Displaced Deltan Falls in Love with Hill Country Blues. It happens!

Sean Bad Apple at Bluesberry Cafe in Clarksdale. Photo by DB.

Sean Bad Apple at Bluesberry Cafe in Clarksdale. Photo by DB.

By POOR WILLIAM, a tone-deaf blues-aficionado
(Clarksdale, Mississippi) VIDEO and PHOTOS

Familiar tale? “Hey man, we didn’t appreciate what was in our own backyard; now we get it!”

Could be a statement made by thousands of folks recognizing later in life what was inherent at the genesis. For Poor William, it was the blues!

I grew up in a house void of music. It was just not something I ever remember hearing, until I got an 8-track player in Junior High. First few 8-tracks: Carole King’s “Tapestry,” America’s “Horse with no Name,” Captain and Tenille’s “Greatest Hits,” Cat Stevens’s “Greatest Hits,” “Wings Over America” by Paul McCartney, and a Beatles album—I can’t remember which one.

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I’ve always gravitated toward blues-based Classic Rock and Smooth R&B, always Smooth R&B. Except for about a 15-year stint where I didn’t listen to secular music—long story manifests in Poor William’s propensity to travel to extremes.

Painful to admit here, but I would have sent me to hell 20 years ago for the very music I listen to now! Whew…I am glad God doesn’t operate like I do, and I am glad to get that hypocrisy out in the open and off my man-breast chest! I am about a hot mess—always have been!

The skeletons clanking in my closet could wake the dead! The late Southern Humorist Lewis Grizzard wrote, “Elvis is Dead and I don’t Feel So Good Myself!” I guess waking Elvis ain’ such a big deal, I swear I thought I saw him at Red’s Lounge the other night, but then again

I digress…often…

Was I talking about Hill Country Blues? Not yet Bill, not yet, get on to it…

Hill Country Blues musician Lightnin' Malcolm at Shack Up Inn. Photo by DB

Hill Country Blues musician Lightnin’ Malcolm at Shack Up Inn. Photo by DB

In the notorious Sigma Chi basement, where I was given the moniker Chilly Billy—think Lubyanka prison with homegrown— at Ole Miss University, Pride of the South, (can I get a HOTTY TODDY?), I was introduced to Lowell George and Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus album.”

The blues-based band hooked me, though I didn’t really think of it as blues, I just thought of it as cool. The Song Dixie Chicken inspired me later in life to have an email address that began with [email protected]…. and the song, “Fat Man in the Bathtub Singing the Blues” kinda inspired me to get my fat ass out of the bathtub, which was no easy feat, and get to eatin’ less.

After graduating from high school, I worked a couple of summers and a spring break at a local mobile home factory. One of the CEO’s straw bosses used to take me on Friday afternoons to the local bars where only the brothers hung out.  My white bread ass would have a ball shooting bad pool, drinking beer (Schlitz at the time), and listening to some blues, though I didn’t etch it on what passes for a cranial hard drive.

In college, we would often drive from Ole Miss to Blues Alley in downtown Memphis. I don’t remember whom I heard or what songs they sang or usually even the trip home, but I do remember loving the music, the cold beer, and the tamales. Something I didn’t recognize beyond the existential pleasure it provided obviously had a profound affect on me.

JUMP AHEAD A LOT OF YEARS ‘TILL CLOSE TO NOW…

Hill Country Blues musician Sean Bad Apple in Clarksdale. Photo by DB

Hill Country Blues musician Sean Bad Apple in Clarksdale. Photo by DB

I moved back to Clarksdale almost six years ago after a 20-year hiatus out West. My oldest daughter was living with me at the time and attending High School, so I didn’t go out more than a couple of times the entire first year back in the Delta.

I wasn’t immediately  “all eat up with the blues.” My growing affinity roots-based music was organic and evolutionary. Hell, I thought Robert Johnson was Mr. Johnson’s boy, beyond that I didn’t know much. I thought the Crossroads was where two turn rows met behind the levee somewhere. I was ignorant of Delta history, though I was born, bred, and quite well fed right here in river city.

