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Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61

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Desert Dancer 02 Nov 09 - 09:18 AM
Desert Dancer 02 Nov 09 - 05:09 PM
Amos 02 Nov 09 - 06:50 PM
katlaughing 02 Nov 09 - 09:48 PM
Desert Dancer 03 Nov 09 - 10:27 PM
bobad 03 Nov 09 - 10:43 PM
Janie 03 Nov 09 - 11:00 PM
Bobert 05 Nov 09 - 07:59 AM
Desert Dancer 24 Aug 11 - 10:50 AM
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Subject: Book: Give My Poor Heart Ease
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 02 Nov 09 - 09:18 AM

Recently on NPR (I didn't hear it, but found it online): Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61 - text summary and book excerpt, plus link to longer audio story

This is about U of North Carolina professor William Ferris's book, Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues, a compilation of short memoirs of the musicians he recorded in the '60s and '70s. "In Give My Poor Heart Ease, Ferris tells the story of each musician in his or her own voice, using material from his old tapes and transcripts."

The excerpt given is from B.B. King, and I think it's worth pasting here:

In '49, I was playing in a place called Twist, Arkansas. It's about forty-five miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee. We had a good time there every Friday and Saturday night. In the wintertime, we had a big container — looked like a garbage pail — and we would sit it in the middle of the floor. They would fill it about half full with kerosene — down home they call it coal oil — and they would light this fuel. This was all they had for heat. The people that was used to coming to this place would dance around this big container. You could get about seventy-five or eighty people in there at once, but some nights we would have two, three hundred people. We had what we called the "coming and going crowd." People would come in, get hot dancing, and walk out. Then others would come in.

This particular night, two guys started fighting, and one of them knocked the other one over on this container of kerosene. When he hit it, it spilled all over the floor. Everybodystarted trying to put it out, and that made it burn more. Everybody started making for the front door when they figured they couldn't put it out, including B. B. King. But when I got on the outside, I remembered that I'd left my guitar inside and I went back for it. Guys told me not to do it. The building started to collapse around me, and I almost lost my life trying to save my guitar. The next day we found that two men got trapped in rooms above the dance hall and burned to death. We also found that these same two men were fighting about a lady, and we learned that the lady's name was Lucille. I never did meet her, but I named my guitar Lucille to remind me never to do a silly thing like that again.

Instruments weren't very plentiful in the area where I grew up. We felt a need for music, so we would put up a broom wire. Usually we would nail it up on the back porch. In case you're not familiar, brooms had a kind of straight wire wrapped around the straw that would keep the broom together. We would find an old broom — or a new one, if we could get it without anybody catching us — and take that wire off of it. We would nail it on a board or on the back porch to one of those big, thick columns, put the wire around the two nails — one on this end and one on the other — and wrap it tight. Then we would take a couple of bricks and put one under one side and one under the other, and stretch the wire and make it tighter. We would keep pushing the brick — stretching the wire, making it tight — until it sounded like one string on a guitar.But it was only one. By putting your hand on it in different places, you actually could change the sound of it. Some guys did it a little different than that. They would use a piece of steel like they do on a steel guitar with a bottleneck.

We used to take rubber strips from an inner tube that was inside your tire. This was very flexible rubber. We would cut it up in small strips and put them on a stick. You could tighten that, and we would take small pieces of rock or a piece of wood and put that on as a bridge — same thing we used those bricks for on the wire on the wall. Sometimes we would put two or three of these, or four or five, and sometimes six — like a guitar on a board — and then we would go and cut a stick. We would saw this like you would a violin. It made a very nice sound, and we would fret it with our hands as if it were a violin. If you put a little water on it and made it a little slick on the stick, you really could get a sound out of it. People did that.

There were other ways of making musical instruments. Guys would take a couple of spoons, and they would beat them together. We would also take a comb, a big heavy comb, and put thin paper against it. You could blow that. You made music that way also.

Usually, in the average home, there was an old guitar with strings broken, and in order to play this guitar we would make wooden clamps. We would put the wooden clamp on down below, where we had the string tied, and that would make the string sound good.

