times music critic, called Davis’s guitar style “utterly unique, in or out of blues.” As Palmer put it:

Some people who hear CeDell’s playing for the first time think it’s out of tune, but it would be more accurate to say he plays in an alternative tuning, because the way he hears and plays intervals and chords is consistent and systematic.
The scraping of the knife along the strings of his bright yellow electric guitar makes a kind of metallic, gnashing sound that conspires with his patched-together guitar amplifier and his utterly original playing technique to produce some of the grittiest music imaginable.

Having mastered his own style of playing, Davis began showing up in various nightclubs across the Mississippi Delta. Eventually, he teamed up with Robert Nighthawk, considered to be the Delta’s finest slide guitarist by no less than the great Muddy Waters.

For ten years, from 1953-1963, Davis and Nighthawk worked the juke joints and clubs until, in 1957, Davis was trampled after a brandished gun led to a stampede at an East St. Louis bar. What polio hadn’t accomplished, the bar brawl did; multiple leg fractures put David into a wheelchair. Still, he continued to play, until a stroke in 2005 forced him into a nursing home.

Although the stroke left him unable to play the guitar, he still could sing, and sing he did: encouraged and assisted by a variety of musicians and supporters. After a return to live performance in 2009, he released two more albums: Last Man Standing (2015) and Even the Devil Gets the Blues (2016).

Debilitated by polio, confined to a wheelchair after a barroom stampede, unable to play the guitar and left with only his voice for music-making, he remained one of most positive people in the world.

As he rolled through the gathered festival crowd in his wheelchair, he was living large, with a word and a handshake for everyone in his path, including his old friend T-Model Ford.

Cedell Davis and T-Model Ford at the Clarksdale Juke Joint Festival

T-Model, a man with as much hard living and bad luck behind him as you could have and still be alive, was a bit of a wonder himself. Writing inThe Guardian, Richard Grant lays out the highlights:

T-Model’s life reads like a horror story. At the age of eight, his father beat him so badly between the legs with a piece of firewood that he lost a testicle. His ankles are scarred from the chain gang. His neck is scarred where one of his wives slashed his throat.
He has been shot, stabbed, pinned under a fallen tree with a broken ribcage, beaten unconscious with a metal chair. He watched his first wife go off with his own father, watched another die after she drank poison to try and induce a miscarriage. The only woman he ever really loved poisoned him at the breakfast table. He woke up in hospital that afternoon and never saw her again.

He began playing guitar at age 58, on the night his fifth of six wives left him. She’d presented him with a guitar as a parting gift and Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head Delta Blues in Clarksdale recalls, “He stayed up all night drinking white whiskey and playing that guitar. He kind of went on from there.”

Indeed he did. Unbelievable as it seems, T-Model wasn’t especially eager to apply words like anguish, tribulation, or despair to his own life. As he said,

“I play the blues, but I don’t ever get the blues. After my sister died I prayed to God to please let me live like a tree. Tree don’t care if them other trees is dyin’. Tree don’t care about nothin’. When they raped and killed that white lady [an 88-year-old white woman who was teaching him to read and write] I felt bad – she was a good old white lady – but I didn’t let it get me down. I don’t let nothin’ get me down.”

As Grant notes in his article, most people aren’t able to stay happy because they’ve decided to be happy, regardless of circumstances. Still, it seemed to work for T-Model. “He plays the north Mississippi hill-country hypnotic boogie-groove like nobody else on earth,” commented Memphis musician Jim Dickinson, producer for Ford’s album Bad Man (2002). “His music is not a complaint of self-pity, but a celebration of life.You could see it in his smile.”

Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys noticed the smile himself after driving to Greenville on a whim, just to see if he could find T-Model and play with him.

We jammed all afternoon and played a juke joint that night, then slept on his floor. He was nothing but nice – all smiles. There’s nothing like T-Model’s smile, and boy, he’ll use it! He’ll find the prettiest girl in the audience and just smile all night.
Left to right: Lightnin’ Malcolm, Cedric Burnside, T-Model Ford

Certainly he seemed happy enough in Clarksdale. Basking in the palpable affection surrounding him, firm and straightforward in his singing, he clearly enjoyed playing with Cedric. As the set finished, T-Model rose, steadied himself on his cane and bantered a bit with the musicians around him.

Then, a model of graciousness, he took his place in the crowd while CeDell and Malcolm, the old and the young, the black and the white, the root and the branch, began to edge through another song, just as they would have done when they shared the same house .

CeDell Davis and Lightnin’ Malcolm

As he watched and listened, T-Model casually reached down, picked up his cane, flipped it under his arm, and began ‘playing’ it in rhythm with Malcolm.

Look at that,” the fellow from Chicago sitting next to me said. “Just look at that.” Next to us, a photographer stopped in mid-focus to stare, before saying to no one in particular, “Can you believe that?”

We watched, transfixed, as the old reprobate, the ol’ tail-dragger, a man with a checkered past and the sweetest smile in the world, seemed to breathe in life and breathe out blues in a process as easy and natural as CeDell’s table knife slicing chords into a plateful of music. He just couldn’t help himself, and everyone saw it.

The Old Tail-dragger

When Lightnin’ saw what T-Model was up to, he caught Cedric’s eye and they grinned at one another across the crowd. Seeing Lightnin’s amusement, CeDell looked over at T-Model, who responded with a deep, elegant bow. As one song ended and another began, CeDell’s voice strengthened, the rhythms intensified, and the chattering, admiring crowd began to grow quiet.

It was then, in a small Delta town nearly hidden from the world, that travelers from Rotterdam, Rochester, and Rolling Fork leaned forward in anticipation, feeling the blues itself begin to travel. Pitted against the low mumurings of a threatening storm, the music rolled and tumbled from one guitar to the next, from one singer to another.

As clouds heaped up and chords grew heavy in the air, CeDell sang on, while Lightnin’s guitar flashed and the music poured down, running like an unbanked river across hearts flattened and scoured by life, flooding out into the streets, spreading and leveling as it flowed.

Washed clean of inattention, the fellow from Chicago stopped talking, leaned back and closed his eyes. Surprised by an unexpected surge of joy, the photographer from Jackson lowered his light meter and set his camera aside.

Smiling back at CeDell, T-Model winked, folded his hands over the crook of his cane, and lightly tapped a foot over the fine, raspy grit of the pavement. Off to the west, the rain rolled down and the great river tumbled on, sluicing and singing through the Delta, the source and the life of the blues.


To hear my favorite cut from T-Model’s “Jack Daniel Time”, click here for “Red’s House Party”
For a taste of CeDell Davis’s music, try “You Got to do the Boogie-Woogie”
Click here for a list of upcoming live blues events from Clarksdale.
Comments always are welcome.

118 thoughts on “Livin’ the Blues

  1. Beautiful post, Linda, so well researched and presented. I feel like I’ve just immersed myself in an award-winning documentary. Thank you for this joyful journey!

    1. I thought musician-you would enjoy this. I’ve always loved the Delta for the music and the Oxford area for Faulkner, but there’s a lot of music to be found in north Mississippi, too. My personal favorite is Cedric’s grandfather, RL Burnside, who was from around Holly Springs. He’s gone now, too, but this will give you a taste of his genius. Videos from the juke joints are fun, but the music really shines in this one.

    1. The world’s just full of characters, and some of them are pretty darned talented. One of the best things about a festival like this — locally organized, a little smaller, and not quite so commercialized — is that you have a chance to interact with the musicians and hear them make music on their home turf: the very land that gave birth to and nurtured the music.

    1. Life’s not always easy, that’s for sure. Still, as Faulkner said in his marvelous Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” Some of his Mississippi brethren surely exemplified that.

        1. I’ve thought about that one for a while, and still can’t quite wrap my mind around the meaning. Maybe I need to spend more time around nails. Or, maybe I’m too accustomed to thinking of hammers as nail-pullers. Idioms are hard!

  2. What a great post! I just love the blues. There’s something about them that the words are complaining and the music is giving a little snort and saying, “yeah, and you think that’ll get me?” And that’s just when the words aren’t downright humorous. Red’s House Party is a gem. Thanks for all the music.

    1. What a great way to describe the relationship between the words and the music — perfect. And you’re right that humor often leavens lyrics that could be read as tragic. That’s one reason why reading blues lyrics is so unsatisfying. They need the musican, and the audience, to give them life.

    1. What a delightful connection. I’m glad you shared the post, and I’m glad to have stirred some good memories. Is the group still active? I hope you have some recordings!

      1. No, they broke up for several reasons. My friend already responded to your article:

        “Really enjoyed the article. I could relate so much to T-model’s statement, “I play the blues but I don’t ever get the blues.” To which I would add, “At least not very often.” Of course after a month of not receiving the sacrament it’s a close call.