What was the first real hook that I remember? Had to be hearing Lightnin’ Malcolm and Cedric play for the first time at the Juke Joint Chapel at Hopson. The syncopations, energy, two-man-band sound, autonomy, words, lack of political correctness, and always the syncopations…all these factors made me aware of something I didn’t understand, something that dovetailed well with my hot mess self. Plus, I got to see my soon-to-be hot-ass wife getting her “groove thing on” near the stage.

Lightnin' Malcolm in Juke Joint Chapel at the Shack Up Inn. Photo by DB.

Lightnin’ Malcolm in Juke Joint Chapel at the Shack Up Inn. Photo by DB.

I am a bit manic and ADHD at times—ain’t nobody got to voice the following, “At times?”—and have a hard time staying focused on anything for long, so it amazed me that the repetitive nature of Hill Country Blues could hold my attention rapt.

There is just something in the Hill Country Blues sounds that grounds me and I’ll be damn if I know what it is with my tone-deaf self. But, I love it! I think hanging out with Magical Madge, who loves all kinds of music and will dance at the drop of a hat and blues folks always be wearin’ hats, served as a fine catalyst for my “hearing” and beginning to “get” Hill Country Blues.

Hey Poor William, what in the hell is Hill Country Blues? I thought you were in the Delta? You talkin’ about Texas Hill Country?

Hey man, I rarely know what I am talking about, but friend and moonshine aficionado Sean “Bad” Apple does: “Hill Country Blues, a lot of times, focuses on the one chord and stays there. You just stay there and ride it all night long.

Sean Bad Apple at Bluesberry Cafe in Clarksdale. Photo by DB.

Sean Bad Apple at Bluesberry Cafe in Clarksdale. Photo by DB.

Mississippi Blues Trail.org defines Hill Country Blues as follows:

Although Delta blues often claims the spotlight, other styles of the blues were produced in other regions of Mississippi. In the greater Holly Springs area, musicians developed a “hill country” blues style characterized by few chord changes, unconventional song structures, and an emphasis on the “groove” or a steady, driving rhythm. In the 1990s this style was popularized through the recordings of local musicians R.L. Burnside and David “Junior” Kimbrough.

However it is defined, I am all up in it now and it is all up in me! Clarksdale, North Mississippi and blues tourists all around the world are keeping the blues, including Hill Country Blues, alive. Local favorites put their personality into the Hill Country sound, and it is “all good.

Sean “Bad” Apple and the All Night Long Blues Band, the newly formed Juke-Joint-Chapel-playing Snake Drive, Robert “Wolfman Belfour, Lightnin’ Malcolm with T-Model Ford’s grandson “Stud” all ply their Hill Country blues sound in distinct and ever-evolving ways for the initiated and the uninitiated at local hangs like Red’s Lounge, Ground Zero Blues Club, Bluesberry Café on Monday and Wednesday nights, Hambone Gallery on Tuesday nights, and in front of Cat Head Blues and Folk Art, area restaurants, and of course, on street corners.

Lightnin' Malcolm at New Roxy in Clarksdale. Photo by DB

Lightnin’ Malcolm at New Roxy in Clarksdale. Photo by DB

Y’ALL  COME to Clarksdale, where you might just find yourself all eat up with Hill Country Blues right here in the Delta just like Poor William and tens of thousands of others who make the pilgrimage to Mississippi’s Mecca—Clarksdale—birthplace of the Blues! pw

Lightnin' Malcolm in Juke Joint Chapel at the Shack Up Inn. Photo by DB.

Lightnin’ Malcolm in Juke Joint Chapel at the Shack Up Inn. Photo by DB.

Lightnin' Malcolm with Pinetop Perkins making his way across the dance floor. Photo by DELTA BOHEMIAN

Lightnin’ Malcolm with Pinetop Perkins making his way across the dance floor. Photo by DELTA BOHEMIAN

Lightnin' Malcolm in Juke Joint Chapel at the Shack Up Inn. Photo by DB.

Lightnin’ Malcolm in Juke Joint Chapel at the Shack Up Inn. Photo by DB.

Lightnin' Malcolm with friends at New Roxy in Clarksdale. Photo by DB.

Lightnin’ Malcolm with friends at New Roxy in Clarksdale. Photo by DB.

Poor William and Sean Bad Apple in Clarksdale. Photo by DB.

Poor William and Sean Bad Apple in Clarksdale. Photo by DB.

 

 

 


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