The Death of Nelson Street

About halfway between Jackson’s Farish Street and Memphis’ Beale Street was Greenville’s Nelson Street, the Main Street of the Black Mississippi Delta. Lined with professional offices, cafes, pool rooms, juke joints and churches, Nelson Street was the place that Black people went in Greenville for nearly everything, from business to pleasure. One place on the street in particular stood out, a legendary blues club called the Flowing Fountain, which had been open just a few short years ago.

Nelson Street began to fall on hard times in the early 1990’s, when crack hit Greenville like a ton of bricks. There had been a lot of comings and goings between the Delta and Chicago, and soon the infamous Chicago gangs were in Greenville streets, and gang graffiti began appearing on Nelson Street bricks. Open-air crack markets and drive-by shootings followed. With Greenville like a war zone, most of the jukes and clubs on Nelson Street closed, and most of the ones that remained decided to shift their focus to a younger crowd, hiring DJ’s to play rap and hip-hop. The one exception was the Fountain, which billed itself “The Blues Capital of the World” and featured local talent like the legendary Roosevelt “Booba” Barnes. Occasionally, tourists defied the warnings from their hotel desk clerks, and ventured to the Fountain for an authentic blues experience. But the presence of rap clubs nearby and the frequency of gunfire in the neighborhood took its toll. Stud Ford, the grandson of the late bluesman T-Model Ford said that the Fountain ended up closing because its older patrons were scared to venture into the area because of the kind of clientele the other clubs nearby were attracting.

The building still sits proudly and a little sadly at the center of what was once the business district. The front has been painted with a sort of gallery of important Black Greenvillians including “Boogaloo” Ames and “Booba” Barnes. Nearby, a historic marker explains the significance of Nelson Street. But there is nothing here anymore but nostalgia. A club on Walnut Street a couple of miles away claims to offer live blues on weekends, but it doesn’t book anyone well-known, and tourists have learned to make their way to Clarksdale if they are searching for the blues. Despite a storied past and great potential, Greenville’s Nelson Street is only a memory.

Jimmy Duck Homes’ Legendary Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia


As we headed into the Delta from Jackson, we came to the little town of Bentonia in Yazoo County. Bentonia might be small, but it’s a big place indeed when it comes to blues, being the hometown of legendary Mississippi bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, and his famous juke joint the Blue Front Cafe. I have never been inside the cafe, but I have been to the Bentonia Blues Festival, which is great from a music standpoint, yet one of the hottest music festivals ever, held in an open field devoid of trees with no shade to speak of at all. The festival was once held at the Blue Front, but law enforcement harassed attendees, so it moved to a location north of town. It is said that Holmes occasionally opens up the Blue Front and plays there, but I have never been able to determine exactly when that happens.

The Hill Country Blues Continues: Cameron Kimbrough and Joyce Jones Live at The Dirty Crow Inn

I had seen that Cameron Kimbrough, the grandson of Hill Country blues legend Junior Kimbrough, would be playing at The Dirty Crow Inn on Saturday night, but I had a gig of my own on the University of Memphis campus, so our decision to go to Cam’s gig was something of a spur-of-the-moment thing after my gig was over. Little did we know that we were in for an amazing blues experience in the little funky dive bar in South Memphis.

Of course, Cameron Kimbrough has been getting attention for several years as a powerful new voice in the blues, and his mother, Joyce Jones, who is an excellent blues singer, has been working on her debut album. But I was surprised to see the venue so packed with blues fans, particularly as it is a venue that doesn’t usually book blues, and it is in a somewhat out-of-the-way location.Cam was performing on drums when we arrived, joined by some local guitarists including Moses Crouch, a really-young harmonica player from North Memphis, and his mother Joyce Jones. They were set up on the enclosed deck, and there was hardly a table available, the crowd a combination of blues fans and basketball fans in town for the sweet sixteen tournament at the Fed Ex Forum. Unlike a lot of blues shows, much of Cam’s set was jamming, with songs being improvised extemporaneously on the spot, Joyce Jones adding vocal riffs that occasionally became something like song titles, perhaps.

When Moses Crouch came back on stage for the second set, the style was a little more orthodox, with familiar Hill Country tunes like “See My Jumper Hanging Out On The Line” and “Coal Black Mattie”, which Cam played on the guitar. But he also followed the traditional blues song with an original called “I’m Still Standing”, which highlights Cam’s unique ability to craft new material that still belongs firmly to the Hill Country tradition. As midnight approached, the crowd began to dwindle, but the music remained as strong as ever, powerful, relentless. We left, feeling that something of real importance had just happened in a hole-in-the-wall in South Memphis. It just might be possible that Cameron Kimbrough is the future of the Hill Country blues. (You can buy Cam’s debut EP Head For The Hills here and can listen to Cam’s earlier recordings here).




.

