Arkansas blues musician CeDell Davis, born in 1927, overcame both the ravages of polio and the crushing of his legs during a nightclub stampede in the 1950’s, and still today plays the blues, though confined to a wheelchair.
Clarksdale blues musician Otis “TCB” Taylor is not to be confused with the Denver blues musician Otis Taylor, but he is a frequent performer in Clarksdale year round. This year, he and his TCB Blues Band were playing the New World Stage in front of the New Roxy Theatre during the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale.
The Wade Walton Stage, named for the man who owned the blues club and barber shop on the spot when he was living, is always one of the most crowded and boisterous stages during Juke Joint Fest each year, and this year was no exception, as young blues artist Mr. Sipp performed with his band and drew a crowd of dancers directly in front of the stage. Unlike many older blues artists, Mr. Sipp is as equally at home with Jimi Hendrix as he is with traditional blues, and the people loved all of it.
The large permanent stage near the Delta Blues Museum is reserved for youth and school groups during the Juke Joint Festival, and as I walked past it on Saturday afternoon, I saw a group of young people on stage playing the blues. I was amazed at how little some of them were, but they sounded really good. At a time when many have questioned the health of the blues, it is encouraging to see these young children learning to enjoy and play this style of music.
The conventional wisdom is that there is really only one Black fife-and-drum band left in America, that of Sharde Thomas in Panola County, so it was thrilling to see a second one at this year’s Juke Joint Festival, even if it shared a member with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. R. L. Boyce, a blues musician from Como has long held yard parties at his house, and some of these have featured fife-and-drum music. At the Cat Head stage at this year’s festival, Boyce brought out a fife-and-drum band which featured Otha Turner’s nephew, Andre Otha Evans on the flute, rather than the bass drum he customarily plays with the Rising Star. Perhaps it’s a sign that the tradition has some life remaining in it, at least in Mississippi.
Around the corner on Second Street was a keyboard-and-drums duo called The Elements, playing soul, smooth jazz and R & B. Not necessarily an official part of the Juke Joint Festival, this band sets up at that location each year and always attracts a crowd.
Down from the Cat Head stage was another stage set up near the Stone Pony Pizza where an elderly blues musician was playing. It proved to be Leland, Mississippi-based Eddie Cusic, a man who has been only infrequently recorded, yet who is one of Mississippi’s best traditional living bluesmen.
David Kimbrough Jr. is another of the sons of Junior Kimbrough, an amazing guitarist whom we don’t see quite as often since he moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, but I recall his dulcimer playing at last summer’s North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, and a memorable concert last year at The Cool Spot in Holly Springs with his brothers Kent and Robert. Any opportunity to see him should not be missed.
Robert Kimbrough is one of the many sons of the late legendary bluesman Junior Kimbrough, and a frequent performer at the Juke Joint Fest each year in Clarksdale. This year, he performed on the Cat Head stage in front of Roger Stolle’s Cat Head Delta Blues shop, and after his set posed for a picture with two of his brothers that are also musicians, Kent (a drummer) and David (a guitarist). Robert Kimbrough has also released a new album this year called It’s Your World.