Tuesday, April 22, 2008


All right, this is for all you who have said, “Jim O’Neal never says anything.” True, I would rather write words and listen to others’ words than speak them myself, but I do have a limited capacity for speech, and all it takes to get my mouth moving is an invitation to New Orleans, or Mississippi, or Chicago. Or Kansas City, Kansas, for that matter, even though it’s just a few minutes from my house. In fact I’ll be participating in panel discussions, symposiums and conferences in all those places. Want me to come to Texas or Florida or California? How about Acapulco or Hawaii or Jamaica? Call me – I’m easy! Brenda and I will be glad to be your guests.

Are you ready for STARTLING REVELATIONS??!! INSIGHTFUL COMMENTARY??!! Well, don’t count on me, but fortunately, there are some very interesting people on the panels listed below. So come on out and say hello, especially if you want to repay that loan I made you years ago or if you want us to take your Paramount 78s home with us because they’re taking up too much space in your house.

The Cabildo, Jackson Square, New Orleans

Tuesday, April 29
3 p.m. Field Recordings Panel with Joe Bihari, Jim O’Neal, Ben Sandmel, and George Mitchell, moderated by Andria Lisle

Wednesday, April 30
11 a.m. Joe Bihari Oral History. Interviewers: John Broven & Jim O’Neal.
4 p.m. Louisiana Red Oral History. Interviewers: Mike Hurtt & Jim O’Neal

For more on the Ponderosa Stomp concerts and conference:

BLUES & THE SPIRIT SYMPOSIUM, Dominican University
7900 West Division Street, River Forest, Illinois (just west of Chicago)

Thursday, May 22
7:00-10:00 p.m. Opening Plenary (Shaffer Silveri Atrium/Parmer Hall)
Welcome and Invocation
Donna Carroll, President, Dominican University
Janice Monti, Symposium Director
Imago Dei Gospel Choir

Elders Council: Chicago's Musical Legacy
Sterling Plumpp, Professor Emeritus of Literature, University of Illinois at Chicago
Timuel Black, Educator, Historian, Political Activist
Paul Garon, Author, Co-founder of Living Blues Magazine
Jim O'Neal, BluEsoterica Archives & Productions, Co-founder of Living Blues Magazine
Mrs. Willie Dixon, CEO & President, Blues Heaven Foundation
(Convener: Barry Dolins, Deputy Director of Neighborhood Festivals and the Chicago Blues Festival)
(Discussant: George Bailey, Professor of English, Columbia College Chicago)

Reception with music by Larry Taylor and the Family Band

For more details: http://www.dom.edu/blues/schedule.html
Route 66 tent panels

Thursday, June 5:
Chicago Blues Festival 25th Anniversary (with other members of the original Chicago Blues Committee that booked the first festival in 1984)
The Centenarians: Louis Jordan, Tommy McClennan & Blind John Davis (celebrating the 100th anniversary of their births in 1908)

Friday, June 6:
“Sweet Home Chicago”: Anthem or Cliché?

Sunday, June 8:
B.B. King Museum/Mississippi Blues Trail
The Future of the Blues (with Larry Taylor & Nate Lawrence)

For a complete schedule of panels and performances at the festival:

Saturday, June 28:
Kansas City Blues panel

Come support one of the best local festivals in the country. This one was originally modeled after the Sunflower River Blues Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, as a tribute to a rich hometown African-American blues heritage. Come hear some fine blues acts you may not get to hear anywhere else and help the KCK Street Festival maintain its “real deal” policy. Which isn’t always easy in Kansas City . . .

Phone: (816) 529-6538

Clarksdale, Mississippi

Sept. 26:
Clarksdale Blues History presentation



MISSISSIPPI BLUES TRAIL marker unveiling ceremonies

I make it to a few of these events, too – as travel plans develop, I’ll post itineraries. I have put some information on the Mississippi Blues Trail in another post.


THE NATCHEZ BURNING Mississippi Blues Trail marker

Here’s the text for the Mississippi Blues Trail marker that was unveiled on April 18, 2008, in Natchez, at the Natchez Association for the Preservation of African-American Culture (NAPAC) Museum on Main Street, commemorating the 1940 fire at the Rhythm Club, the blues songs it inspired, and the musicians who died there. As usual, we gathered much more material than could fit on the marker. I wanted to mention the 1940 Library of Congress recordings of Lucious Curtis and others in Natchez, the 1941-42 Library of Congress/Fisk University study that was proposed for Natchez but ended up being conducted in Coahoma County and the North Delta, and the many Natchez musicians who have played the blues, from Papa Lightfoot and Cat-Iron to Hezekiah & the Houserockers and Y.Z. Ealey. But luckily there are at least two more markers scheduled for Natchez to discuss the local blues history. We’re also hopeful that our Oxford (Mississippi) research associate Tom Freeland will have some real biographical information soon on the mysterious Geeshie Wiley, who was reported to be from Natchez, but who had family ties in Oxford.