If you were living like I did, a harmonica was about all you could afford. There was a big company that you could order things from — Sears Roebuck. One fellow that had gotten rich was able to get him a guitar. When I say rich, he had been to the army and been mustered out and paid. Later on, he decided that he wanted to sell his guitar, and he was going to sell it for fifteen dollars. The family I was working for was pretty nice about paying me for farmwork, so I paid five dollars the first month, five dollars the second month, and five dollars the third. To me, it was the greatest thing that had ever been created because it was my guitar.

From Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues by William Ferris. Copyright 2009 by William Ferris. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.

~ Becky in Tucson

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Subject: RE: Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 02 Nov 09 - 05:09 PM


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Subject: RE: Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61
From: Amos
Date: 02 Nov 09 - 06:50 PM

That is a really fine story, first class!!


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Subject: RE: Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61
From: katlaughing
Date: 02 Nov 09 - 09:48 PM

Becky, thank you for that! WOW!

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Subject: RE: Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 03 Nov 09 - 10:27 PM

One more bump.

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Subject: RE: Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61
From: bobad
Date: 03 Nov 09 - 10:43 PM

The documentary movie "Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen" made by William Ferris can be seen here:,80

"An account of the blues experience through the recollections and performances of B.B. King, Son Thomas, inmates from Parchman prison, a barber from Clarkesdale, a salesman from Beale Street, and others.

Give My Poor Heart Ease is one of a series of films made in Mississippi in the mid 1970s by William Ferris and the Center for Southern Folklore and produced in association with Howard Sayre Weaver. This field work is the basis for Ferris's 2009 book Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues."

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Subject: RE: Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61
From: Janie
Date: 03 Nov 09 - 11:00 PM

Becky, thanks so much for posting this.

Bobad, I just discovered last night.   I expect it will keep me busy for quite some time. I noted this documentary, among many others, that I look forward to watching.

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Subject: RE: Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61
From: Bobert
Date: 05 Nov 09 - 07:59 AM

Interesting story... Folks do forget that BB King wasn't always this successful Chicogo styled bluesman...

I've heard some stories about juke joints... There was one that was especially cool outside o' Como, Mississippi that was owned by the late Junior Kimbrough... I burned down many years ago but was the juke joint for all the British blues-rockers, including the Rolling Stones... I've seen where it was but ain't nuthin' there no more...

I did get an opportunity to spend a long night at Wild Bill's in Memphis a few years back... The in-an-out that BB talks about is the real deal... The door was always busy... Wild Bill would stand by the door taking $5 a head and no matter how many peoples cvame in that night he would remember who paid and who didn't, meaning you could pay and go out to cool down and he'd remember you when you came back in... The joint really began to smoke around 1:00 in the morning...

Met the late Sam Carr when I was in Mississippi at his shotgun shack off Highway 61 north of Clarksdale... He had been the drummer for John Lee and alor of others over the years... He was talkin' about being the door man at the jukes when he was a young man and said that was the hardest job... Not only did ya' have to do what Wild Bill did in collecting money at the door but you also had to protect that money... Sam said that all the door guys carried a pistol in their belt... Of course, didn't matter if someone got shot back then 'cause the law might arrest the shooter but come Monday mornin' the farm owner would come and get ya' outta jail and stick youb ack in the field...

People say that Greyhound bus don't run
Yeah, people say that Greyhound bus don't run
I say, People, come to West Memphis, Arkansas
An' look down Highway 61...

Ol' hillbily bluesman gotta go now...

Bobert (alias Sidewalk Bob)

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Subject: RE: Saving The Sacred Blues Of Highway 61
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 24 Aug 11 - 10:50 AM

Ha! On Facebook, the Southern Folklife Collection (Facebook link) posted a link to this interview with Bill Ferris on American Public Radio's, The Story, and so I Googled Mudcat to see if anyone had posted about the book before -- yeah, me!

The Story is a great radio show. I haven't listened to this one yet, but will soon.

~ Becky in Tucson

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