Blues veteran Hezekiah Early is associated with Natchez, Mississippi, and with the towns on the other side of the river, like St. Joseph and Ferriday, Louisiana. Folklorist David Evans was involved with a couple of albums made by Early’s band Hezekiah and the Houserockers, but his earliest roots were in Black fife and drum music, a genre that we usually associate with parts of Mississippi further to the north. Nevertheless, the influence of the fife and drum style can be clearly heard in much of Hezekiah’s drumset work. Since the 1990’s, Early has been working in duos with musicians such as Elmo Williams and Fayette, Mississippi-based Robert “Poochie” Watson, with whom he cut the Broke-and-Hungry Records release Natchez Burning. This latter duo was the one that appeared this year at the Juke Joint Festival, performing at a new venue called Our Grandma’s Sports Bar, which was a small but cozy venue that set a most appropriate atmosphere for the music. Early and Watson’s style is a soulful, rhythm & blues-influenced one that owes much to New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana. Although the venue was not particularly crowded when they began playing, it soon filled up to capacity. Their performance was one of the highlights of this year’s festival.
Terry “Big T” Williams is a modern Clarksdale bluesman and sometimes operator of a juke joint on the southside of Clarksdale on Madison Avenue. He records for the Broke & Hungry label out of St. Louis, which is run by Jeff Konkel in conjunction with Roger Stolle of Cat Head. His style of blues is remarkably traditional for a modern bluesman, and his shows typically include vocals from Rip Butler and a female singer named Gladys. His performance Saturday at the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival was quite enjoyable.
Unfortunately, the ultimate theme of the film is the ways in which the Mississippi juke joints are dying out and fading, and so the movie focuses ultimately on one, the legendary Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale owned by Red Paden, a juke that simply has refused to die. So ultimately, We Juke is a bittersweet film, beautiful in its celebration of Mississippi’s African-American folklore, but with the ominous clouds of loss looming on the horizon.
After the screening, Roger graciously took our questions and discussed some of the making of the film.