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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 Last Of The Mississippi Jukes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Last Of The Mississippi Jukes. Show all posts

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Robert Mugge film - Last of the Mississippi Juke Joints - DVD review

I just had the opportunity to review the new release, Last of the Mississippi Juke Joints, a film by Robert Mugge and it's really interesting. This film chronicled the days of Jimmy King's legendary Subway Lounge in Jackson Mississippi and the early days of Morgan Freeman's and Bill Luckett's Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale Mississippi, a heartfelt attempt at recapturing the spirit of fading juke joint traditions. This film documents interviews with Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett and Dick Waterman, famed music photographer. The first live set is with Alvin Youngblood Hart with Sam Carr and Anthony Sherrod. Hart's performance is super as always with a great voice and pure slide techniques. Showing the real flavor of a juke joint, Luckett and Freeman point out beer signs, pool tables, antiques signs, flea market tables, mis matched table cloths and catfish sandwiches, all the things that make a juke joint feel authentic. This is no city blues club. This is the real deal. Next up interview with Steve Cheseborough and Jimmy King at Subway and featuring a set by Greg "Fingers" Taylor. Ongoing commentary by Vasti Jackson adds color and texture to the film. A short clip of Dennis Fountain & Pat Brown is inserted before more discussions with blues players like House Cat Hendrix. The dynamic Patrice Moncell takes on the stage with a hot band featuring James Levinthal on alto sax and a hot guitar player, Mark Whittaker. Eddie Cotton plays his telecaster and sings by himself sitting at a table as a part of his interview. One of my favorite antidotes from the film is when Jimmy King tells about his beer buckets. They serve beer cans by the bucket over ice. At the end of the night often the beer is left unopened and the bar takes it back (to sell again). Once beer sales are stopped for the night, patrons are free to bring in their own beer. King happens to sell beer next door in his store after hours and with a receipt from next door his bar gives them a bucket of ice to continue to drink in his establishment until daylight. Vasti Jackson plays his set with local scenery showing in the background as well as clips of earlier days in black and white. JT Watkins and Levon Lindsey have a powerful gospel blues style. Bobby Rush does a real nice track just singing alone with harp as a part of the interview. A profile of the Summers Hotel, the first black owned hotel in the area is quite interesting. The Subway lounge is located in the basement of this older structure which was the home of blues and R&B musicians touring in the 50's. King Edwards Blues Band shows it's own style of R&B. Chris Thomas King is next up in the interview chair describing plans for new club and showing the sad state of repairs on the hotel. David Hughes is next on the stage with his shuffle style. Further community interviews with shows of support for the conservation of the Summers Hotel and cards from some of the more notable visitors including Hank Ballard, Mrs James Brown and the Freedom Riders. Devastating films and imagery of racial tension, segregation and cruelty are also shown further documenting the importance of the hotel in history. Chris Thomas King does a real nice delta style blues alone accompanying himself on a National steel bodied guitar. Further plans to remove substantial portions of the hotel due to collapse and the renovation of historic structures on the Civil Rights Tour are shown before the ultimate destruction of the hotel to the sounds of Lucille with Greg "Fingers" Taylor. Cheseborough does his own rendition of a delta blues song with his own steel bodied guitar as Jimmy and Chris discuss how the new clubs just won't be the same. An interesting juxtaposition. Abdul Rasheed, a solid soul singer is up next with his set. Closing the film is Fingers Taylor and the Subway Shuffle. This is a meaningful film documenting not only the music of the area but also the texture of the music scene and remnants of the roots of the blues.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Last Of The Mississippi Jukes coming to DVD on 10/21

Last Of The Mississippi Jukes
Special Edition DVD coming on 10/21
Robert Mugge's stunning exploration of fading juke joint traditions at the heart of 
Mississippi blues culture, with Morgan Freeman

"American roots music at its most soulful and authentic. Excellent." - Boston Phoenix

"This wonderful documentary [is] a definite good buy for blues fans." - Jazz & Blues Report

"One of the most important Mississippi music films ever made." - Planet Weekly (Jackson, MS) 

LAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI JUKES is Robert Mugge's exploration of Mississippi juke joints, the rustic, often dilapidated music venues where, early in the last century, itinerant blues musicians played for plantation workers and others, creating a powerful new music which soon migrated to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit, and elsewhere. Of course, even as this music spread around the world, changing as it went, it continued to have a strong presence in the state where it was born, a fact clearly shown by Mugge's 1991 film DEEP BLUES. And yet, in the decade after the release of DEEP BLUES, artists who had appeared in that earlier film began passing away, and the jukes where they and others had played became increasingly scarce. So, Mugge decided to make a new film about what was being lost.

