I had a good time signing books at the Scallop Festival in Port St. Joe, Florida, on August 3. Now I'm heading for my hometown of Olathe, Kansas, to sign books at the Book Warehouse in the Great Mall of the Great Plains on Saturday, September 7, 1:00-4:00pm. See you there!
Bobby Rush relaxing backstage.
We had a great time at the Old School and Downhome Blues Festival in Huntsville, Alabama, on Memorial Day--a good lineup, a good day, and a good time. Sorry it's taken so long to post these photos.
I just got back from Clarksdale, Mississippi, where I attended the 25th Annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, and where, at the Crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, I sold my soul to the devil, as did Robert Johnson, to become a better artist. I hope the ol' guy keeps his end of the bargain. Here I am shortly after having cosummated the deal.
You know you're in the Delta when you see the Christmas snowflake still hanging from the utility pole just left of the big crossed guitars sign.
Not far from the Crossroads, on the banks of the Sunflower River, is another Blues landmark, not to be missed when you are paying homage to the blues masters in the Mississippi Delta. The Riverside Hotel was once the G.T. Thomas Hospital for African Americans, and where Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues, died on September 6, 1937, after a car accident outside of Clarksdale.
Since it was turned into a hospital in 1944, many blues legends have stayed there, including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert Nighthawk, Ike Turner, and Duke Ellington.
Many great blues musicians were born or lived in and around Clarksdale, including John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, Little Junior Parker, and Sam Cooke, just to name a few.
Many lived on the expansive plantations that still surround the town and command the Delta, like Stovall's, six miles north, pictured here, where Muddy Waters was discovered by John Work III and Alan Lomax in 1941. Muddy left the Stovall Plantation for good in 1943 and caught a train to Chicago at the station that still stands just off of Issaquena Street in downtown Clarksdale.
This year's festival was jam-packed with local and international talent--too much to report on here. So, briefly, these are my favorites: O.B. Buchana and Bobby Rush rocked the house on Friday night. They were both hot and we had a party! Later, at Red's, Terry "Harmonica" Bean was exceptionally inspired--another party! Saturday morning favorites were Robert Belfour, Eddie Cusic, and Shardee Turner & the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band. Saturday night smoked with James "Super Chikan" Johnson, Charlie Musselwhite, and Robert Plant. What a show! Bilbo Walker was back in town to get down at Big T's juke joint afterwards and on into Sunday morning church time.
I have only one issue to take with the whole thing. In an effort to bring in a bunch of big names for this 25th anniversary festival, the organizers sold a ton of sponsorships and they were all rewarded with tables in front of the stage, relegating the non-sponsor, non-payers to the side and in the back on John Lee Hooker Lane--so you had all the white folks (the sponsors) in front of the stage enclosed by a fence that kept all the black folks (local Clarksdalians mostly) out and away from the performers they had come to see. I'm sure nothing racial was meant by this set-up, but it sure looked awful. Plus someone decided, for the first time ever, to put a chainlink fence around the entire festival area, again segregating the community from the show. And, since the festival is free, this of course makes no sense at all. Forgive my rant, but this craziness must be stopped!
Pardon my absence from the blogosphere. It's been a too hectic summer. Although it's been awhile, I would be remiss in not reporting on the 16th Annual Old School & Blues Festival. The festival is held every Memorial Day Weekend here in Huntsville, Alabama. I've faithfully attended for the last 14 years, even after a few years ago they combined the so-called Old School Festival with the older Downhome Blues Festival. This year the promoter, JD Entertainment, booked most of the bluesier acts on Saturday night and the more modern old school bands on Sunday night. I attended the Saturday night show, headlined with Freddie Jackson and Willie Clayton, along with Next, Wilson Meadows, Microwave Dave & the Nukes, Dee Bradley, Tabitha King, and Tam Tam.
Now, I have to rant a bit. Half these acts, including the headliner Freddie Jackson, showed up without a band and instead sang along to a canned soundtrack. Now, I understand the difficulty and expense in hauling a band around from venue to venue, but when they're charging 40 bucks a pop to get in, I expect more than glorified karaoka. If the promoter claims that he can book more acts this way, I say book fewer acts, but require each to bring its own band.
So kudos to those who did. Willie Clayton was his usual professional perfectionist. Wilson Meadows probably performed the best set of the night. Microwave Dave was good, as usual, but was cut short by a rude MC, who was a obnoxious distraction throughout the evening. Dump the dude. And Dee Bradley turned in a very good sounding set to propel him into first place as my favorite local band.
