Of course blues in Mississippi was not restricted to the Delta or the Hill Country, but in fact spread throughout the length of the state. L. C. Ulmer, who is from Ellisville, Mississippi in the southern piney woods region, has been playing blues for nearly 70 years, but has his album debut at 80 years of age with the release of “Blues Come Yonder” on the venerable Hill Country Records imprint out of Jimbo Mathus’ Delta Recording Service in Como.
Although Ulmer hails from the southern part of Mississippi, his performance style has many points of similarity with artists from further north. The casual listener might notice moments where Ulmer superficially resembles Mississippi Fred McDowell, yet Ulmer’s style is largely his own, honed during a lifetime of wandering and working odd jobs across America. Legendary Mississippi alt-rock-county icon Jimbo Mathus and Afrisippi bassist Justin Showah provide sympathetic and unobtrusive accompaniment to Ulmer’s guitar virtuosity and vocals, which are particularly evident on the title track “Blues Come Yonder.” And while most of the tunes are in the rural blues tradition, the inclusion of the hillbilly breakdown “Get Along Cindy” and Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” reveal a hidden shared heritage and influence between white and black Misssissippians. A masterful debut from a living legend of Mississippi blues.
I drove down to Clarksdale last Thursday to meet up with Justin Showah, the owner of Hill Country Records, who was playing the opening night of Juke Joint Festival with Jimbo Mathus’ Mosquitoville touring show at the Delta Cinema. Once in Clarksdale, I met up with Robert Kimbrough, one of blues legend Junior Kimbrough’s sons, and got caught up in the street performances and general festivities. I bought some vinyl records, saw some performances outdoors and at Ground Zero Blues Club, and ate dinner at the famous Abe’s Bar-B-Q. I had always thought of Juke Joint Festival as a local festival, like most small Southern towns have, but it’s really more of a South By Southwest of the blues. A lot of fun, and it really wouldn’t get going good until Friday and Saturday!
I got a very late start heading out of town because my computer wouldn’t sign on to the internet and I was on the phone with AT & T for an hour trying to get it working, only to discover that there was a neighborhood outage. I wasn’t in a very good mood, and it was raining steadily, so when Boss King called and wanted me to meet him at Brother Juniper’s for breakfast, I said “Why not?” and headed over there. That wasn’t a bad way to cheer up, and soon I was on my way down I-55, but slow going since the rain wouldn’t let up at all.
Since I was running so far behind schedule, I decided not to stop in Jackson, and took the I-220 loop around to the westside and on to Vicksburg.
At Tallulah, I stopped at the McDonald’s for a cappuccino, and then headed on into West Monroe, with maybe about an hour to spare before the antique shops started closing. The rain had tapered off to just a drizzle, but rather ominous was the Ouachita River, which had risen so far above floodstage that it was currently just below the underside of the DeSiard and Louisville bridges. As I usually do anytime I’m in Monroe, I visited the antique stores in search of Grambling memorabilia, and this year I hit paydirt, finding Grambling annuals for 1959, 1960, 1963 and 1964 at the Cottonport Antique Mall. There was also one there from 1966, but I didn’t buy it since I wasn’t sure what else I would find at other shops. Down the street at the Ouachita River Trading Company, I found two more Grambling yearbooks, for 1991 and 1995, and then I headed over to Books-A-Million in Monroe to see if they had any new books about Monroe, Grambling or Shreveport, but I didn’t find much there.
The rain was starting to pick up again as I left the bookstore, but when I arrived at Portico Bar and Grill for dinner, it had stopped, and a beautiful rainbow had appeared in the east. For a moment it was a double rainbow, and then it became a single again, but an unusually perfect one, reaching the treeline at both ends. Inside, the restaurant was as cheery as ever, with a live band playing and waitresses and bartenders costumed for Halloween. Waiting for my filet mignon, I checked emails and noticed that Jimbo Mathus was supposed to be in Monroe tonight, playing at a bar called Coda, so I decided to go if I didn’t end up over in Grambling.
After dinner, I rolled past Carroll High and Wossman High looking for a high-school football game, but nothing seemed to be going on, except over in West Monroe. So I checked into my hotel room at the Jameson Inn in West Monroe, and then drove across the street to get a cappuccino at the Corner Coffeehouse. I had planned on calling my friend Dr. Reginald Owens who lived in Grambling, but I could not reach him, so I drove over to Coda, a new bar and grill in Monroe that had not been open last year, and got a table near the stage for the Jimbo Mathus show. Justin Showah, the owner of Hill Country Records came with Jimbo, and I got a chance to hang out with them briefly before the first set. Jimbo’s typical rock/country/blues mix seemed to fit the crowd just right, the high point of the set (for me) being his trademark version of “Casey Jones.” Thoroughly tired from a day of driving against the weather, I called it a day after the first set.
Breakfast with Charlie Braxton and two of his sons at Broad Street Baking Company. Then I drove back to Memphis, but detoured into Water Valley to meet Justin Showah, the owner of Hill Country Records, who had an order of Eric Deaton Trio CDs for me to pick up for Select-O-Hits. The talk in the little grocery store there in Water Valley had been about the weekend death of Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson.