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Below, listen to a Spotify playlist of Mississippi Blues artists. Listen to the first volume of the Mississippi Blues Project playlist here.

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Rory Block, who performed a concert for the Mississippi Blues Project, has released Avalon: A Tribute To Mississippi John Hurt on Stony Plain Records. The album is the fourth CD in her “Mentor Series.” Previous tribute have been to Rev. Gary Davis (I Belong to the Band), Mississippi Fred McDowell (Shake ‘em on Down) and Son House (Blues Walkin’ Like a Man). Stream the album below from Spotify. From her biography:

“Mississippi John Hurt was a truly unique artist,” says Block, the most celebrated living female acoustic blues artist. “He left a resounding impact on our musical landscape. We think of him as outwardly mellow, sweet, and as one writer described it, singing in a ‘whisper.’ But have you pondered the words? Alongside gospel material, this gentle man sang about sex, murder, mystery, violence and steamy sensuality. It gets ever deeper the more you listen.

“Most people finger pick simply, carefully, and with enough volume to be heard and enjoyed. But next to the masters we can find ourselves tinkling away while the train pulls out of the station. Mississippi John Hurt bounced rhythmically from side to side while he was playing – did this bounce add power and jauntiness to the notes, or did his extra strong attack on the strings create the bounce? We can never do polite versions of these songs if we want to capture some of the power that made the originals great and enduring.”

Rory Block’s connection to Mississippi John Hurt goes back fifty years when they met in 1963. She continues:

“In December of 1963, I met Mississippi John Hurt at a concert in New York which also featured the great Old Timey musician Doc Boggs,” she recalled in her autobiography, When a Woman Gets the Blues. “We went backstage as we always did. Stefan Grossman was part of the accepted insiders group and we never needed special passes. Hurt’s presence was shy and gentle. His face was beautifully weather beaten; he wore a signature hat, and always had a mellow smile. I loved the way he rocked around when he played… it was a bounce that started slow and built up to a strong pace that carried the music. He had his own way of doing this – I never saw anyone else with this exact style of moving and playing. At times when I am performing I feel this energy come over me: the Mississippi John Hurt bounce energy.

I think it interesting to note that Mississippi John Hurt covered many Appalachian country songs,” adds Block. “This just underscores the exchange of musical styles that was going on in the early 1900s which few people understood. Mississippi John Hurt knew musicians who played Appalachian music (Doc Boggs for example), and many of the Old Timey players knew the blues pickers. At the age of 14, sitting on the porch of an old wood frame house in North Carolina, I heard Clarence Ashley say, ‘I learned this one from an old blues player’ and I heard Mississippi John Hurt talk about the country fiddle players he knew. What we have in the end is a true melting pot which included music from Africa, the British Isles, Flamenco (Hurt referred to open G tuning as ‘Spanish’), folk, jazz, popular contemporary music of the day, and probably even Classical music, to name some of the sources.”

Purchase Avalon: A Tribute Mississippi John Hurt here.

Listen to Rory’s Mississippi Blues Project concert here.

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Listen to this special Mississippi Blues Project session with David Bromberg here.

David Bromberg dropped by the studios at WXPN in Philadelphia in April to talk about, and play, Mississippi Blues. Bromberg cited the influences of players such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, though he noted that Big Bill Broonzy had been an initial influence. Broonzy used to say that he had come from Scott, Mississippi, but actually he was from Arkansas. Bromberg describes discovering Muddy Waters from his tribute album to Broonzy, which surprised Bromberg because the songs were performed so differently from the Broonzy originals by Muddy Waters.

We talked about Robert Johnson, with Bromberg noting that in his time Johnson was not well known. Producer John Hammond had sought Johnson for the famous “From Spirituals To Swing” concerts at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and 1939, but when looking for him in 1938, Hammond found that he had died (and Big Bill Broonzy was ultimately selected in his stead). Bromberg performed the Robert Johnson song “Kindhearted Woman Blues.”

We also talked about how he takes songs like “Kindhearted Woman Blues” and does them his own way, not trying to copy the originals. Bromberg remembered hearing a performer singing “Big Bill’s Blues,” and referring to himself in the song as “Bill.” Bromberg wondered why the performer didn’t use his own name in the places where Broonzy had used his name in the original. After all, the performer’s name wasn’t Bill Broonzy. For Bromberg, the trick is to own the song yourself, at least while you are playing it.