Memphis Soul Legend Don Bryant Performs With The Bo-Keys at Loflin Yard


Once in a while, a local music show gets announced which I just cannot miss, and the announcement of a Don Bryant show with soul revivalists The Bo-Keys was just such a show. Better yet, it was being held at Loflin Yard, one of my favorite Memphis venues.
Don Bryant is one of Memphis’ forgotten soul geniuses. Originally a member of Willie Mitchell’s group The Four Kings, he recorded a number of soul sides for Joe Coughi’s Hi label during the 1960’s, but ended up becoming better known as a staff writer for the label, with “I Can’t Stand The Rain”, recorded by Ann Peebles in 1973 becoming his biggest hit. Bryant married Peebles in 1974, and soon disappeared from popular music. There were rumors that both Bryant and Peebles had transitioned to gospel music, and a few gospel releases appeared under Bryant’s name. Peebles would occasionally return to blues and soul music, but Bryant did not, at least until embarking on the recording of a new album “Don’t Give Up On Love” for the Fat Possum label out of Oxford.
Friday night’s show at Loflin Yard was primarily a showcase of the new songs, backed by Scott Bomar’s Bo-Keys, the highlight of which was a funky gospel tune called “How Do I Get There?” which is the single from the forth-coming album. Despite the drizzly weather, the venue was fairly crowded, and Bryant, at 74 years of age, was still in great form and voice, a consummate performer. And thanks to the Bo-Keys ,featuring such Memphis legends as drummer Howard Grimes and keyboardist Archie Turner, the backing sound was authentic, with live horns and real instruments, and no modern anachronisms. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear authentic Memphis soul music as it was intended to be heard.

Fine Dining and Blues at Leland’s Vince’s Restaurant


R, L, Boyce’s second show of the night was an hour south of Clarksdale in Leland, Mississippi, a rough Delta town just outside of Greenville. Leland, with lots of projects and apartments, and a largely abandoned downtown, is not the sort of place one would expect to find fine dining, and yet, amidst all the decay and ruin is a jewel of a restaurant called Vince’s. Pulling up at night, you’ll notice it, because it’s the only building on Main Street where any cars are parked. It looks small and unassuming from the outside, but inside, it is white tablecloths and great steaks, seafood, and Italian dishes. But what makes Vince’s even more special is what happens next door in the bar area- a decidedly non-upscale style of music, Mississippi blues. At least one travel site says that Vince’s features music 5 nights a week. I’m not sure about that, but they have blues on weekends for sure, so you can enjoy your ribeye or spaghetti while listening to some of the best bluesmen from the Delta or the Hill Country. Prices are reasonable, and the service is first-rate as well. Vince’s is certainly worth a stop whenever you are in the Mississippi Delta.

Vince’s Restaurant
207 N Main St
Leland, MS 38756
(662) 686-2112
Closed Monday and Tuesday

R. L. Boyce Brings The Hill Country To New Orleans

001 Sherena Boyce & Michael Bateman004 R. L. Boyce & Friends006 Sherena Boyce009 The Circle Bar010 Sherena Boyce & Amy Verdon013 R. L. Boyce015 R. L. Boyce016 R. L. Boyce017 R. L. & Sherena Boyce018 R. L. & Sherena Boyce019 R. L. & Sherena Boyce020 R.L. Boyce & Friends021 Sherena Boyce and Friends022 Sherena Boyce and Friends023 Sherena Boyce and Friends024 Sherena Boyce and Friends025 Sherena Boyce and Friends026 Sherena Boyce and Friends027 R. L. Boyce & Friends028 R. L. Boyce029 R. L. Boyce035 R. L. & Sherena Boyce036 R. L. & Sherena Boyce037 R. L. & Sherena Boyce and Friends038 R. L. & Sherena Boyce and Friends039 R. L. Boyce and Friends040 R. L. Boyce & Friends041 R. L. Boyce042 R. L. Boyce043 Sherena Boyce044 Sherena Boyce045 R. L. Boyce050 R. L. & Sherena Boyce052 R. L. & Sherena Boyce054 R. L. & Sherena Boyce056 R. L. Boyce057 Sherena & R. L. Boyce064 R. L. Boyce067 R. L. Boyce & Friends
It was perhaps a strange night for Hill Country blues in New Orleans. It was raining heavily. Mardi Gras parades had led to road closures and gridlock across portions of the city. And the NBA All-Star events were going on at the New Orleans Arena. But at the Circle Bar on St. Charles, a small crowd braved the rain and parade aftermath to enjoy the music of Hill Country legend R. L. Boyce, playing with a backing group of local New Orleans musicians. The Circle Bar, located on Lee Circle in the Warehouse District, is a very small venue which books a rather eclectic music schedule on a regular basis, with events ranging from classic rap and hip-hop DJ parties to Mississippi bluesmen like Boyce or Duwayne Burnside, New Orleans classic bands like the Iguanas, or rock groups. It doesn’t sell food, and has almost no room or parking, yet its music policy is free-wheeling and worth checking out. Despite the gloom of the rain, the crowd was in a festive and cheerful mood, many of them decorated with Mardi Gras beads, and some of them dancing to the trance-like grooves that Boyce played on his guitar. R. L. was joined by his daughter Sherena, who danced and played the tambourine, and with a guitarist, bassist and drummer. The show, having started at 11 PM, didn’t end until 2 AM.