Marker text (front):


One of the deadliest fires in American history took the lives of over 200 people, including bandleader Walter Barnes and nine members of his dance orchestra, at the Rhythm Club (less than a mile southeast of this site) on April 23, 1940. News of the tragedy reverberated throughout the country, especially among the African American community, and blues performers have recorded memorial songs such as “The Natchez Burning” and “The Mighty Fire” ever since.

Marker text (back):


Did you ever hear about the burnin’
That happened way down in Natchez Mississippi town?
The whole buildin’ got to burnin’,
There my baby laying on the ground.

“The Natchez Burning” – Howlin’ Wolf

Few events in African-American history have been as memorialized as the Natchez fire of 1940. In addition to a monument, markers, museum exhibits, and annual local ceremonies in remembrance of the dead, the fire has inspired both prose and poetry, as well as songs by blues and gospel singers. Just weeks after the disaster, the Lewis Bronzeville Five, Leonard “Baby Doo” Caston, and Gene Gilmore recorded the first commemorative songs in Chicago. The most well-known song to address the topic, “The Natchez Burning,” recorded in 1956 by Howlin’ Wolf, led to versions by Natchez bluesmen Elmo Williams and Hezekiah Early, rock performer Captain Beefheart, and others. John Lee Hooker, blind ballad singer Charles Haffer of Clarksdale and Louisiana guitarist Robert Gilmore also sang about the tragedy on various recordings.

The blaze reportedly began when a discarded match or cigarette ignited the decorative Spanish moss that hung from the ceiling of the Rhythm Club (also called the Rhythm Night Club), a corrugated metal building on St. Catherine Street. Windows had been boarded shut, and when the flames erupted, hundreds of frantic patrons stormed the only door. Bandleader Walter Barnes was hailed as a hero for trying to calm the crowd while he and the band continued to play the song “Marie.” When the mass of bodies blocked the exit, victims suffocated or were burned or crushed to death.

Barnes, a Vicksburg native, had moved to Chicago in 1923 and recorded with his Royal Creolians band in 1928-29. He developed a successful career taking his dance music to small southern towns where big-time entertainers rarely performed. In keeping with the musical fashion of the era, by 1939 he had renamed his unit the Sophisticated Swing Orchestra. Barnes recruited musicians from several different states for his final tour. The impact of the holocaust hit home not just in Natchez and Chicago, but all the way from Texas to Ohio when the musicians’ bodies were sent home for funerals. Fellow bandleader Clarence “Bud” Scott, Jr., a guest of Barnes’s, also perished in the flames.

The Chicago Daily Defender, the nation’s leading African-American newspaper, covered the Natchez story extensively. Barnes had also been a columnist for the Defender, and the paper reported that more than 15,000 people attended his funeral. The first monument to the victims was dedicated on the Natchez Bluff on September 15, 1940, by the Natchez Civic and Social Clubs of Chicago and Natchez. A state historical marker was later erected at the former site of the Rhythm Club.


(1) Walter Barnes and his Sophisticated Swing Orchestra, Chicago, 1939. Back row, from left: Calvin Roberts, Preston Jackson, trombones; Oscar Brown, drums; Harry Walker, guitar. Front, from left: Ellis Whitlock, Frank Greer, Otis Williams, trumpets; John Reed, Lucius Wilson, James Cole, John Hartfield, saxes. Standing: Walter Barnes, clarinet. Roberts, Walker, Reed, Cole, and Barnes died in the Natchez fire; Brown survived, but vowed never to play music again. The other musicians in this photo were not with the band in Natchez. Neither was singer Gatemouth Moore, despite stories he told in later years -- Down Beat magazine reported that Moore was in Memphis at the time. This photo came from the collection of Vicksburg drummer Walter Osborne, who carried on the dance band tradition with his group, the Red Tops.

Photo courtesy Blues Archive, John D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi.

