• Jimmy “Duck” Holmes will perform at The World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on October 22nd with Terry “Harmonica” Bean. I talked with him in July 2011 at The Briggs Farm Blues Festival. •
Jonny Meister: So, Jimmy, you’re from Bentonia, Mississippi, where there’s a lot of great blues; I guess the biggest name from there is Skip James. Is there a style in Bentonia – – a Bentonia style – – ?
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes: Yeah there was a style of music the guy you just mentioned, Skip James, played in. In later years, I guess, he kinda carried it to the world, adopted a style that’s known as the Bentonia blues or the Bentonia style of blues. Until this day it is still a popular style of blues; now why I don’t know. But some say it was the way the guitar was tuned, which was a real, real odd tuning at that particular time, and Skip James and another guy named Jack Owens and another one by the name of Henry Stuckey, which was older than Jack, and Skip, and they said that the guy by the name of Henry Stuckey who never did any recording was the one who actually created it. Of course, they say that Jack Owens and Skip James was trained or kind of mentored by Henry Stuckey.
JM: Now, who taught you?
JDH: Well I really learned – – my first guitar … introduced to it by the guy by the name of Henry Stuckey who, ah, started it off. I was around nine or ten years old, and he was my neighbor. He played and that was the first time I got kinda curious about what a guitar was and what it’s supposed to do, and, like I said, that was back in the mid to late ’50s. During the mid ’60’s I kind of picked it up again and started kind of messing around with it, and in the late 60s or early 70s I came acquainted with a guy called Jack Owens, who also played the same style of music, and from then on to here I am today.
JM: Now I know that you have a club and your family owned it, didn’t they?
JDH: Yup, my family had the club originally named, which is still the name of it today is The Blue Front Cafe, and they came on board, started it, back in 1948, and they named ran it from 1948 – – of course, my father passed in 1970; my mom continued to run it until 1970; that’s when I come on board. Matter of fact, it was – – my management and ownership of it had its forty-first birthday this past first of July.
JDH: and it’s never been closed and it’s 90% original, just like it was from the day I can remember.
JM: And is it all blues in the club?
JDH: All blues, not on a regular scheduled basis, but this time of year somebody pops in. Now the instruments always there – – somebody pops in and says, Let’s jam,” or something like and that, they hook it up, they hook it up.
JM: Now tell me about your own career; what kind of work did you do? Have you always been full-time with the club and music or did you do other work?
JDH: No, I stayed full-time with the club for a number of years and, of course, with the big shopping malls and the interstate highways bypassing most of your little small towns in the South, clubs kind of faded out with a lot of the farm work which at one time was a lot of manual labor which required a lot of your locals who work in the fields and on the farm. The modern technology kind of pushed – – the farm was still there, but it doesn’t require a lot of manpower like it used to be, and they guys got jobs in the big cities, and kind of moved on, and of course, the shopping malls and so forth kind of put the back town, a little smaller town, grocery stores and general merchandise, kind of put them out of business.
JM: So where does that leave you? What have you been doing?
JDH: Well I work – – things got kind of slow at the Blue Front back in the, say, late 70’s early 80s, I started working in a local school system; that’s where I am to this day.
JM: and what are you doing for them?
JDH: in a department called Parental Involvement.
JM: Nothing to do with music, though?
JDH: No, no, nothing to do with music
JM: Oh, okay. So, how many places have you gone? Like some blues musicians from Mississippi have really traveled the world with this blues ticket; have you done that?
JDH: Well, not to the extent a lot of them have; lot of them I’ve declined. I don’t like to fly, folks, I’m afraid of dyin’.
JDH: I’m still afraid of dyin’; you die in your bedroom, you die in the restroom, you die in the kitchen.
JDH: You know, some people have a phobia about doing certain things; it’s just the flyin’ part I don’t like – – not that I’m afraid to fly because I had an engagement in New York, I flew up there and a couple more places, just I don’t like to fly, but if it become necessary, I will.
JM: Uh huh
JDH: Mmm hmmm … like I say, I’ve gotten invited to Europe several times, ah, any number of times I’ve been invited to go, you know. It’s just so recently that I really, really learned what the music was all about, the music that I play. I had no intention of ever going public with it or for the sake of entertaining or for the sake of making no money off of it, I just did it.
JM: What made you decide to do it for a career?
JDH: Well, really just happened a couple of years ago that it really dawned on me how important the music I play is to America. You know, so, they was telling me that I was the only person that was still playing original, Delta, country blues, acoustic soloist. And, as far as my, what I can see from when I go places like I say you don’t see anybody doin’ what I do.
JM: You do have a distinct style, definitely.
JDH: I mean, they pick out a drummer, a bass player, a piano player, or a harmonica player. Sometimes I’ll invite somebody to come sit in with me, but my motto: “If the show don’t go it because I didn’t show.”
JDH: Not because my bass player, piano player, harmonica player – – if the show don’t go it because I didn’t show.
JM: Now I gotta ask you where you got the nickname “Duck.”
JDH: I seriously, I don’t have the slightest idea, but as far as I can remember they called me “Duck” and my fans call me “Jimmy Duck!”
JM: You mean even before you were playing? Just when you were a kid?
JM: Oh. And you don’t even remember how you got that nickname?
JDH: My mama had a certain reason. I really never asked. And it was just here recently – – when I say “recently” the last seven, eight years that I been asked the question, “Why do they call you ‘Duck,'” I don’t know.
JDH: In all honesty, I don’t know. Not slightest idea.
JM: Well, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, thanks so much for talking with me.
JDH: My pleasure, my pleasure.