Breeze Cayolle and The Mighty Souls Brass Band at Lafayette’s

001 Lafayette's Music Room002 Lafayette's Music Room003 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans004 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans005 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans006 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans007 Breeze Cayolle008 Breeze Cayolle009 Tim Goodwin010 Tony Thomas011 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans012 Breeze Cayolle & Tim Goodwin013 Breeze Cayolle014 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans015 Breeze Cayolle016 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans017 Breeze Cayolle018 Breeze Cayolle019 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans020 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans021 Breeze Cayolle & New Orleans022 Breeze Cayolle & Tim Goodwin023 Mighty Souls Brass Band024 Mighty Souls Brass Band025 Mighty Souls Brass Band026 Mighty Souls Brass Band027 Mighty Souls Brass Band028 Mighty Souls Brass Band029 Mighty Souls Brass Band030 Mighty Souls Brass Band031 Mighty Souls Brass Band032 Mighty Souls Brass Band033 Mighty Souls Brass Band034 Mighty Souls Brass Band035 Mighty Souls Brass Band036 Mighty Souls Brass Band037 Mighty Souls Brass Band038 Mighty Souls Brass Band039 Mighty Souls Brass Band040 Mighty Souls Brass Band
Lafayette’s Music Room is a reincarnation of one of Memphis’ best-beloved music venues of the 1970’s, but the latter-day version has something of a New Orleans tinge, both with the cuisine and often with the music as well. This past Wednesday, both featured bands presented different aspects of the musical traditions of the Crescent City. Multi-reedist Breeze Cayolle, a distant relative of jazz great Sidney Bechet, has a group called New Orleans, whose musicians are ironically some of Memphis’ best-known jazz musicians, including Tony Thomas on piano, Tim Goodwin on bass and Tom Lonardo on drums. They play traditional New Orleans jazz, occasionally venturing into the world of jazz standards as well, and have developed a following at the weekly brunch at Owen Brennan’s in East Memphis. Some of that same crowd was in evidence Wednesday night, sitting at the tables nearest the stage and even getting up periodically to dance. Cayolle is a first-rate saxophonist and clarinetist, and he sings with a husky tone that exudes the flavor of New Orleans.
The Mighty Souls Brass Band on the other hand is something rather different, although they share Tom Lonardo with Breeze Cayolle’s group. The Mighty Souls take their cue from the brass band revivalism that started with the Dirty Dozen and the Rebirth in New Orleans, with the main difference being the occasional covers of Memphis soul tunes, such as Rufus Thomas’ “Memphis Train” or Willie Mitchell’s “20-75.” Like some New Orleans brass bands these days (notably the Stooges), the Mighty Souls replace the separate snare and bass drummer with a set drummer, and add a guitar, at least indoors, but there is a tuba and plenty of horns, and if they lack the hardcore street edge of the younger, Blacker bands in New Orleans, they compensate with consummate musicianship and plenty of good spirits. Although Memphis does not have a modern brass band tradition by any means (W. C. Handy notwithstanding), the MSBB has developed a very loyal following, and have released a debut CD called Lift Up Your Mighty Souls on the University of Memphis-related Blue Barrel label.



Leo “Bud” Welch and Friends at Red’s in Clarksdale

1631 Leo Bud Welch1634 Leo Bud Welch1635 Leo Bud Welch1636 Leo Bud Welch1638 Red's Juke Joint1639 Leo Bud Welch1640 Leo Bud Welch1642 Leo Bud Welch & Sherena Boyce1643 Leo Bud Welch & Sherena Boyce1644 Red's Juke Joint
After the screening of the last film of this year’s Clarksdale Film Festival (which was appropriately enough a documentary about Leo “Bud” Welch), my girlfriend and I headed around the corner from the Delta Cinema to Levon’s to get a dinner at what has become Clarksdale’s greatest restaurant. But an after-party in honor of Leo was being held down at Red’s Juke Joint, the legendary spot near the corner of Sunflower Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King, so as soon as we had finished dinner, we made our way there. Red’s is always the perfect ambiance for blues, and although the weather was cold outside, the inside was warm and cozy, perhaps due to the large and ever-growing crowd. Leo performed a couple of sets accompanied by his own musicians, and was then joined by Arkansas bluesman Lucious Spiller, who recently moved to Clarksdale from Little Rock. When we left near midnight, the party was still going strong.