Funded by Starz Entertainment Group and premiered at the Starz Denver International Film Festival in November of 2002, LAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI JUKES focused primarily on two well-known venues. One was the legendary Subway Lounge in Jackson, Mississippi, and the other was Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a new and more commercial enterprise that drew on virtues of the more modest venues that inspired it. The idea was not that these two music spots were, themselves, the last remaining places where live blues could be heard in Mississippi, but that they embodied important musical traditions which were slipping away.

The Subway Lounge was created by singer Jimmy King and operated by him and his wife Helen in the basement of Jackson Mississippi's historic Summers Hotel. King arrived at the name "Subway," because the entranceway to his basement performance space reminded him of the subway stations he saw on trips to New York City. What makes the hotel itself historic is that it was black-owned during an era of entrenched segregation, and that, when it opened in 1944, it was the first in the region to offer accommodations to African Americans. However, for music fans, its bigger claim to fame was that, in 1966, owner W.J. Summers allowed King to open the Subway Lounge in the hotel's basement, first as a jazz club, and then as a place to hear down-home blues performed late into the night.

By the time Mugge filmed there in the spring of 2002, the hotel had been shuttered for years, and parts of the building had fully collapsed. But the Subway itself was still open every Friday and Saturday night from midnight till approximately 5:00am, with two bands, the House Rockers and the King Edward Blues Band, taking turns as its house band every second weekend. Joining these bands over the course of the night was a diverse group of singers and musicians, some of them stopping by after their paid gigs elsewhere had ended. Together, they played a rich selection of blues standards, including plenty of "soul blues" classics from Jackson-based Malaco Records. As a result, on any given weekend, that dark and dusty room reverberated with joy.

For its part, Ground Zero was started by movie star Morgan Freeman and Clarksdale attorney (now mayor) Bill Luckett, in cooperation with former Blues Foundation executive director Howard Stovall. Together, they took an empty Clarksdale building close by the Delta Blues Museum and decorated it with the standard design elements of jukes - Christmas tree lights, pool tables, catch-as-catch-can furniture, and an overall makeshift sensibility - in order to endow it with the spirit of those traditional, ramshackle performance spaces. Of course, while Ground Zero's well-stocked bar, trendy menus, and sometimes well-heeled patrons sound like the marks of a modern-day music club, their aspirations to make this venue like a juke offered valuable lessons as to what made those earlier venues so distinctive. 

At the time the film was made, Ground Zero was not yet offering as much live musical performance as it soon would. So, Mugge brought in Memphis musician Alvin Youngblood Hart to perform for the evening, accompanied by local musicians Sam Carr and Anthony Sherrod. Mugge and co-producer David Hughes, a Mississippi-based musician and collector, also beefed up the usual Subway Lounge talent with appearances by Vasti Jackson, Bobby Rush, Eddie Cotton, Jesse Robinson, Lucille, Greg "Fingers" Taylor, Casey Phillips, Virgil Brawley, and actor and musician Chris Thomas King, all of whom had played the Subway in the past but, at present, were too busy with their own touring to make more than cursory appearances. Still, the Subway's regular talent (including Patrice Moncell, Abdul Rasheed, Dennis Fountain, Pat Brown, Levon Lindsey, and J.T. Watkins), audience members, and owners represented the heart of the Subway experience, and that was true for the film as well.

LAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI JUKES includes the following narrative threads: an illustrated introduction to Mississippi jukes, discussions of Ground Zero Blues Club and the Subway Lounge, a history of the Summers Hotel and the Civil Rights struggles that both preceded and accompanied it, and a portrait of the public movement to save the Subway Lounge after the building that housed it was condemned. Like most music documentaries, this film alternates between musical performance and related conversation, and interviewees of note include owners of both venues, Subway patrons, singers and musicians, Jackson politicians, a Jackson newspaper reporter, celebrated blues photographer Dick Waterman, and Mississippi blues author Steve Cheseborough.

LAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI JUKES was first broadcast over the Black Starz channel (later renamed Starz in Black) in 2003. In addition, a commercial DVD and separate soundtrack CD were released the same year, yet both disappeared in 2007 when the releasing label went out of business. MVD's new Special Edition DVD includes not only the original feature-length Documentary, but also the original Soundtrack Album and a Video Update created by Robert Mugge in 2005 while he was serving as Filmmaker in Residence for Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

The DVD can be ordered at the MVD Shop or on Amazon

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