We reminisced about another influence, someone who was actually around in the New York City area from whom Bromberg learned a lot, Reverend Gary Davis. Davis was from South Carolina and is usually classified as an “Piedmont style” artist, but his influence on the folk and blues revival artists such as Bromberg, as well as Rory Block and many others, was tremendous.

I asked Bromberg who his favorite Mississippi artist was, expecting it would be Robert Johnson, but he named Skip James instead. We talked about Skip, how unusual it was for a Mississippi artist to be very talented on both guitar and piano, and how eerie and distinct Skip James’s sound was on both instruments. When I asked Bromberg if he could play a song by Skip James, he essentially said that it is still on the “to do” list for him to learn a Skip James song! We briefly mentioned another favorite artist of his, and mine, King Solomon Hill, who only made a few recordings, haunting blues pieces on slide guitar, often employing falsetto singing. Bromberg says he cannot play any of those pieces at this time. While King Solomon Hill is a fairly obscure figure at this point, he must have enjoyed some popularity with blues audiences during his life, because years later Big Joe Williams was telling interviewers that he was actually King Solomon Hill (not at all true! King Solomon Hill’s actual name was Joe Holmes.)

While Robert Johnson wasn’t actually popular during his lifetime, Leroy Carr, a pianist and singer who often recorded with Scrapper Blackwell on guitar, definitely was. Bromberg performed one of their songs, the “Midnight Hour Blues,” and in the middle embedded the well-loved guitar part from a piece called “Mississippi Blues” which was originally performed by William Brown in a field recording in 1942.

The mixing of songs works perfectly for David Bromberg. He likes to mix different styles and is not slavishly devoted to doing the exact-copy renditions of old recordings, as some blues players have been. The subject of blues singer Johnny Shines came up. Shines traveled with Robert Johnson for many years. He shared some memories of Johnson with Bromberg back in the day, noting that Johnson could pick up songs very quickly from the radio. Shines and Johnson might be talking, with a song on in the background, and subsequently Johnson would pick up his guitar and could play the song – - somehow he had learned it while having a conversation at the same time!

Johnny Shines was a truly powerful blues singer, and in 1974 Bromberg produced one of his albums. It was important to Bromberg not to try to cast Shines as someone straight out of the 1930s. “I didn’t put him on a bale of hay, in dungarees with a straw hat on,” notes Bromberg. The album has a fully contemporary feel to it, and we decided to play one song directly from it in this session, a song called “Mr. Cover Shaker.”

We talked about the old 78 RPM records, many of which were not yet reissued when Bromberg started listening to the blues. Fortunately, the father of one of his friends had a big 78 collection, and Bromberg got to listen to them. Another topic was Clarksdale, Mississippi and the surrounding area, from which so many great blues artists came from. Bromberg wondered if there was something in the water around there! Among the artists from the area was John Lee Hooker whose hypnotic one-chord pieces were very different from the sound of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and such. Bromberg met Hooker in New York at folk clubs in Greenwich Village and used to perform some of the songs, though he said it is been a while and declined to do one at this point.

Instead, he decided to play a song by Big Bill Broonzy. The song he played is known by several titles. I have known it as the “Mule Ridin’ Blues,” though Bromberg remembers it being called the “Hey Bub Blues” on one album. It’s an example of Broonzy’s sense of humor.

We discussed the folk revival and how exciting it was to meet some of the original blues musicians in and around New York in the 1960s and 70s, as well as some of the other blues players in the revival. Artists such as Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, and Skip James, as well as Mississippi Fred McDowell, frequently played at The Gaslight, a fabled club in Greenwich Village where Bromberg spent time as the regular opening act. Bromberg notes the influence of Lonnie Johnson to B. B. King. Johnson’s distinct tone was the model for King’s sound, even though he played electric guitar and Johnson’s classic recordings had been on acoustic guitar.

Rory Block has told me how grateful she was, after being turned down by the Philadelphia Folk Festival one year, that Bromberg had invited her play on stage with him as a guest at the festival. When I mentioned that, Bromberg said he doesn’t actually remember it! Block, of course, will never forget it.

We also talked about the “hill country” blues styles for Mississippi, exemplified in recent years by R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough among others. Bromberg dug a little deeper into that tradition, talking about the fife and drum traditions found in the hill country, and remembering players such as Sid Hemphill, noting that some of these traditions seem to come right from Africa.