        “Oh yes, playing the blues. I’ll have to tell you sometime about the Blues trip we took in the deep south to find Robert Johnson’s grave 25+ years ago. The word epic comes to mind.”

        1. There’s an interesting article about Johnson’s grave that was published by Atlas Obscura. I never went looking for Johnson’s grave, although I did seek out the spot “where the Southern cross The Dog”. I can imagine your friend’s search was epic. That happens often along the Blues Trail!

    1. Thanks, June. I love that CeDell and T-Model’s music isn’t being lost, and that their friends and families are so intimately involved in carrying it on — reshaping it for new generations.

  3. So much of the great music of America has its roots in the shameful history of slavery in this country. Jazz, blues, dixieland, ragtime, soul, gospel.

    1. True enough: but not all, and not every musician chooses to be constrained by that history. One of the joys of this festival, and of the many music venues I’ve enjoyed over the years, is that the music is the point, not skin color.

  4. Hi Linda,
    thanks a lot for your GREAT post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it – drives away the blues.
    Wishing you a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    :-) :-) :-) :-)

    1. Thanks, Klausbernd. There’s so much wonderful music in the world, and behind the music — always — lie the musicians. Some are well known, but others remain essentially hidden outside their sphere of influence, and it’s great fun to explore their lives and write about them, too. Getting to meet them in person? That’s even better.

    1. I grew up listening to jazz with my father, too. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the blues, and there have been occasional times I wished he was still around to enjoy some of today’s festivals with me. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing I have: just hearing the music can bring those times of sharing back in a flash.

  5. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, blue has since the 1500s been the color of constancy, as in “true blue.” Since the 1700s it has been “often made the colour of plagues and things hurtful.” The Online Etymology Dictionary adds that “a figurative meaning ‘sad, sorrowful, afflicted with low spirits’ is from c. 1400, perhaps from the ‘livid’ sense and implying a bruised heart or feelings.” That dictionary also says that the plural in the sense of “music form featuring flatted thirds and sevenths” is “possibly c. 1895 (though officially 1912, in W.C. Handy’s ‘Memphis Blues’).” Would people react any differently if the music were known by some other color name?

    1. What an interesting history, and an interesting question. ‘Singing the greens’ sounds odd as can be, but of course we have those centuries of association to make ‘blues’ sound just right. I started thinking about other colors that have been associated with emotions, and I came up with ‘seeing red’ and ‘a jaundiced view.’ After some time, I remembered ‘purple passion’ — that one was popular during my junior high years, used in phrases like “I hate her with a purple passion.” There are ‘black moods,’ too.

      It’s interesting that single colors seem to predominate. I’ve never heard anyone refer to their mixed feelings as ‘argyle’ or ‘houndstooth.’

  6. I like the blues, but my awareness of it is more from Robert Cray and the movie, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? You’ve done a great job here of explaining the origins of the blues so I’ve learned something. I clicked on Red’s House Party and am now swaying in my office chair, grooving on the tune.

    1. One of these days I need to watch O Brother, Where Art Thou. There are a number of songs in that film that I like, a lot. I love the history of the blues, too, and have been fascinated for years with blues singers. One thing that strikes me is how accessible they are — like so many singer-songwriters. I just happen to have a photo for you of Red himself. Wouldn’t you like to go to a house party at his place?

  7. This was delightful reading, Linda — thank you. Perhaps during this time of pandemic, when we start bemoaning that so many things have changed and we’re unable to get together the way we want, we should remember that so many have had it worse than we, yet have managed to put on a genuine smile and overcome bitterness. Music is a great place to start!

    1. Music is a great place to start, and one of the things about ‘homemade’ music — blues, Cajun, gospel, folk of various sorts — is that it doesn’t require much beyond a voice and a back step. If you want to add a guitar or harmonica, great. A banjo will do, and an old washboard can add to the percussive beat. But there’s no need to get dressed up, buy a ticket, and travel to someplace else to listen to others make music. That’s enjoyable (this post is proof of that!), and making music with others is a wonderful experience, but in the end it’s not necessary. As an old blues guitarist once said to me, “If my dog howls along with me, that’ll do.”

    1. I was pleased with this piece myself, Derrick, and I’m glad it pleased you. Once the music gets inside of us, it’s going to come out: one way or another.