(2) Clipping from Down Beat magazine, May 15, 1940:

Walter Barnes, 33, leader, sax and clarinet, Chicago.
Juanita Avery, 20, vocalist, Dallas.
James Coles, sax, Huntington, W. Va.
John Henderson, sax, Augusta, Ga.
Jesse Washington, sax, Chicago.
John Reed, sax, Huntington, W. Va.
Clarence Porter, piano, Ft. Myers, Fla.
Harry Walker, guitar, Cincinnati.
Calvin Roberts, trombone, Cincinnati.
Paul Stott, trumpet, Indianapolis.
Bud Scott, visiting band leader.

Arthur Edwards, bass, Denver.
Oscar Brown, drums, Denver.
Jimmy Swift, bus driver, Chicago.
Walter Dillard, valet, Chicago.

(3) Two women hold a clump of Spanish moss outside the Rhythm Club, which burned when moss used for decoration caught on fire.

(4) The Rhythm Club drew a paid Tuesday night attendance of 557 to dance to Walter Barnes's orchestra, according to Time magazine. The club's wooden interior burned, but the metal structure kept the deadly flames inside. New safety laws were enacted after the disaster of April 23, 1940.

Record labels: “The Natchez Burning” – Howlin’ Wolf (Chess); “The Death of Walter Barnes “ – Baby Doo (Decca); “The Natchez Fire” – Gene Gilmore (Decca); “It’s Tight Like That” – Walter Barnes’ Royal Creolians (Brunswick).

Record labels courtesy Jim O'Neal, BluEsoterica Archives and Chuck Haddix, UMKC Marr Sound Archives.
Natchez photos courtesy Joan Gandy, Eric Glatzer, Darrell White, and NAPAC Museum.
Research assistance: Eric Glatzer, Preston Lauterbach, and UMKC Miller Nichols Library.

SOME . . . of the rest of the story

Some notes not on the marker:

Tiny Bradshaw and his band were originally booked to play the Rhythm Club on April 23, but Bradshaw accepted an offer to play at the Apollo Theater in Harlem instead, and Barnes took the booking.

The 1940 monument to the fire victims on the Natchez Bluff lists all the deceased band members cited in the Down Beat clipping except for John Henderson. James Coles is listed on the monument as James Cole. The Down Beat clipping was actually the same as one that first appeared in the Chicago Defender on May 4, 1940, except for the headline.

All the news reports on the Barnes band cited their name as the Royal Creolians. Barnes had used this name when the band recorded in 1928-29 for Brunswick (which included a couple of covers of blues hits with vocals – “It’s Tight Like That” and “How Long How Long Blues,” in addition to dance instrumentals), and continued to use it in performance. However, the 1939 photo reproduced on the marker is identified as the “Walter Barnes Sophisticated Swing Orchestra,” reflecting the change in musical fashion from hot jazz to swing. News reports also often referred to Barnes “and his band from Chicago,” but as the list of band members showed, only Barnes and saxophonist Jesse Washington were from Chicago; both were originally from Vicksburg. Washington had also played with Ransom Knowling’s Aristocrats of Swing in Chicago, according to the April 15, 1939 Defender. Barnes had developed a routine of heading south for the winter every year and using Jacksonville, Florida, as a base for his tours of the southern states. Barnes was not a major recording artist; he cut only a few singles, and did not record after 1929 – but apparently he didn’t need to; in the tradition of many traveling show bands, dance orchestras, and territory bands, all he needed to do to attract and entertain crowds was to hire good musicians who could play the dance hits of the day.

The Bud Scott who died in the fire was a saxophonist and bandleader from Natchez. He was booked to play a dance in Greenville with his 12-piece orchestra the following week. He was the son of Clarence “Bud” Scott, Sr., who led what must have been a very impressive string band – Little Brother Montgomery recalled that Scott, a Natchez mandolinist, had 14 violinists in the band. Scott Sr. raised his son in Chicago, according to the Defender, and Scott Jr. returned to Natchez, where he had been leading his own group for four years. These Scotts have been confused with the banjo player Arthur “Bud” Scott (c. 1890-1949), a prominent New Orleans jazzman who played with King Oliver, Kid Ory, and others, and who was also based in Chicago at one point, and later in California.

