Blues country

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta is a vast, inland delta or floodplain stretching from Memphis in the north to Vicksburg in the south, and miles deep in rich, alluvial soil. Rocks, such as this rip-rap along the bayou in downtown Cleveland, Mississippi, are a valuable commodity.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

“As for surrealism, I think there’s more of it in the blues [than in jazz]. The early stuff, especially. Most people know Bessie Smith and perhaps Robert Johnson, but there are many others. Incredible verbal invention. What one would call ‘jive,’ but also eroticism, the tragic sense of life. If the blues were French, we’d be studying it at Yale.”
Charles Simic (interview with Sherod Santos)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

“Some of my blues is kinda sad blues ’cause sometimes I be feeling down and out. And I know some other womens do too. I play them so it will hit somebody. The songs are for anybody that listen to it – so I can tell ’em. … Shotgun, everywhere I play it, everybody like it. It’s just kinda of you’ve been mistreated and you want to blow somebody away. [laughs]. The other one is about nosy neighbors. They talk about you all the time. See, I got a lot of neighbors talking, lie, go on about me. They all the time lying and going on. And I just sat out in the yard and made a record about them. Turned the amplifier up as loud as I could get it so they could get the message.”
Jessie Mae Hemphill (1991 interview)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Nearly 400 families lived on the Dockery plantation in the 1920s, when the style of guitar blues later associated with Clarksdale (and still later with the South Side of Chicago) first took shape. Blues researcher and native Mississippian Gayle Dean Wardlow: “It may at first seem fantastic that three of the very best bluesmen – [Charley] Patton, Son House, and Willie Brown – should have been on the same plantation at the same time. However, once we accept [Patton’s sister] Viola’s statement that Patton taught them all, it no longer seems so remarkable…. Brown was Patton’s closest disciple. Son House, with his dark brooding singing and strange chording, started a following of his own.”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Parchman Farm, still one of the most brutal prisons in the United States. David Oshinsky:

The most common offenses – fighting, stealing, “disrespect” to an officer, and failure to meet work quotas – were punishable by five to fifteen lashes. Escape attempts carried an unspeakable penalty: a whipping without limits. One superintendent recalled a mass breakout in the 1930s in which a trusty-shooter was killed. “To get confessions,” he said, “I had whippings given to the eight we caught who weren’t wounded. Before the young ringleader confessed, I had him lashed on the buttocks, calves, and palms, then gave him fifteen lashes on the soles of his feet. This cleared his mind.”The number and severity of whippings depended on the sergeant in charge. “Book rules” meant little in the field camps, which were fiefdoms unto themselves. The sergeants worked in relative isolation. Some of them were alcoholics; a few were sadists. “They beat hell out of you for any reason or no reason,” an inmate remarked. “It’s the greatest pleasure of their lives.” Above all, the sergeants were under pressure to make a good crop, and that meant pushing the men. “What can you expect in the way of judgment at fifty dollars a month?” asked one prison official. “What kind of foreman on the outside [is] employed at fifty dollars a month? They usually pay foremen more than anybody else, the man who works the men, but that’s what they pay here – fifty dollars a month!”

Oh listen you men, I don’t mean no harm
Oh listen you men, I don’t mean no harm
If you wanna do good, you better stay off old Parchman Farm

-Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White, “Parchman Farm Blues”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Amber waves of foam on the Mississippi River at Rosedale

Lord, I’m goin’ to Rosedale, gon’ take my rider by my side
Lord, I’m goin’ to Rosedale, gon’ take my rider by my side
We can still barrelhouse baby, on the riverside

– Robert Johnson, “Traveling Riverside Blues”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Eatery in Rosedale

“Blues taught me a number of things. How to tell a story quickly, economically. The value of gaps, ellipses, and most importantly, the value of simplicity and accessibility.”
– Charles Simic

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Crossroads at sunset, Bolivar County, Mississippi

“The world’s still standing like it was a million years ago. Sun still comes up and goes down, wind still blow from the four corners of the earth, the stars still shine. It’s the peoples that live in the world that’s got it so messed up.”
– Big Jack Johnson (1991 interview)

Leave a Reply