Category Archives: Americana

At Home with the Homemade Jamz’ Blues Band

TUPELO, MISSISSIPPI 

The Delta Bus Line took me from Clarksdale to Memphis to Tupelo in search of the Homemade Jamz’ Blues Band – one of the hottest little bands to come out of Mississippi’s north rolling hills since the North Mississippi All Stars.  The terrain up in these parts is dramatically different from the flat plains of the Delta. It jukes and jives in soft, rolling thrusts.  As does their music.  The sound of the north hill country is electrified and the sound is alive.  It comes full circle, right back at you, like a character in a story who changes his ways.

To witness the Homemade Jamz’ Blues Band is nothing short of a religious experience.  Ryan is seventeen, Kyle is fifteen, and Taya has just turned eleven.  Yet the kids are press savvy and no strangers to the road.  All three are gregarious – all three quick on the smile.  They laugh readily, they speak about the joys of family and as such they tend to agree.

I was prepped for my interview by both the Delta Blues Museum at Clarksdale as well as the Blues Foundation in Memphis.  Explained Joe Whitmer of the Blues Foundation, “The Homemade Jamz’ Blues Band ooze the blues when they speak [and] when they sing.”

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Embracing the Economic Blues

 CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

When you walk the streets of Clarksdale, Mississippi, you can still hear the voice of blues legend Robert Johnson – ringing from the shop windows as well as from passing cars.  There’s a revival going on here and it’s all about the blues – about a respect for the first generation bluesmen who are honored and revered. 

But it’s not just about a cultural renaissance.  The blues pays, a concept that folks from all walks of life have begun to latch on to.

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Politics Meets the Blues with Mississippi’s Bill Luckett

CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

Here at Ground Zero Blues Club of Clarkdale, Mississippi, I sat down for a one-on-one interview with Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial contender, Bill Luckett.  In this complete and uncut interview, Mr. Luckett, who co-owns the Ground Zero Blues Club with Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, answered a barrage of questions ranging from the cultural renaissance of the blues to his candidacy for governor.

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At the Heart of the Blues

 

Super Chikan in his Chicken Shack, Clarksdale, MS

Super Chikan in his Chicken Shack, Clarksdale, MS

CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

Am currently in the heart of the Blues smack dab in the Mississppi Delta – in a town called Clarksdale, Mississippi.  Thrilled beyond belief to be working a couple new stories on the blues, including interviews with Super Chickan, the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, and Mississippi gubernatorial contender and co-owner of Ground Zero Blues Club, Bill Luckett.  More to follow soon…

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Sunrise on the Mississippi

SunriseTunicaHighWoke up early this morning in preparation for a 50 mile river run from just north of Tunica, Mississippi to Helena, Arkansas.  Was in the water before the sun first broke, and when she did, I passed my first barge of the day.  This photograph captures a glimmer of  the scene.  The entire hour before this barge I was in absolute wonderment over how beautiful the sky was. On this trip, it’s times like this, when nature quite literally surrounds you, that all of the pain and struggles wash away.  Today there is a current and today is a very good day.

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The Great Migration of Cairo, Illinois

CAIRO, ILLINOIS

The positive voices of Cairo, Illinois are drowning out the exteriors of a now legendary, crumbling Main Street. When one takes the time to step behind this facade, there are a group of local leaders who are putting their best foot forward, hopeful of a future that has no other option but to be bright.

CAIROaMy muse for this story was singer/songwriter Stace England, who dedicated an entire album to the living legacy of Cairo, titled Greetings from Cairo, Illinois. After shooting a rather haunting rendition of “The North Starts in Cairo, Illinois”, Mr. England explained, “When [blacks] were traveling by bus from the South they were separated by a curtain from the white riders … They could take that curtain down in Cairo, because the North started here. So you can imagine people who had lived with segregation their entire lives getting into the land of opportunity [which would have been] a very dramatic thing.”

Yet the land of opportunity, or as Mr. Twain put it, “the promised land,” was not exactly full of promise for all citizens.

My first day in town, Preston Ewing, the City Treasurer and unofficial town historian, explained that before I could attempt to capture a glimpse of Cairo’s future, I’d “most certainly need to understand the past.” Mr. Ewing understands the past of this city as few others do, having served as the president of the local NAACP in the late 1960’s, a time in which Cairo gained national attention as a flashpoint of activity during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

CAIROhCairo, Illinois is geographically important due to its location as the very first city of the North, located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers along the Mason- Dixie Line, a place locals refer to as “the epicenter of the country.” As such, Cairo was referred to as “the promised land” by runaway slaves, headed north. “If you made it to Cairo and crossed the Ohio River, then you could consider yourself to be on somewhat free territory,” explained Bishop Paul Jones, who serves as Alexander County’s Circuit Clerk at the local Courthouse.

Bishop Jones is the first African American to hold the title of Alexander County Circuit Clerk, while Mayor Judson Childs is the first African American to hold the title of Mayor in the City of Cairo. An achievement for the African American community, on a local level, considering the town has been around for the past 150 years.

In the past, there have been two, rather well publicized communities in the town of Cairo – white and black. And yet, as Reverend Ronnie Woods, affectionately known by the town as “Coach”, (a title in reference to his twenty plus years as Cairo High School football coach) is quick to point out, these once separate communities are now coming together.

CAIRObTake a look around, as Mayor Childs would say, “with your eyes and your ears” and one will find that folks here have moved past their racial differences. In only a few short days in town, I was able to witness this firsthand, from the positive energy of the teachers of the Jr. and Sr. High School, to a “20/20 Vision” program embraced by local entrepreneurs and city officials alike, to a number of patrons at the town’s local hangout, the Nu Diner, who confided that Cairo is, symbolically hand in hand, simply moving forward.

Music & Lyrics used with permission by Stace England. Copyright Pearlie Mae Music 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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The Shotgun Restoration Project

CAIRO, ILL

In a town showcased by major media as an epicenter of “urban decay”, it was encouraging to find a group of folks standing up for the historical “shotgun” architecture of the local area. Featured in this video are Professor Bob Swenson of Southern Illinois University’s School of Architecture, his students, Jim Schmidt, 25, and Toni Lettiere, 23, Shandll McGoy, 31, and local “Vision 20-20” entrepreneur, Bill Harrell. According to Mr. Harrell, one “could buy a local ‘shotgun house’ for between $600 to $1500 at auction [plus your own labor + $10,000] to make it livable.” Not a bad proposition for those looking to step into their first home – and save the living history of the community at the same time.

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