    1. This trip was one of my best, and this is only a snippet from a whole bevy of experiences. I died a little inside when I read that Threadgill’s had permanently closed. Between that place and the Broken Spoke, Austin’s provided some good music experiences, too. I never made it to the Armadillo World Headquarters, but we can’t do everything.

      1. Yeah, another bit of old Austin gone. I hadn’t been there in a while, but I’m sorry it’s ended. I went to the Armadillo just once, early in college, and heard Stevie Ray Vaughan.

    1. I may not be able to make it to far-away and exotic locations, but then again — exotic’s in the eye of the beholder. Anyone who’s seen the details of a dragonfly’s eye knows that, and it’s the details that make for good travel and good writing: as you so well know and demonstrate.

  8. I felt like I was there, especially when I clicked on the link. What a wonderful moment you captured, and what wonderful music. It is inspiring, to say the least, to learn what these men have done with what life has dished out to them.

    1. That’s wonderful, Melissa. You would enjoy the festival tremendously, and not only because of the music. That t-shirt that T-Model’s wearing is a reference to Stan Street’s Hambone Gallery, a music and art venue in Clarksdale. There’s a little about him in the link and some example of his art. He’s another original, and the gallery is great fun.

    1. I know you won’t take it amiss if I tell you the first thought that crossed my mind after reading your comment was that Job was a master of the spoken blues! I’m far less blue myself thanks to your visit. I do hope all is well, and that you and your family and friends are healthy and happy in this odd time.

      1. To my regret, some of my friends are quite unhappy, and this affects me too. But on a personal level, all is well. And I am grateful for the opportunity to see with my own eyes a miraculous experience. Thank you for your good wishes.

        1. You’ve reminded me of an early line in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet: “I am neither happy nor unhappy; I lie suspended like a hair or a feather in the cloudy mixtures of memory.” In times such as these, memory will do when circumstances become a challenge. Shalom.

    1. I’ve often given thanks that Clapton was so influenced by Robert Johnson. Clapton once said in an interview, ” “I was definitely overwhelmed [by Johnson’s music], but I was also a bit repelled by the intensity of it. It was so much more powerful than anything else I had heard or was listening to. Amongst all of his peers I felt he was the one that was talking from his soul without really compromising for anybody.” I’d say CeDell and T-Model did a pretty good job, themselves.

  9. These Clarksdale bluesmen had hard lives, but the music shines. I’ve admired blues from afar, from recordings, and not up close and in situ as you have. Thanks for giving us the history, and especially the links to the music.

    1. When I think of musicians I really enjoy, regardless of genre, they’re the ones who have a lived connection to their music. These bluesmen certainly qualify, as do the Cajuns and Creoles. Bluegrass and western swing, too. There are others, of course, but those enliven — they’re “roll down the windows and crank up the volume” music. It’s past time for a road trip!

      1. Short of a road trip, have you ever see the music documentaries by Les Blank? They aren’t concert documentaries, he went to the musician’s front porch and hung out with a handheld camera. He did documentaries of cajun music, blues, and other subjects beginning in the late 60s. Some of them are available online.

        1. I hadn’t seen any of those documentaries, but when I went looking on Amazon, I found some real gems, including one featuring some Creole musicians from Lawtell, Louisiana. I’ve been to Lawtell, although I only passed through, but it’s in the heart of some good music country. I’ll look forward to doing some more exploring.

            1. I’ve heard about that festival. I suspect it has a few things in common with the Rabbit Festival in Iowa, Louisiana: good food, pretty girls, lots of music, and some very interesting attendees.

  10. Wow, what an awesome piece of writing, Linda. I’ve always enjoyed the blues, as a genre not a lifestyle, and much of the music out there is the more popularized recordings with so much going unnoticed by all but the locals. During the reading I was hoping you’d share a link to some of what I was hearing in your words and you delivered as I suspected you would.
    It is amazing the way people bounce back from every calamity and don’t let the world get them down. Life is over too soon no matter our age and we can choose to enjoy it or dwell on the negative things in our lives. These men showed us the way to travel. CeDell’s unwillingness to let his infirmity dictate his ability and T-Model’s recovery from any number of unfortunate circumstances and injuries are fine examples of keeping going no matter the obstacles. Of course this tale needed to be told and thank you for doing so. Our little complaints pale compared to what these two men and many others overcame on a daily basis.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Steve. I’ve seen some renditions of things titled “Quarantine Blues,” and believe me — the only thing they have in common with the blues is the use of the word ‘blues’. Just moaning and groaning about this or that isn’t the blues –not in the sense that these men knew them, at any rate.

