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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Showing posts with label Jessie Mae Hemphill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jessie Mae Hemphill. Show all posts

Thursday, October 18, 2012

You Can Talk About Me - Jessie Mae Hemphill

As I stepped into Jessie Mae Hemphill’s trailer, my eyes fell upon Sweet Pea (her dog) and a revolver. By the end of that first meeting, I couldn’t help thinking that this was the allure of Jessie Mae. She is sweetness incarnate, but you really wouldn’t want to mess with her either. This same duality is present in her music. Listen to her voice and you can hear a lilting quality, bringing to mind a Billie Holiday. But listen to the lyrics, and you sense a woman who’s seen a thing or two of the world. As she pulled a hollow-tip bullet out of her blouse she spoke loudly so the young “punks” hanging out near her trailer could hear. “A bullet like this one here will put a hole in you this big,” she said, making a circle with her good arm. As it turns out, the revolver plays a practical role. Ever since a stroke left Jessie Mae partially paralyzed, she knows a vulnerability that she had clearly never experienced. This same stroke rendered her unable to play guitar, effectively ending a successful career that was on the rise. Jessie Mae Hemphill was surrounded by music from the moment she was born near the Tate and Panola County lines in northern Mississippi. Her great-grandfather was a renowned fiddle player in Choctaw County, Mississippi and her grandfather, Sid Hemphill, was a blind fiddle player and bandleader. The Hemphill’s were multi-instrumentalists with her grandfather also playing panpipes, drums, guitar, piano, banjo, and fife. Her aunt Rosa Lee was also a well-known performer who recorded several albums. Rosa Lee, like her sisters Sidney Lee and Virgie Lee Hemphill (Jessie Mae’s mother) played stringed instruments, as well as drums. As a young girl in the early 40’s, Jessie Mae was heavily influenced by the music at family and community gatherings; both church music and the blues. She began playing guitar at age seven or eight, and later played bass drum and snare in her grandfather’s fife and drum band. Throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ’70s, Jessie Mae Hemphill played with various bands, never straying far from her roots. She lived in Memphis for 20 years, playing on Beale Street when she wasn’t working various odd jobs. By the time she decided to return home to the country in the mid ‘70s, she had all but left the drums behind and focused mainly on her guitar playing. Hemphill played an electric guitar in open D or open G, preferring open D because of its versatility within the blues structure. As Barbara Flaska writes in her article “The High Water Mark Keeps Rising:” Her playing ignores the standard 12-bar blues progressions and relies instead on the open chord tunings and repeated riffs typical of the folk blues of her native Mississippi. Hemphill’s guitar style is often described as idiosyncratic. Her open tunings are rhythm-powered and enhanced by an occasionally hypnotic drone. Her guitar style is overdriven, a little roughed-up and coarsely textured, but very natural sounding. There’s not too much in the way of turnarounds or doubling back. Her songs are driven by a relentless rhythm, powered by a fierce strum - with a slide up one string and down the next for accent. Hemphill plays way up the neck, with both barred and fingered chords, and bends a string when the mood strikes her. The stomping guitar parts act as a rhythmic echo to the words and percussion. Due to the remoteness of her native North Mississippi region, much of this music had yet to reach a mainstream audience. Although folklorist Alan Lomax had recorded several of the Hemphill family members in the ‘50s, in addition to “Mississippi” Fred McDowell, most of the musicians of this region would remain unnoticed for years to come. Jessie Mae’s solo recording career began in the early ‘80s with several 45s on the High Water label. In 1981 she released her first album, She-Wolf, on the French label Vogue. Unfortunately the album was only released in Europe and the Vogue label did not have sufficient resources for wide-scale promotion. As a result, the album gained critical acclaim among blues enthusiasts, but failed to reach a broader audience. Nevertheless, Hemphill toured Europe on several occasions playing at large halls and festivals. In 1986 she toured France and recorded tracks for the Mississippi Blues Festival 1986 album on the French Black and Blue label, which achieved some recognition in the US. Hemphill won the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Female Blues Artist in both 1987 and 1988, even though she had yet to release a full-length album in the states. In 1991 she released her second album, and the first in the US, entitled Feelin’ Good on the High Water label. The album won the Handy Award for Best Acoustic Album that year. The title track is the signature piece Hemphill used to open and close her sets. As Barbara Flaska puts it; Feelin’ Good provides a good sense of what must have been the feel of Hemphill’s entertaining at the rough and tumble gatherings, house parties, or picnics of the region. Her songwriting often wedded the stomp and march rhythms of the fife and drum bands to her amplified guitar work. When she played outdoors, people are reported to have climbed dancing into trees while others still on the ground turned handstands and danced on their hands. On the first six tracks, Hemphill’s sparse accompaniment includes drummer R. L. Boyce, who carried the tattoo snare rhythms he learned from his work with the fife and drum bands of the area straight into the studio, unchanged. Coming off the success of Feelin’ Good, her career looked bright for the ‘90s. She was well-known in Europe and the US, was touring extensively, had gotten good reviews, and her albums were selling rather well. But in 1993 she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side, leaving her unable to play guitar. Jessie Mae Hemphill retired from touring and returned to Senatobia, Mississippi where she lives with her dog Sweet Pea. She still sings and plays the tambourine in church. "I am singing for the Lord now," she says. “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, Like ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorites band! ”LIKE”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Deep Blues - Blues Documentary

