Natchez bluesman Y. Z. Ealey is 81-years old this May, and is a brother of the much better-known Southern Soul artist Theodis Ealey, of “Stand Up In It” fame. Y. Z., Theodis and their brother Melwyn were all blues musicians from the town of Sibley, Mississippi, just outside of Natchez, but Y. Z. has largely been a factory worker who plays music more as an avocation. Given the extent to which we have been losing our elder statesmen of blues over the last several years, I was determined to catch Ealey’s performance in Clarksdale at this year’s Juke Joint Festival. So I made my way to the Coahoma Collective , which had formerly been Ms. Del’s General Store, where Ealey performed in the courtyard with his band. His style is a swamp-pop infused style which demonstrates the fact that Louisiana is merely across the river from Natchez, and his current band features some younger musicians, and on this occasion, a clarinetist. But Ealey is still in fine form and voice, and his performance was definitely a high point of this year’s festival.
Thursday night, August 1, 2013, the Southeast Ballroom of the Memphis Hilton was the scene for the Jus Blues Music Awards, an annual event sponsored by the Atlanta-based Jus Blues Music Foundation. Although Memphis has a number of blues-related events during the year,this is the only one that is uniquely geared to the blues-related subgenre known as “southern soul”. As might be expected, this year’s awards brought out a number of blues and soul stars, including Theodis Ealey, Latimore, Millie Jackson, Preston Shannon, Drink Small, Karen Wolfe, Bobby Rush, Denise LaSalle any many others, as well as representatives of the Blues Foundation. Between awards, Drink Small performed “Rooster Blues”, and after Latimore was presented a lifetime achievement award, he performed his biggest hit “Let’s Straighten It Out” with the band on stage, and was unexpectedly joined by Millie Jackson who came up from the auidence to sing the second verse. It was truly the high point of the evening.