      On the other hand, a lot of us who’ve spent time with a guitar perfecting a lick know how it can wash away everything else. For me, it was Leadbelly’s version of “Black Girl” on his 1953 album, Rock Island Line. I had a twelve-string, and I was going to learn that intro, no matter how much time it took. Eventually I did — even back in the day when repeating a line required moving a needle — and today it’s as much a part of me as the music was for these guys. Hand me a guitar, and I’ll play it for you.

      1. That’s great that you were able to learn Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line”. For me it wasBill Broonzy. I never did learn the songs and eventually recognized that I wasn’t born to be a guitarist. But I still have mine and do fool with it sometimes. If we ever Skype or Zoom I’ll ask you to show me.

        Yup. You can’t sing or play the blues unless you’ve lived them. Although a few come close.

        1. The likelihood of me skyping or zooming is negligible, although I did have a video chat with my aunt a few days ago. We both agreed it was quite the technological marvel, and handy, and nice enough — and we’ll do it again — but it’s just not the same as being together in person.

          1. Oh, I agree. Obviously now is not the time. I’ve mentioned that I hope to make a grand tour through Texas into the S.F. area and up into Washington but that is far off. I have my doubts that I will ever pull that off but at least it is something I am thinking about.
            Mary Beth used to work in Hartford, CT with a woman from Australia. She moved back there to take care of her elderly mother but Mary Beth is able to Skype with her periodically which makes them both happy. I used to Skype with a few folks, Andrew in HK for one, but kind of hated Skype and removed it from my computer. It seemed every time I scanned for issues Skype was listed several times.

            1. That’s one reason my cousins choose Duo for my aunt. It’s extraordinarily simple to use, and they’d had such problems with Skype that they finally opted out as well. I did watch a bit of our city council meeting on Zoom a couple of weeks ago, but some other virtual events that were going to use Zoom had technical difficulties, and had to be cancelled. From what I’ve read, increased traffic hasn’t really been a problem, but inexperienced users might be.

            2. Zoom has had a lot of security issues as well. Mary Beth has tried coordinating her MS support group meetings with Zoom but they are a bit hesitant. Skype worked out okay for them last meeting after a bit of hassling. I think they’ll try Zoom next time. I’ll look into Duo but that sounds like one on one rather than one on four or more?

            3. It is one on one, but that’s perfect for my aunt, who’s as techno-phobic as they come. Trying to carry on a conversation with one person can be trying enough for her. Two or more would lead to a quick end to the conversation.

            4. Mary Beth is that way with groceries. If what she wants is right there it’s great, otherwise too much stimulus and she comes home without. ’tis why I do the shopping.

    1. That you thought so pleases me, Joared. Of course that’s what I was attempting to do — capture the essence — but words are slippery. Sometimes we think we have them corralled, and sometimes we realize later that we didn’t. I was pleased with the way this word-herd behaved.

  11. I love music in all shapes and forms, so maybe not unexpectedly I immensely enjoy this post. Blues is as American as it can get, isn’t it. And it seems like CeDell Davis and T-Model were some great advocates for the genre.

    1. Over the years I’ve come to know your love of music (and have been introduced to some new artists, thanks to you!), so it doesn’t surprise me that a post dedicated to the blues would appeal. I’m glad you enjoyed it. One by one we’re losing some of the best musicians, but the music lives on, and it’s great to see the young ones carrying on the traditions.

  12. That was quite an enjoyable post and I learned a lot. I do enjoy listening to the blues, even though I don’t know that much about it. My eldest daughter lived on Mud Island for several years, about 1 mile from downtown Memphis. When I visited her I’d walk to Beale Street, to the CD stores, and ask them to give me the best blues CDs they had. I bought quite a lot of them and enjoy listening to them while driving from Nashville to Atlanta. Nashville is called “music city” but it’s mostly country music, Memphis is more the blues which I prefer. You are so knowledgeable on the blues. It was a treat to read your post.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Your time in Memphis must have been enjoyable, and I can’t think of anything better than driving from Memphis to Atlanta with blues as the soundtrack. I often choose traveling music by the area of the country I’m exploring: Cajun and Creole in Louisiana, western swing in Texas, string band music in Utah, Tejano in south Texas. There’s something about it that begins to open up the countryside, and give a sense of place.