Many histories written long after the fact have incorporated stories told by blues shouter (and later the Reverend) Arnold Dwight “Gatemouth” Moore that he was singing with the band, but survived because he was outside in the bus when the fire broke out. Moore had indeed sung with the band – in the 1930s – but he is not mentioned in any news accounts of the fire, including the short list of musicians who survived the fire, and in fact Down Beat placed him in Memphis, along with former band members Tommy Watkins (trumpet) and Edgar Brown (piano) in a May 15, 1940, article headlined “Ex-Barnes Men Happy They Left Before Tragedy.”

Much more can be written about the various songs dealing with the Natchez fire, but for now, we should point that some erroneous references have been cited at various web sites, including the never-to-be-trusted (but often useful as a starting point) Wikipedia. These songs, for instance, have been given as examples of songs about the fire, but I’ve listened to them and none of them has anything to do with Natchez, a fire, a departed loved one, or any sort of tragic disaster:

“We The Cats Shall Hep You” – Cab Calloway
“For You” – Slim Gaillard
“You’re a Heavenly Thing” – Cleo Brown

A good discussion of songs inspired by the fire (and other events) can be found in Luigi Monge’s chapter, "Death by Fire: African American Popular Music on the Natchez Rhythm Club Fire," in the book Nobody Knows Where the Blues Come From: Lyrics and History, edited By Robert Springer (University Press of Mississippi, 2006). The songs are:
"Mississippi Fire Blues" and "Natchez Mississippi Blues" by Lewis Bronzeville Five, Bluebird B8445, Chicago, May 9, 1940.
"The Death of Walter Barnes" by Baby Doo (Leonard Caston) and the flip side, "The Natchez Fire," by Gene Gilmore, Decca 7763, Chicago, June 4, 1940.
"The Natchez [Theater] Fire Disaster," by Charles Haffer Jr., unissued Library of Congress track 6623-B-2, July 23, 1942.
"The Natchez Burning," by Howlin' Wolf, Chicago, July 19, 1956, Chess 1744.
"Wasn't That a Awful Day in Natchez?" by Robert Gilmore, prob. 1956 or 1957, Plaquemines Point, Louisiana, a track on the LP A Sampler of Louisiana Folksongs, Louisiana Folklore Society LFS-1.
"Natchez Fire" ("Burnin'") by John Lee Hooker, Detroit, April 20, 1959, a track on Riverside LP 008.
"Fire at Natchez (The Great Disaster of 1936)," by John Lee Hooker, March 9, 1961, Culver City, California, a track on Galaxy LP 201 and 8201.
"The Mighty Fire" ("Great Fire of Natchez"), by John Lee Hooker, July 28, 1963, Newport, Rhode Island, a track on Vee-Jay LP 107.
"The Natchez Burning," by Willie Wright, April 7, 1976, Sweet Home, Arkansas, a track on Rooster Blues LP R7605.
"Ice Storm Blues, Parts One & Two," by Big Jack Johnson, 1994, Clarksdale, Rooster Blues cassette R-60C.
"The Burning," by Little Whitt & Big Bo, February 1995, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a track on Vent Records CD VR 30009.
"Natchez Fire," by Elmo Williams & Hezekiah Early, 1997, Waterproof, Louisiana, a track on Fat Possum CD 80313.

Monge mentions two recordings that were released on Rooster Blues Records during the time I co-owned the label. The first, a version of Wolf’s “The Natchez Burning” by Arkansas guitarist Willie Wright, was first released on the Rooster Blues LP Keep It To Yourself: Arkansas Blues, Vol.. 1 – Solo Performances, which is now available on CD (Stackhouse SRC-1910). This was recorded by Louis Guida in 1976 as part of a Bicentennial field recording project, and the title on the original tape was “Madison, Mississippi,” because that’s what Wright is singing, rather than “Natchez, Mississippi.” (Or it could just as well have been "Mattson, Mississippi.") I changed it on the album to “The Natchez Burning” because that’s what the song was, just with a different town name. (Monge transcribes this as “the messy Mississippi town.”)

The other recording, also inspired by Wolf’s Natchez song, with new lyrics sung to the same music, was Big Jack Johnson’s “Ice Storm Blues,” in which the Clarksdale ice storm of 1994 replaces the Natchez fire of 1940 as the topic of disaster (although on a much less deadly scale). This was a cassette-only release in the U.S. although it was issued in Japan on a P-Vine Special CD. It’s among a number of tracks recorded at the Stackhouse Recording Studio (R.I.P.) in Clarksdale that I hope to release on a Stackhouse CD and/or in whatever digital/electronic format is necessary in the coming day and age.

