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Delta Blues Newsletter

March 31, 2016

Note: From the Museum Director

April is Muddy Month at the Museum - the blues legend was born and died in April (1903 - 1983) and we're celebrating with a month-long series of events (see below).

Photo Credit: Terry Abrahamson

Our Muddy Waters Addition houses the cabin from Stovall's that the former McKinley Morganfield grew up in; the ZZ Top - donated "Muddywood" guitar; another Muddy guitar (a Stella) that was abandoned when the house where he was playing caught fire (or so the letter with it claims; a car just like the one that carried folklorist Alan Lomax to Clarksdale where he made the first recordings of "Stovall's best tractor driver"; and much more: Muddy photos, memorabilia, and, of course, that inimitable life-like statue.

Our "Follow Muddy" biography in the "Explore and Learn" section of the Museum's website uses colorful graphics and authoritative text to outline the great bluesman's life and times. (You can also hear many Muddy tunes while viewing.)

Check out the Muddy Merch from our Gift Shop. This April we're offering a 10% discount on Muddy CDs, DVDs, tee shirts, biographies, and coffee - all month! Our sharp Shop staff looks forward to greeting Museum visitors, and filling your online orders.

Your purchases help support our mission to preserve and present the legacy of the Delta blues - thanks!

Pictured: Laura Mayfield, Richard Crisman (Shop Manager), Shalonda Cooper, and April Shaw

April also means Juke Joint Festival time. The 13th annual edition takes place in downtown Clarksdale on April 16th. There's racing pigs, 5k/8k runs, food and other vendors, and of course, blues, day and night, in and around town. The Museum has a full program of events:

Please note two very special events:

Don Nix Book Signing - Saturday, April 16th at 3:00 pm.

The Memphis blues and rock legend writes about a long career that has involved close associations with Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, George Harrison, Freddie King, Furry Lewis, John Mayall, and many others. Memphis Man: Living High, Laying Low is a memoir about Nix's life and times in Southern music culture, starting in the Sixties. He played sax in the Mar-Keys, the band that scored one of Stax Records first Top 10 hits, and then evolved into Booker T. and the MGs. A prolific songwriter and record producer for Stax, Nix's song, "Going Down" has become a blues classic; it has been recorded by Pearl Jam, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Deep Purple, The Who and many others. As a producer and musician Nix worked with Lonnie Mack, Albert King, Delaney, Bonnie & Friends, the Staple Singers, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and many others. He was asked by George Harrison to organize the 1971 Bangladesh Concert at Madison Square Garden. Nix's stories of living at George Harrison's mansion in England is the cherry on top. This book contains dozens of photographs taken by Nix of the legendary musicians with whom he worked. A selection will be on display in our galleries (see "Exhibits" section below).

Charlie Musselwhite - Sunday, April 17th at 2:00 pm.

The blues harp legend talks about the life and times of Muddy Waters.

Photo Credit: Danny Clinch

If you're in town this weekend, check out the "Mad Mod Affair," which offers an unusual tour of the modernist architecture of the Delta.

In January, I had the opportunity to meet with docents from the Emmett Till Museum in Sumner and students in the Career Cafe at Myrtle Hall Elementary School in Clarksdale. It was wonderful to see the local interest in preserving the history and culture of Mississippi and the Delta. We had an interesting discussion about storytelling and its role in our lives.

Pictured: Career Cafe in action at Myrtle Hall Elementary School

Telling the story of the Delta blues is an ongoing project at the Museum. We've planned new and updated exhibits to display that story to new generations of blues fans.

We have received a Museums for America award from the Institute for Museums and Library Services. The $100,000 grant will allow us to complete the final design of our new permanent exhibits. It's a matching grant, meaning we must raise $100,000 to fulfill it.

Check out our website for how you can help. Thanks for your support!

MSU Alternative Spring Break volunteers in the flood in downtown Clarksdale. Photo Credit: Quapaw Canoe Company.

"Backwater done rose at Sumner,
drove poor Charley down the line
Lord, I'll tell the world the water,
done crept through this town
Lord, the whole round country,
Lord, river has overflowed
"High Water Everywhere, Pt. 1" Charley Patton

Patton's famous blues about the legendary 1927 Mississippi River flood came to life in Clarksdale in March, when the Sunflower River rose 25 feet in 24 hours, its highest-ever recorded level, thanks to 17" of rain in a day.