Kicking Off A New Year with R. L. Boyce & Lucious Spiller at Red’s in Clarksdale

1520 R. L. Boyce1521 Sherena & R. L. Boyce1522 Sherena & R. L. Boyce1523 R. L. Boyce1524 R. L. Boyce1525 Sherena Boyce1526 Sherena Boyce1529 R. L. Boyce1530 R. L. Boyce1533 Sherena Boyce1534 Sherena Boyce1535 R. L. Boyce1536 R. L. Boyce1538 R. L. Boyce1541 R. L. Boyce1542 R. L. Boyce1543 Sherena Boyce1544 R. L. Boyce1545 R. L. Boyce1546 R. L. Boyce1547 Sherena Boyce1548 Sherena Boyce & R. L. Boyce1549 Sherena Boyce1550 R. L. Boyce1551 R. L. Boyce & Lucious Spiller1552 R. L. Boyce & Lucious Spiller1554 R. L.'s Drummer1555 R. L.'s Drummer1556 Sherena Boyce1557 Sherena Boyce1558 R. L. Boyce & Lucious Spiller1559 R. L. Boyce & Lucious Spiller
On the first Saturday of the new year, a cold day indeed, my girlfriend and I headed down to Clarksdale to eat at Levon’s and enjoy some blues at Red’s Juke Joint. This was our first occasion trying Levon’s, and in my opinion, it is the fine dining restaurant that Clarksdale has been needing. R. L. Boyce was playing at Red’s, but when we arrived, some of his musicians had not shown up, and there wasn’t much of a crowd. But Arkansas bluesman Lucious Spiller has recently moved to Clarksdale from Little Rock, and he agreed to go get his guitar and amp to play with R. L., and soon there was at least a trio of two guitars and a drummer. On some tunes, R.L.’s daughter joined him on stage playing the tambourine and dancing, and toward the end of the evening, they were joined by a musician playing a bass made out of a plastic bucket, a mop handle and a string. By then the crowd had grown fairly large, despite the cold weather outside. It was a great way to start off 2017- with the blues.

R. L. Boyce & Lightnin Malcolm Live at Antone’s

1392 Austin106 R. L. Boyce & Stud107 Stud & Lightnin108 R. L. Boyce109 Sherena & Lightnin111 Sherena & Lightnin112 Sherena & Lightnin113 R. L & Sherena Boyce114 R. L. Boyce115 Sherena, Stud & Malcolm116 R. L., Sherena, Studd & MalcolmJPG117 Sherena & Lightnin118 R. L., Studd, Lightnin & Sherena119 R. L., Stud, Lightnin & Sherena120 Sherena & Lightnin121 Antone's122 Lightnin Malcolm123 Antone's124 Antone's126 R. L., Stud & Lightnin127 Lightnin & Sherena128 R. L. & Stud129 Antone's Schedule130 Antone's Marquis131 Stud & Lightnin132 Sherena & Lightnin133 Sherena & Lightnin134 Sherena Boyce & Lightnin Malcolm135 R. L. & Friend136 R. L. Boyce137 R. L. Boyce138 Sherena Boyce1410 Sherena in Austin
When a young Lebanese man from Port Arthur, Texas named Clifford Antone got kicked out (or perhaps dropped out, depending on who you ask) of the University of Texas after a marijuana arrest in 1970, it seemed like an end to a promising career. The Antone family were prominent businessmen in Houston, owning an import firm and a chain of sandwich shops that specialized in po-boys. Other young men might have fallen into a depression, or started on a downward spiral into harder drugs and ruin, but Clifford Antone decided to open a night club. Yet when Antone’s opened in 1975 on a then-moribund East Sixth Street in downtown Austin, it was hardly the kind of club that people would have expected success from, for it was a blues club, and the blues revival had fizzled out by the end of the 1960’s. Nor was Austin well-known for blues, despite a Texas blues legacy that was primarily centered around Houston. But all of the best names in blues from around the country played at Antone’s, and by the time of Clifford Antone’s death in 2006, his empire had added a record store and a record label as well. The record store belongs to other owners now, and the record label was sold to Warner Brothers after a bankruptcy, but the club, despite occasional closures and numerous relocations, remains the absolute best blues club in Texas, and probably one of the best blues clubs in the world. So it was quite an honor for Hill Country bluesman R. L. Boyce to be invited to play there, along with Marshall County bluesman Lightnin’ Malcolm, who has increased in popularity over the last several years. The club was packed to overflowing, despite the cold, rainy weather, and the crowd enjoyed every minute of the proceedings. The drum chair was held by the late T-Model Ford’s grandson Stud Ford, and R. L.’s daughter Sherena provided the juke joint dancing and played the tambourine. Seen in the crowd was noted music journalist Matt Sonzala. It was a great night indeed.