Another recording that transposes Wolf's song about the fire onto another event is "The Burning" by Alabama bluesmen Little Whitt and Big Bo, recorded for Vent Records in 1995: "Have you ever heard about the burning that happened way down in a Mississippi town? Well, those evil people there burned the schoolhouse down to the ground."

As for Wolf’s own recording, “The Natchez Burning,” although it was recorded July 19, 1956, in Chicago, Chess did not release it until November 1959 when it appeared as the “A” side of Chess single 1744. I don’t know the reasoning for this, other than it appears from perusing Wolf’s discography that he was not recording many sessions for Chess in 1959-60, and Chess started pulling some unissued tracks from past sessions to keep the singles flowing. I also thought maybe there was some sort of 20th anniversary memorial to the fire in Chicago in the spring of 1960 and that the single might have been released to coincide with that, but I have no evidence of that. The Defender did run an article about Walter Barnes on the 20th anniversary of his demise.

John Lee Hooker’s first song about the fire, “Natchez Fire," issued in England on Riverside LP 008, was recorded April 20, 1959, in Detroit, according to The Blues Discography 1943-1970. Some have presumed Hooker’s track was inspired by Wolf’s 1956 recording, but unless he heard a pre-release version of “The Natchez Burning” either at a Wolf performance or at Chess, Hooker must have come up with the theme on his own. He had also just done his first version of “Tupelo Blues” (about the 1936 Tupelo tornado – although he depicts the event as a flood) on Riverside (U.S.) LP 12-838, so perhaps the Hook was either inspired, or prompted by the producer, to come up with some topical disaster songs. Hooker, who recorded three versions of this song on various albums, also dated the Natchez fire at 1936, but then he gave conflicting years for his own birthdate, too. (We’ll try to sort that one out when we get to the Mississippi Blues Trail marker for Hooker.)

The Captain Beefheart version of "Natchez Burning" is a 43-second a cappella track from a 1972 radio show at WBCU in Boston, with Beefheart giving his best Wolf voice simulation. This was released on the Grow Fins boxed set of Beefheart rarities, which also includes a few other Wolf songs, and, following the disaster theme, a version of "Tupelo" (in a John Lee Hooker-ish voice, of course) and another blues that mentions a tornado. The British blues-rock band the Groundhogs also recorded "Natchez Burning."

There are many more articles about the fire, which was reported in Time, Variety, Down Beat, and other magazines in 1940, as well as in an Associated Press story that was carried by newspapers all across the country, and of course in all the African-American newspapers.

Time magazine gave the story the jive treatment, focusing on the sponsorship of the dance by the Moneywasters Social Club and concluding with a quote from the bartender whose wife died in the fire: “My old lady looked like a pickle when they brung her out. She burned like a pickle. Dead."

Other publications carried such headlines as “212 Negroes Perish in Dance Hall Fire That Sweeps Structure in Mississippi” (Reno Evening Gazette, April 24, 1940) and “Cries of Burning Negroes Heard For Blocks” (Natchez Democrat, April 24, 1940). The Natchez paper later printed a long list of every person who had donated even 50 cents to the relief and rescue effort.

Preston Lauterbach, who sent some of the Natchez clippings, has a good piece on the Natchez fire and monument at the internet’s best web site for those who want to dig deeper (as in underground) into the historical and living traditions of blues and other roots music, Backroads of American Music: http://www.backroadsofamericanmusic.com/

Keep up with the Mississippi Blues Trail markers as they are unveiled at http://www.msbluestrail.org/

We’d like to turn the marker texts and graphics into a book with expanded comments about everything we DIDN’T get to on the markers - - - publishers, please contact us if you’re interested.

Copyright 2008 Jim O’Neal, BluEsoterica Archives & Productions.

The Mississippi Blues Trail marker project


Mississippi Blues Trail markers installed so far:

1- Charley Patton (Holly Ridge) December 11, 2006
2- Nelson Street (Greenville) December 11, 2006
3- WGRM (Greenwood) December 11, 2006
4- Riverside Hotel (Clarksdale) January 18, 2007
5- Peavine (Boyle) February 7, 2007
6- Rosedale, February 7, 2007
7- Hwy. 10 & 61 (Leland) March 29, 2007
8- Honeyboy Edwards (Shaw) April 13, 2007
9- Muddy Waters (Stovall) April 13, 2007
10- Jimmie Rodgers (Meridian) May 3, 2007
11- Robert Johnson gravesite (Greenwood) May 16, 2007
12- Subway Lounge/Summers Hotel (Jackson) May 30, 2007
13- Son House (Tunica) June 18, 2007
14- Willie Dixon (Vicksburg) June 28, 2007
15- Hickory Street (Canton) July 17, 2007
16- Blue Front Cafe (Bentonia) August 21, 2007
17- Magic Sam (Grenada) August 28, 2007
18- Howlin’ Wolf (West Point) August 30, 2007
19- Memphis Minnie (Walls) September 27, 2007
20- Columbus Mississippi Blues (Catfish Alley, Columbus) September 28, 2007
21- Rabbit Foot Minstrels (Port Gibson) October 9, 2007
22- Tommy Johnson (Crystal Springs) October 19, 2007
23- Bo Diddley (McComb) November 2, 2007
24- Broadcasting the Blues (American Blues Network, Gulfport) November 3, 2007
25- Trumpet Records (Jackson) November 17, 2007
26- Otis Rush (Philadelphia) December 6, 2007
27- Robert Nighthawk (Friars Point) December 13, 2007
28- Elvis and the Blues (Tupelo) January 8, 2008
29- Robert Johnson birthplace (Hazlehurst) January 31, 2008
30- James Cotton (Tunica) February 13, 2008
31- Livin’ At Lula: Charley Patton, Bertha Lee, Sam Carr, Frank Frost (Lula) February 13, 2008
32- Mississippi John Hurt (Avalon) February 23, 2008
33- Red Tops (Vicksburg) March 28, 2008
34- Elks Lodge (Greenwood) March 28, 2008
35- Malaco Records (Jackson) April 8, 2008
36- Rhythm Club (Natchez) April 18, 2008
37- Dockery Farms – Birthplace of the Blues? (Dockery) April 19, 2008

Next marker unveilings:

38- Pinetop Perkins (Belzoni) May 3, 2008
39- Hopson Planting Company (Clarksdale) May 3, 2008
40- Hubert Sumlin (Pillow Plantation, Greenwood) May 6, 2008 (2:00 p.m.)
41- Highway 61, northern end (Tunica) May 7, 2008
42- Alamo Theatre (Jackson) May 22, 2008

Writing texts and researching the history for the Mississippi Blues Trail markers is my main blues project these days. Scott Barretta of Living Blues and I, along with the rest of the editorial and design team (including Dr. Sylvester Oliver in Holly Springs, Chrissy Wilson of the Mississippi Department of Archives & History in Jackson, and Wanda Clark in Greenwood) are generating the text and photos for these historical markers – 37 so far, with about 100 more to do over the next three years.

This has turned into a much more intensive process than any of us imagined when we compiled the marker site list with the Mississippi Blues Commission. Rather than just repeat and rehash previous biographies and histories, we’re using the ever-increasing wealth of data available from online searches, genealogy databases, libraries, local community sources, musicians and their families, the BluEsoterica archives of interviews and subject files, and a super crew of international blues heads including Bob Eagle in Australia, Eric LeBlanc in Canada, and Howard Rye, Alan Balfour, Chris Smith and others in the U.K., as well as the collections at Delta Haze Corp. in Greenwood and the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi’s John D. Williams Library. Collectors such as Richard Nevins of Shanachie and Yazoo Records, Paul Garon, Woody Sistrunk, and Ken Oilschlager have also provided images of record labels and other material. At the top of the back side of the Son House marker at the site of the old Clack Store in Tunica County, for example, is a photo of the only copy known in blues collectors' circles of Son House's "Preachin' the Blues."

The affiliation of this project with the state of Mississippi has opened up new streams of information from the source, as various local officials, tourism directors, historical societies, and chambers of commerce have aided in the search and put us in contact with musicians, relatives, and others involved in the blues (most recently, for example, a cousin of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup in Forest, Mississippi, who took it upon himself to compile Crudup’s family history). In the process of this, we’re finding out that a number of blues artists weren’t born when or where the previously published bios say, and histories are being revised and sometimes constructed virtually from scratch. We’re currently in the throes of unraveling the mangled and tangled tale of Otis Spann, self-proclaimed second lieutenant, medical college student, and pro football quarterback.

Keep up with markers as they are unveiled at www.msbluestrail.org.

We’d like to turn the marker texts and graphics into a book with expanded comments about everything we DIDN’T get to on the markers - - - publishers, please contact us if you’re interested.

See next post for text and additional notes on the most recent marker in Natchez.