Hezekiah Early and Robert “Poochie” Watson at the Juke Joint Festival

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, Rip Butler and Gladys #SunflowerBlues2013

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.

Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood at the Bentonia Blues Festival 2013

Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood is a remarkably-versatile blues and soul artist who, like Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and Terry “Harmonica” Bean, records for the amazing Broke and Hungry Records label out of St. Louis. He performs every Saturday night at Jackson, Mississippi’s only juke joint, the Queen of Hearts on Martin Luther King Junior Drive, and can be frequently seen elsewhere in the Delta, especially in Clarksdale. Any performance of his is likely to run the gamut from primitive country blues to electric soul, and is always worth seeing.

Filmmaker and Blues Activist Roger Stolle Discussses “We Juke Up In Here” at On Location Memphis (@olm_trailer)

Sunday afternoon at the Studio on the Square, the On Location Memphis Film and Music Festival screened a documentary called We Juke Up In Here, a sequel to an earlier documentary called M For Mississippi. The film was made by Roger Stolle, a blues historian and the owner of Clarksdale’s Cat Head Delta Blues store, and Jeff Konkel, the owner of the amazing Broke and Hungry Records label in St. Louis. Given the subject matter of the film, Mississippi delta blues and juke joints, I expected to like We Juke Up In Here already, but I hadn’t expected the production to be so beautiful, and there’s really no other way to describe it. The scenes of Mississippi wilderness during travel sequences are vivid, the interviews are frank and informative, and the music, both that played in the jukes and that of the soundtrack is truly incredible.
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.