This superb documentary vividly illustrates the enduring vitality of country blues, an idiom that most mainstream music fans had presumed dead or, at best, preserved through more scholarly tributes when filmmaker Robert Mugge and veteran blues and rock writer Robert Palmer embarked on their 1990 odyssey into Mississippi delta country. What Arkansas native and former Memphis stalwart Palmer knew, and Mugge captured on film, was that the blues was not only alive but still intimately woven into the daily lives of rural blacks.

Palmer, a former rock musician and Memphis Blues Festival cofounder best known for his bylines in The New York Times and Rolling Stone, had already chronicled the saga of Southern blues in his seminal book that provides the film's title. He's an astute guide, and Mugge underlines this role by pairing him with British rocker Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), whose avid interest in the music makes him an effective foil.

The film's real triumph, however, rests in the team's success in capturing modern day blues survivors and inheritors playing in the bars, juke joints, and barns of delta country. Palmer, who had returned several years earlier to the delta to capture these artists for his scrappy Fat Possum label, introduces us to the now-amplified but still elemental blues of R.L. Burnside, the late Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes, and other keepers of the faith. Mugge, whose profiles of Al Green, Sonny Rollins, and other musicians probed their cultural and artistic contexts with intelligence and sensitivity, captures both the music and the milieu in crisp color footage. Deep Blues thus triumphs as a testament to the blues' deep roots and an unintentional eulogy for Palmer, who would pass away in the mid-'90s just as the gut-bucket music of Burnside and Kimbrough served notice that the blues were alive and kicking.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Train Train - Jessie Mae Hemphill

I first saw Jessie Mae on Deep Blues, a film documentary by Robert Palmer... Hughly Recommended!
Jessie Mae Hemphill (October 18, 1923 – July 22, 2006) was a pioneering and award-winning electric guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist specializing in the primal, northern Mississippi country blues traditions of her family and regional heritage.
Hemphill was born near Como and Senatobia, Mississippi, in northern Mississippi just east of the Mississippi Delta. She began playing the guitar at the age of seven and also played drums in various local Mississippi fife and drum bands. Her musical background began with playing snare drum and bass drum in the fife-and-drum band led by her grandfather, Sid Hemphill. Aside from sitting in at Memphis bars a few times in the 1950s, most of her playing was done in family and informal settings such as picnics with fife and drum music until her 1979 recordings.

The first field recordings of her work were made by blues researcher George Mitchell in 1967 and ethnomusicologist Dr. David Evans in 1973 when she was known as Jessie Mae Brooks, using the surname from a brief early marriage, but the recordings were not released. In 1978, Dr. Evans came to Memphis to teach at Memphis State University (now University of Memphis). The school founded the High Water label in
1979 to promote interest in the indigenous music of the South. Evans made the first high-quality field recordings of Hemphill in that year and soon after produced her first sessions for the High Water label.

Hemphill then launched a recording career in the early 1980s, a period which which be her heyday. In 1981 her first full-length album, She-Wolf, was licensed from High Water and released on France's Vogue Records. In the early 1980s, she performed in a Mississippi drum corps put together by Evans composed of herself, Abe Young, and Jim Harper on Tav Falco's Panther Burns' Behind the Magnolia Curtain album; she also appeared in another drum group with Young and fife-and-drum band veteran Othar Turner in a televised appearance in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Other recordings of hers were released on the French label Black and Blue, and she performed concerts across the United States and other countries including France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and Canada. She received the W. C. Handy Award for best traditional female blues artist in 1987 and 1988.

In 1990 her first American full length album, Feelin' Good, was released, which also won a Handy Award for best acoustic album. Hemphill suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side in 1993, preventing her from playing guitar, resulting in her retiring at that time from her blues career. However, she did continue to play, accompanying her band on the tambourine.

In 2004 the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation released Dare You to Do It Again, a double album of gospel standards, newly recorded by the ailing vocalist singing and playing tambourine with accompaniment from Steve Gardner, DJ Logic, and descendants of the late musicians Junior Kimbrough, R. L. Burnside, and Otha Turner. The release, her first recordings since the 1993 stroke, also included a DVD. Also in 2004, Inside Sounds released Get Right Blues, containing material recorded from 1979 through the early 1980s; Black & Blue released Mississippi Blues Festival, which included seven live tracks by her from a Paris concert in 1986.

On July 22, 2006, Jessie Mae Hemphill died at The Regional Medical Center in Memphis, after experiencing complications from an ulcer.
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