Jonny Meister


A Blues Night To Remember – by Jonny Meister
All photos by John Vettese

October 22, 2012 . . . a night to remember for blues lovers. It was the second concert event in the Mississippi Blues Project series, and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and Terry “Harmonica” Bean arrived from Mississippi to play at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. Holmes started out, playing deep country blues, Bentonia style. He is from Bentonia MS, which was also the home of Skip James who achieved international fame largely because of the haunting quality of that style, and who lived in
Philadelphia at the time of his death in 1969. Holmes does his own version of Bentonia blues, but it certainly is recognizable. He acknowledges the influence not only of Skip James, but also, somewhat more for him, Jack Owens, a player who was
not known much outside of Bentonia, and Henry Stuckey, whom Holmes considers the founder of the style and who was never recorded.

Holmes was full of great stories and remembrances of life in rural Mississippi in his younger days. “Believe it or not, when I was a kid we didn’t have no clock in the house,” recalls Holmes. “The roosters got us up, and the sun brought us in.” Bentonia is about twelve miles south of Yazoo City, which Holmes calls “The Gateway to the Delta.” Holmes has been called “Duck” all his life but has no memory of how the nickname came into use. He never asked his parents when they were
alive, and at this point it’s unlikely that he will ever really know how he acquired the nickname. He continues to operate his family’s business, a juke joint in Bentonia called the Blue Front Cafe, which opened when he was a year old.

Midway through the show, Terry “Harmonica” Bean joined Holmes for a few songs. Holmes said that they never rehearse, although they played together from time to time at shows and just seem to have an instinctive feel for the music that they can do together. After a short break, Bean did a set of his own. He is from the so-called “hill country” in the northeast part of Mississippi. Bean had the audience dancing and laughing with his stories and the propulsive power of his performance. He does a lot of covers of classic blues songs, something that often would annoy me, but not when he does it – - because he totally transforms the songs of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Z. Z. Hill, and many others and truly makes them his own.

Bean was full of stories, ideas, advice, and information. A juke house and a juke joint are two different things, said Bean, who went on to lightheartedly caution the audience to read blues books critically and not just accept everything that is in them. Bean added, “I got a lot of people who want me to say,’Terry, don’t tell people you from Pontotoc Mississippi; tell them you from Memphis Tennessee or you from the Delta.’ Now why in the hell would I want to do that?” Bean is proud of his hill country heritage. He’s one of the most ebulient blues players you will find, and the audience loved him. At the end of his set, Holmes rejoined him for a long and kind of haunting version of “Scratch My Back.”

It was certainly a night to remember, and it was the first time that either of these two vital Mississippi blues artists played in Philadelphia.

Listen to the sets from “Harmonica” Bean and “Duck” Holmes here.

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Each Saturday night at 7PM on WXPN, Jonny Meister hosts The Blues Show and the Blues & Beyond. Recently, Jonny put the spotlight on the fantastic new documentary We Juke Up Here! You can read about the documentary here. Below, listen to the Blues & Beyond with Jonny Meister about the We Juke Up In Here! documentary.

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The Philadelphia Folk Festival hosted the first in a series of four Mississippi Blues Project showcases on Sunday, August 19th with Cedric Burnside Project and Big George Brock. The show was hosted by the host of the WXPN Blues Show, Jonny Meister. The next showcase is Monday, October 22nd with Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and Terry “Harmonica” Bean at World Cafe Live. All photos above taken by John Vettese.

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