Review: M for Mississippi

Posted on: Saturday, Nov 8, 2008

M for Mississippi

M FOR MISSISSIPPI – A Road Trip through the Birthplace of the Blues

The DVD M for Mississippi was released on Saturday October 11th at a packed first public showing at the Delta cinema in Clarksdale in Mississippi.

It was the brainchild of two enthusiastic young men Roger Stolle of Cathead Delta Blues and Folk Art and Music Store in Clarksdale and Jeff Konkel of Broke and Hungry Records of St Louis both of whom are firmly committed to the maintenance of the raw rural blues still surviving in the Mississippi Delta.

It is based on a weeklong journey that the two men made in the Delta earlier this year with musician and sound recorder Bill Abel and film maker Damian Blaylock trying to capture “the real deal” blues in the juke joints, the front yards, house parties and cotton fields with all the sounds, sites and images.

The film opens with an amusing take on how to make a film set to Big George Brock’s song M for Mississippi and then introduces Mr Tater, the Music Maker a local Clarksdale resident and celebrity more than a regular musician whose main proclamation is that he doesn’t like George W Bush!

Day 1 continues with Terry “Harmonica” Bean at Ground Zero Blues Club and Wesley Jefferson at the Stovall Plantation where he used to work, following on to a gig at The Doo Drop Inn juke joint in Shelby.

Day 2 saw the crew move to Como to interview guitarist RL Boyce at a house party at his home complete with some local characters and Steve “Lightning ” Malcolm joins him on guitar and drums.

The next day sees the crew move south to the town of Leland, home of Pat Thomas, son of late bluesman James “Son” Thomas. Like his father, Pat is also an artist and sculptor of interesting collectable pieces of work.

Down the road in nearby Greenville, one of the real characters of the area, James “T Model” Ford is interviewed at his home. Often quite cantancerous, “T” served time on the chain gang at the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman Farm, for murder and he talks of the hatred he had for his father who used to beat him and his mother. He is joined on drums by his 10 year old son Stud on the recorded track.

Day 4 introduces us to The Mississippi Marvel thus named to protect his identity. This is due to the conflict he has with playing blues music and his role as deacon of his local church. His identity is thus a sworn secret but his CD is now available on Jeff Konkel’s Broke and Hungry label.

Moving on to Bentonia the crew then visit one of the legendary juke joints of the Delta, The Blue Front Cafe and its owner Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, probably the last exponent of the Bentonia style of blues made popular by Skip James and Jack Owens.

The crew then move on to Renova the next day to meet 82 year old harp player Cadillac John who performs regularly with Bill Abel, before moving back to Clarksdale and to Sarah’s Kitchen juke joint to meet the eccentric Robert “Bilbo” Walker who has modelled himself on Chuck Berry but was prevented from performing any of his songs for the film by Berry’s attorneys – a rather unnecessary gesture.

The final two days were spent at Clarksdale juke joint, Red’s Lounge to meet the lovely gentleman Robert Belfour and then to the home of 80 year old LC Ulmer in the town of Taylor. A fine musician who makes the point that Elijah actually sang the blues in The Bible – I’m not sure how well that point would be accepted in some blues circles!!

It is worth noting that the out takes and edited portions of the film are also very amusing and entertaining.

All in all, this DVD is a first class documentary on what is actually happening today in the Mississippi Delta and I hope it will encourage any blues fan to actually make this sort of trip.  Congratulations must be offered to the producers for their excellent work – in time this film will a memorable document of a sadly diminishing era.

To purchase the DVD contact :- www.mformississippi.com
Also check www.cathead.biz and www.brokeandhungryrecords.com

PETE EVANS



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Ken

November 8th, 2008 at 10:15
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This week’s Blues File from WXPN is all about this DVD release.

http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast.php?id=510165

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Pete Evans

November 8th, 2008 at 23:07
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I’ve just realised I’ve stated that 10 year old Stud was T Model Ford’s son – in fact he’s his grandson – apologies.

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Mike G

December 11th, 2008 at 18:17
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Just happened to be in Clarksdale to not only to attend the ‘world premier’ of this film but to meet the artists performing before, after in the Ground Zero Blues Club and again on the Sunday morning for a ‘mini fest’ in the street.
If you love the raw blues you just HAVE to go and see, hear and ‘feel’ for yourself.
Bilbo Walker is a real character and at 74 years old can still outperform many a younger performer. L C Ulmer is a lovely person and I urge you to get the dvd and see his emotion in the song ‘Rosalee’.
I promised Roger & Jeff I would ‘shout about it’ when I got home and to that end sent copies to Paul Jones – but to date no response but not being ‘in the business’ I dont have the contacts!!

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Pete Evans

December 11th, 2008 at 20:57
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Mike G – Couldn’t agree with you more. The DVD is a superb taster to something unique. I think Ken who was a Delta virgin on the last trip will agree that there is something special about the area.
I’ll just recount you a tale about an evening that Paul Taylor and I spent in the Walnut St Blues bar in Greenville a couple of years ago. T “Model” Ford was playing to a virtually empty bar with every song culminating in a slug of Jack Daniels. After three hours the whole bottle had been drained and it was time for him to leave so Paul and I helped him with his amp and guitar to his car.
Being concerned that he was driving home having drunk more than any of us normal beings could manage I said ” Go carefully now”
He replied “Don’t worry – I’ve got my buddy with me”
I said “Who’s that then” – at which point with speed that belied his 82 years and the bottle of Jack Daniels, he brought out his flick knife and with the blade two inches from my throat said “This is my buddy! any motherf….r gets within 5 feet of me, I’ll cut him!”
He then gave a big grin and said “Kinda scared you then didn’t I!”
I think it was at this point that I lost my voice as I tried to croak a reply.
That’s as raw as it gets and certainly wouldn’t happen in Worthenbury!!
I can’t guarantee that this sort of event happens all the time but a night in a juke joint like Red’s lounge or a blues bar like the Walnut street is certainly an experience that you will never forget so if you do get the chance to visit this area, please grab it while you can.

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Ken

December 12th, 2008 at 18:29
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You are quite right Pete. There is something special about the region. I am really looking forward to going back one day.