And while Freddie Jackson was charming enough and in good voice, waiting for the sound man to cue up the next soundtrack was just too phony for me.
Here are some photographic memories from the festival:
I am pleased to report that the Alabama Writers Conclave has awarded my short story "Dance All Night" the First Place Fiction winner for its 2012 Writing Competion.
I received a call today from Beverly Douds, the Cape San Blas Lighthouse Lady. She told me the authorities in Port St. Joe were still talking about what to do about the eroding beach in front of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse. While they're talking, the hurricane season is rapidly approaching, and it would appear from the photo below that one good storm could mean the end of this historic landmark.
So if you know anyone of importance in Port St. Joe, call him or her, and ask them to stop talking and do something fast. Otherwise, it may mean good-bye to the lighthouse and the keepers' houses soon. You can also contact Beverly on Facebook and ask her about the situation.,
We saw Marcia Ball the other night at Panoply here in Huntsville. As usual, she sounded great and was backed by a tight, talented band that really rocked the house. Her special brand of swamp rock/blues is always fun, and no one today plays better n'orleans barrelhouse piano than Marcia herself. So we had some fun.
But I got to thinking as I looked over the crowd and at Marcia's black and white hair, why her audience was the reverse color of her hair, i.e., mostly white with only a thin streak of black. Why is it that most of today's popular blues bands, white or black, play to predominantly white audiences? And why is it that certain other blues bands, mainly African American, play to predominantly black audiences? And, further confounding, why is it that performers like Marcia Ball, who play a kind of Louisiana psuedo-Zydeco, blues, pop, country gumbo, that has traditionally been popular with all races, continue to play predominantly for white folks?
Well, I don't have the answer, any more than I have the answer to why all the races don't mix more than they do. But I wish they would, and I wish, at least, we all would give some blues music we don't normally listen to a chance once in awhile, because a lot of rock blues (e.g., Buddy Guy, Joe Louis Walker, Microwave Dave), southern soul blues (O.B. Buchana, Johnny Rawls, Latimore), and cajun country blues (e.g., C.J. Chenier, Rosie Ledet, Marcia Ball) is damn good. So give it a shot; try something different. You might be pleasantly surprised. Here's Bo Diddley and Marcia Ball:
More book signing on Sunday at the Cape San Blas Lighthouse and then back home on Monday. At the Lighthouse, I heard a lot more juicy, local secrets, some of which I may have to divulge in subsequent books. Seems as though every corner of Florida has its own Killing Mr. Watson tales.
I listened to Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run on the way home. If you have any interest at all in long distance running, read this. Its hero, Micah True, just died, after the book was published, and this book gives you his complete back story, as well as everything you ever wanted to know about running.
On the trip, I also listened to the Alamama Shakes' debut album, Boys & Girls. And surprisingly, this new band from down the road in Athens, Alabama is as good as all the hype that it has been receiving. Not nearly as highly touted is Curtis Salgado's new album, Soul Shot, that I also listened to on my trip, but just as welcome. It's the best thing Salgado has done in years and really hones in on the type of deep soul music that the veteran bluesman is a master of producing. Buy 'em both!
I had fun signing Secrets of San Blas yesterday at the No Name Cafe in downtown Port St. Joe--lots of good book people and local story telling. Today I signed at the Cape San Blas Lighthouse and, among a series of passing showers, talked to a lot of book lovers and loyal lighthouse freaks. Weirdly enough, I met a family who lives on the same street in Huntsville that I live on, only a couple blocks away, as well as other assorted admirers, of all stripes, including a club of hardcore Harley riders from Pensacola, among them:
I'm back in Port St. Joe to sign Secrets of San Blas. Here's a brief article that appeared on the front page of yesterday's Star, the local rag:
'SECRETS OF SAN BLAS' AUTHOR TO VISIT LIGHTHOUSE THIS WEEKEND
On May 16, 1938, E.W. Marler, the assistant lighthouse keeper of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse was brutally murdered. No one was ever charged with the crime.
More than 70 years later, the case remains one of North Florida's great unsolved mysteries--until now.
Charles Farley's new novel about the crime, "Secrets of San Blas," solves the murder, at least fictionally.
Farly will be visiting the novel's setting this weekend for a book signing April 21 and 22 at the Cape San Blas Lighthouse, the scene of the crime.
Farley's novel is both fast-paced and historically accurate. While the solution to the mystery is supposition, the descriptions of the area's history, natural beauty and pre-World War II culture are not.
I'll also be signing books at the No Name Cafe in downtown Port St. Joe this afternoon, Friday, 1:00--3:00. Hope to see you there.