      If you’d gone south out of Memphis on Highway 61, toward Clarksdale, you’d have been traveling the road where blues singer Bessie Smith was in the auto accident that took her life. The hospital she was taken to in Clarksdale is a hotel now, but there’s a nice tour of the place and a bit of history here.

      I have a personal connection of sorts to Helena, though not to its juke joints. My gr-gr-grandfather began his Civil War service there as part of the 34th Iowa. After an unsuccessful attempt to surprise the Confederate forces downriver, his regiment went on down to Vicksburg and took part in that famous battle, before heading off to Louisiana and Texas. I have the complete itinerary of his regiment’s movements throughout the war — some day I’d like to follow that trail, as well as the blues trail.

  13. This is a magnificent post. You have opened my eyes. The only player I had ever heard of was Muddy Waters. I can truly say that until now I have never heard the blues played.

    1. Well, then — it’s about time you heard some blues, Friko. I’m happy you enjoyed the post, and I’m glad I got over my shyness about taking people’s photos. That one of CeDell and T-Model is a gem, and made the perfect illustration. Now that they’re both gone, it’s even more of a treasure.

  14. What a marvelous recounting of a magical moment! Sometimes music simply spirits people away. It is a wonder to behold, and I am glad to read your witness.

    1. Thanks, Allen. We do talk about being ‘transported’ by music, and it’s true. Sometimes it carries us to the past, and is filled with memories. Other times, it energizes, and helps us move toward the future. But in the best instances, it takes us out of time — at least, for a time!

  15. I’d like to thank you for this post because it’s been an education for me. You have so much knowledge of these musicians and their backgrounds.

    The Blues genre is so full of life lessons. The musicians and their lyrics narrate life’s mishaps and the solace they find in overcoming obstacles and singing about them. For me, it’s beautiful. It’s one of this country’s National treasures, along with jazz and other musical styles which are unique to this land.

    1. I absolutely agree that the blues is ‘our’ music in a way that perhaps no other genre except jazz replicates. Of course there are roots elsewhere, but both are distinctly American, and wonderful. Even musicians like Eric Clapton, who is as immersed in the history of blues as anyone, has talked about how difficult it is to replicate the music. His ‘Robert Johnson sessions’ are terrific, but listening to him talk about the genius of Johnson and others is quite an experience.

      1. Some of the female vocalists were great too, such as Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. They just had a much rougher life at an earlier age and being women didn’t help much either.

            1. Thanks so much for the link. How sad was the life of that woman and your post is so comprehensive and interesting as it covers so many interesting parts of her life. What’s terrible is that part about when she died and they didn’t know where to burry her. I also saw you old kitty!

            2. I smiled at your mention of Dixie Rose. More than a few times during these past weeks I’ve thought about how much more pleasant life would be if she were around! Still, I have the birds and squirrels now — a lot of them — and they’re quite interesting and fun, too.

              I’m so glad that Bessie Smith finally got the respect she deserved. For some reason, re-reading that story brought to my mind something I was told when I was in western Kansas. Out on the prairie, you’ll occasionally see small rises in the land that don’t seem to match the surrounding landscape. It seems that when someone from one of the wagon trains died, there was nothing to do but bury them, right there. Those unmarked graves still can be seen: signs of human presence, though without names or histories.

            3. I also remember my old pets. I know we will meet again. The fact that they pass away doesn’t mean they’re gone forever.

  16. While I haven’t visited Memphis or Clarksdale or even a local juke joint, I was lucky enough to see B.B. King play at County Hall in the early 70’s. It was an experience I’ll never forget. I enjoy listening to the blues to this day.

    1. Now, that would have been right up near the top of my list of great blues experiences (real or imagined) — lucky you, indeed. Speaking of listening to the blues, how are things in the hearing department these days? I hope over time you’ve been able to appreciate music a little more.

      1. I’m really enjoying my music,, now that my cochlear settings are pretty much finalized.

        It has to be studio recordings. I found that I don’t get good enough sound quality with live recordings. I just bought the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Circle album on CD. I have it in vinyl but Hubby got rid of our turntable. Why, I don’t know.