Bromberg played the “Big Road Blues,” a song he learned from the recording by Tommy Johnson, who also gave us the “Canned Heat Blues.” The walking bass line on it is very engaging – and those strong bass lines have always appealed to Bromberg.

We ended our visit with some conversation about strumming (as opposed to picking) exemplified by Charley Patton, though Bromberg feels he isn’t really up to speed on the technique at this point. We also talked about the ups and downs of his own performing career. Bromberg stopped playing for two decades. He had suffered from burnout following relentless traveling and years on the road, and started studying the making, appraising, and selling of violins. He talked about the quality of instruments and whether the incredibly high-priced instruments we sometimes read about are really worth that much. He noted that the value is often more a result of how the player experiences the instrument than the listener. Today he has a store where he repairs and sells violins, and is one of the world’s leading expert on violins made in America, which have often been overlooked by violin aficionados. He plays gigs when he wants to, but will never again be a burned-out “road warrior” performer, choosing to make the experience of playing music as much fun as the music itself.

Listen to the session
brombergperforms

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Award winning Blues guitarist and singer Super Chikan and the Fighting Cocks made the trip from his home in Clarksdale, Mississippi to Philadelphia last Thursday, May 16 in a double header Mississippi Blues Project concert as part of WXPN’s Non-COMMvention with the Homemade Jamz Blues Band. Born James Louis Johnson in Darling, Mississippi in 1961, Johnson got his name from working with chickens on his family’s farms, moving around the Mississippi Delta until they settled in Clarksdale. You can listen to the entire performance of Super Chikan and the Fighting Cocks here via the WXPN media player. Photos by Mike Lynch, mikelynchphoto.com

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Listen to the Homemade Jamz Blues Band live in concert

May 21, 2013
Photo by Mike Lynch www.mikelynchphoto.com

Last Thursday during XPN’s Non-COMMvention, the Tupelo, Mississippi brothers and sister trio, the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, performed in concert with Super Chikan for the final Mississippi Blues Porject concert series. The band performed songs from its new album, Mississippi [...]

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Listen to Rory Block in concert from World Cafe Live

May 13, 2013
Listen to Rory Block in concert from World Cafe Live

Rory Block performed a special concert at World Cafe Live during the XPN Music Film Festival on Saturday, April 13th. Listen to the concert here.

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Download a free 17 song Blues and Roots sampler from Alligator Records

April 23, 2013
Download a free 17 song Blues and Roots sampler from Alligator Records

April is Public Radio Music Month. To celebrate, Alligator Records is offering a free 17 song download of a Blues and Roots music sampler with some great artists that you hear on XPN including, The Holmes Brothers, Jesse Dee, Koko [...]

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Mississippi Blues: The Reverse Migration of Adam Gussow by Jonny Meister

April 13, 2013
Satan & Adam from the cover of their debut album

Adam Gussow is one of the world’s finest blues harmonica players. He became known, and celebrated, in the 1990s as part of a duo that was one of that decade’s most exciting and intriguing acts, Satan & Adam. “Mr. Satan” [...]

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Stream: “Six Little Puppies” by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes”

March 29, 2013
Stream: “Six Little Puppies” by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes”

The 5th anniversary release of Back to Bentonia by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes includes the song “Six Little Puppies.” Recorded on November 17th, 2005 at the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, Mississippi, the anniversary edition of the album is available here [...]

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Listen to two songs from Terry “Harmonica” Bean from the Broke & Hungry Records “Mistakes Were Made” compilation

February 26, 2013
Listen to two songs from Terry “Harmonica” Bean from the Broke & Hungry Records “Mistakes Were Made” compilation

Listen to two songs by Terry “Harmonica” Bean from the Broke & Hungry Records compilation Mistakes Were Made

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A Memorable Afternoon of Mississippi Blues with Robert Belfour, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, & Robert “Bilbo” Walker – by Jonny Meister

February 18, 2013
Anthony

Mississippi blues artists Robert Belfour, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, and Robert “Bilbo” Walker played a special two-hour Free-At-Noon, Mississippi Blues Project concert.

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Third Man Records announces reissue series featuring Charley Patton and The Mississippi Sheiks

January 10, 2013
Third Man Records announces reissue series featuring Charley Patton and The Mississippi Sheiks

Jack White’s Third Man Records has announce the release of the first three records in its Document Records reissue series. The releases include volume one of the completed recorded works by Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell and The Mississippi Sheiks. [...]

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