Luckily, the Museum sits on high ground, located in the historic Illinois Central freight depot, far away from the river.

We're high and dry - come visit us!


Shelley Ritter, Executive Director

This newsletter is supported in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and,
in part, from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

2013 IMLS Award

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Don Nix: Photographs from "Memphis Man: Living High, Laying Low"

Don Nix worked with many artists over a long career as a musician, producer, and songwriter (see notes regarding book signing in "Director's Note"). A selection of photographs from his memoir, "Memphis Man: Living High, Laying Low", is on display in our galleries.

Pictured: Sleepy John Estes by Nix

"Anthony Mostrom: Paramount Portraits"
Drawings from the Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Vol. 1 and 2

Anthony Mostrom, cartoonist, illustrator, and writer, created hundreds of ink portraits of Paramount's recording artists for Jack White's Third Man Records' reissue of the entire Paramount catalogue. The ink drawings were originally published in two "Field Manuals," 700 pages of encyclopedia-style biographies and discographies of 347 musicians.

Paramount Records is one of America's most important record labels. The company's open-door recording policy led it to the nation's blues, jazz, gospel and folk musics, capturing a comprehensive anthology of what the country sounded like in the 1920s-30s.

Grammy Award winner 2015 for Best Special or Limited Edition Package Design.

"Blues Portraits in Steel: Works by Scott Cawood"

Scott Cawood is a self-taught sculptor with a background in blacksmithing and metal fabrication. He reuses and re-purposes scrap and found steel to create his sculptures. For this Museum show, he created portraits of Skip James, Furry Lewis, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Son House, and Howlin' Wolf. Says Cawood, "I've always felt that these Delta Blues musicians were 'Artists' in the truest sense of the word. This series is meant to broaden that understanding. Each of these portraits is an attempt to capture what I hear in each individual's music and express it in their faces."

Cawood has received wide recognition for his sculptures, showing his work in galleries and museums in New York City, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Mesa, AZ, and Maui, HI.

Right: Furry Lewis

"Negro Protest Songs"

Lawrence Gellert, born Laslow Gruenbaum in Budapest, Hungary, collected field recordings in the 1920s and 1930s. He began by making audio recordings, using a makeshift, wind-up recording machine and paper-backed zinc discs; later, he used a Presto tape recorder. Gellert wrote a column for Masses in the '30s, titled "Negro Songs of Protest", which his brother Hugo illustrated with images of lynchings. The columns were eventually collected in a book of the same title. In 1936, Time magazine lauded the "lean, scraggly haired New Yorker" for "collecting Negro songs that few white men have ever heard."


"Gone but Not Forgotten"

Photographs by Billy Johnson, Founder, Director, and Curator of the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland, MS. These pictures capture musicians in behind-the-scenes action at the annual Highway 61 Blues Festivals. Johnson focuses on the musicians backstage and on stage, capturing intimate moments before and after performing, when the artists are enjoying themselves, apart from their onstage personas as public entertainers. Many thanks to the exhibit's sponsors: the Mississippi Arts Commission, Covenant Bank, WADE Incorporated, Oxbow, Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola, Friends of the Delta Blues Museum, and Hunter Paper.

Pictured: T-Model Ford, Paul "Wine" Jones
Photo Credit: Billy Johnson

"27 Years of the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival"

An exhibit of posters that spans the 27 years of the annual Clarksdale event. Lots of names, lots of color, lots of archival photoslots of memories - an eyeful of blues history in a collection of Festival ephemera that are now a valuable record of blues performers and performances.

"Give My Poor Heart Ease"

This exhibit features photos from the book of the same name by pioneering southern folklorist William Ferris who toured Mississippi in the 60s and 70s, documenting African Americans as they spoke about and performed the diverse musical traditions that form the authentic roots of the blues. Here are the stories of blues musicians who represent a wide range of musical traditions--from one-string instruments, bottle-blowing, and banjo to spirituals, hymns, and prison work chants. The book comes with a DVD of rare film of Delta life in the early '70s and a CD of music from the same period. You can buy from our Gift Shop here.