        I was head banging in the truck to Jethro Tull on the way to work this morning! I’ve got some Beatles, some Miles Davis, some Allman Bros, 3 Dog Night, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, The Doors, some Mozart, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Santana. I’m pretty eclectic, though still a bit in the oldy moldy goldy genre. I want to hear my favorites! Need to get some BB King.

        Most of what I’ve bought I’ve found in the $5.00 bargain bin at Walmart. If it doesn’t compute with my cochlears, I haven’t lost a bunch of money on the CD. That Circle album was almost 30.00.

        1. That’s such good, good news. As for live performances, I’ve had some of the same issues, and my hearing’s still at the “can eavesdrop from three tables away” level.

          Now that I know you’re good with studio recordings, I’ll add a link to a song about the blues that I know you’ll remember, and probably will enjoy! Got your whistler ready?

  17. Your prose always takes me on a delightful journey. Given that my usual travel schedule will likely be interrupted, at least I can experience virtual travels.

    1. There are a lot of us who are chafing a bit under travel restrictions, particularly when being with family or friends is at issue. Still, I suspect it won’t be long before some of that changes, too — particularly for those whose desired destinations don’t involve air travel. We’ll see. In the meantime, virtual travel can have a lot going for it!

    1. I’m glad I choose a subject that’s appealing to you, Tom. I do try to be open to current musical styles, but listening to music shouldn’t be a chore, so I tend to return to my favorites: a nice mix of Mozart, Moody Blues, and Muddy Waters — among many, many others.

  18. I know I’m slow getting to this, but I always love to read your work when I have plenty of time to take it in and mull it over. This is probably one of my favorites that you’ve written. The blues have always appealed to me. Something about it pulls deeply and resonates. But what stuck with me this morning was, “live like a tree”. I’ve got to get on the mower for several hours today, and you just gave me a huge subject to ponder!!

    1. Oh, gracious. You’re not the only one who’s slow. I’ve still got several of your posts to enjoy. I’m finally getting my routines re-established a bit, and finding a little more time to catch up with things. It’s been good to be able to keep working, but I finally realized that some of my exhaustion wasn’t from the physical work as much as from trying to adjust to all the new routines. Well, on we go!

      Living ‘like a tree’ — rooted, grounded, open to the sky, adaptable — seems like a very good model for life right now. It’s always been interesting to me that some people, like these bluesmen, who seem like the best possible candidates for an early departure from this life, actually hang on for good, long times. Anything they have to say about the best way to live is worth considering, as far as I’m concerned.

  19. What a journey! and I didn’t even have to leave the house. Music – so simple, so powerful, so universal. Blues – so inclusive, so forgiving, so raw. And the tree! Profound wisdom can be gleaned from nature – I will remember that quote for the rest of my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This post made my morning.

    1. First, thanks so much for stopping by, and thank you for such a wonderful comment. Music is universal, and its power to affect us is substantial. At some point in the midst of our recent circumstances, I simply turned off the news and social media, and turned on the music, and remembered anew how immensely cheering it can be: even the blues has the power to send the blues running away! Certainly these men learned the lesson, and we can learn from them.

  20. What a musical moment you captured so very well in this post!
    Our local music scene is so far from Mississippi, our version of blues is lips in the cold.
    Having said that, though, there are moments when a musician around here really gets the moan and bends it so I can hear good, bad, ugly, gorgeous, breath and death. I’ve heard a hymn or two sung that way in these parts.
    Hard lives have led to great music. I’ve been lucky to sample some of it. Thanks for adding another compelling tidbit.

    1. Given current weather conditions on the Gulf Coast, your comment about blue lips gave me a smile. Granted, we reach for our heavy coats when it gets below 40, but cold is cold however it’s experienced, and it’s no fun.

      One of the things I didn’t fully appreciate when I went on my Delta blues tour is that the Mississippi hill country has its own version, and its own fine musicians. Someday, I’d love to get back to the state and explore the land of Fat Possum Records, the outfit in Oxford that released a whole lot of good music.

      Interesting that some of the best urban blues coming out of Texas is from someone who surprised me: Rodney Crowell. I’ve always thought of him in terms of “Stars on the Water” and “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” but his new releases are terrific. He’s always celebrated the east side of Houston (the port, rail yards, petro-chemical plants and so on) in a way that those of us with some history there appreciate (I still eat at the Tel-Wink from time to time), and his “Telephone Road” is a perfect time capsule. Still, for bone-chilling, true-to-life blues, nothing beats “East Houston Blues.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.