April 14 - 17, 2016 Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale

May 16 - 23, 2016 Deak Harp's Mississippi Saxophone Festival, Clarksdale

August 12 - 14, 2016 Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, Clarksdale

August 12 - 14, 2016 Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, Clarksdale

October 05 - 08, 2016 King Biscuit Festival, Helena, AR

October 15 - 18, 2016 Deep Blues Festival, Clarksdale



Lee Williams, DBM Instructor: Drummer and Teacher

Lee Williams teaches drums in the Arts and Education program. A graduate of the program at age 12, he has taught at the Museum since 2015. Richard Crisman, Museum Shop Manager and a former A&E teacher himself, caught up with Williams between classes to talk about his history of playing and teaching the blues.

DBM: What is your blues background?

LW: I started first playing on buckets when I was about eight years old. Then, when I was 10, I got with Johnnie Billington at the Delta Blues Museum and joined the DBM Band. Mr. Johnnie made me dress nice and watch from the side for almost two years before I actually got to be in the band. I graduated the A&E program when I was 12. Then I went on the road with Mr. Johnnie to perform in Jackson, MS and many other places. In 1995, we performed at the White House.

DBM: Who are some of the musicians you've played with?

LW: When I was 16, I started playing with Josh "Razorblade" Stewart at Sarah's Kitchen in Clarksdale. He gave me the nickname "Pocket Knife" because my drumming was always right in the pocket. After that, I played with Terry "Big T" Williams, Bill "Howl-N-Madd" Perry, Jacqueline Nassar, Lil' Dave Thompson, Big Jack Johnson, Arthneice Jones, Marshall Drew, $Daddy Rich$, Bill Abel, Phillip Carter, James "Super Chikan" Johnson, Tab Benoit, Tommy Castro, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, and many others. In 2002 B.B. King was doing a workshop at MS Valley State. His band broke down, so I got to play drums with BB King, alongside Anthony Sherrod & Marvin Sherrod who were in the DBM band as well.

Most recently I've been performing with Heather Crosse, Super Chikan, and Deak Harp.

DBM: Who are your musical influences?

LW: Some of my influences include Mr. Johnnie Billington, of course. B.B. King, Deion Thomas, Arthneice Jones the "Gas Man", Big T Williams, Sam Carr, Big Jack Johnson, and Harvelle Thomas.

My favorite drummer is Sam Carr. Some others that have really influenced me are Tony Royster Jr. Dennis Chambers, Carter Beauford, Dave Wekel, and Thomas Pridgen with his Gospel licks.

DBM: How did you learn to play drums?

LW: I started out playing on buckets when I was a little kid. Then Johnnie Billington taught me the basics, and I just ran with it. I learned while performing live with the band, and from being around and watching other people play.

DBM: What's it like to teach in a program you studied in?

LW: I started teaching at the Delta Blues Museum April 2015.

It feels good coming back to teach here because, since I was a student and graduated from the program, I know what it takes to make things work.

DBM: What do you think about your students?

LW: Most parents originally brought their kids to the Arts and Education program to keep them out of trouble, so they had something positive to do with their time after school. Some of the students have played a little bit in church or school, but have never tried playing or even heard much blues music. Many of the kids who show up know absolutely nothing when they get here-but they learn fast.

DBM: How do you teach kids with little or no musical background?

LW: I like to teach right on the spot. I teach by showing them, by ear. I start them out with the kick and snare drum, and then start to add in the hi-hat and other pieces. We also teach a bit about blues stories, such as the Robert Johnson legend and how B.B. King's guitar Lucille got its name.

DBM: What have the kids taught you?

LW: They have taught me a lot about patience!

DBM: What are you looking forward to in the program?

LW: I look forward to having some good students and helping them to graduate from the program, just like I did.

The Delta Blues Museum's Band CD, From Kansas City to Clarksdale, Vol. 2,
is available from our Gift Shop: Order here.


Celebrate Muddy Month with gifts from the Delta Blues Museum!

Buy two "Hoochie Coochie Man" tees and get a free "Plantation Recordings" CD.

When you buy from our Shop, you support the Museum. Thanks!

Shop for these items and other blues stuff here.

Muddy Waters CD
The Complete Plantation Recordings
Can't be Satisfied, The Life and Times of Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters
The Definitive Collection CD


Muddy Waters Coffee
Muddy Waters Poster
Muddy Waters Tee


Be sure to visit the Delta Blues Museum Gift Shop for additional items and memorabilia.

Delta Blues Museum Board of Directors
Jim Herring, President
Lera Kinnard, Secretary
Tom Jones
Ralph Simpson
Paul Wilson

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