A Blue Image
"Everybody want to sing my blues, Nobody want to live my blues."
This simple but true verse is inscribed above and below a photo reproduction of a portrait of an African-American. The print is currently hanging in the Speed Museum as a part of an exhibit by the nationally known and locally based sculptor, Ed Hamilton. The exhibition is entitled, "From the Other Side," and displays the noncommissioned work Hamilton has done in his studio. Free to explore more personal possibilities, he has revealed a very intimate side of his artistic talents.
Hamilton said, "While thumbing through a magazine, I came across this particular picture that did something to me." The photo. taken by Prentice Polk during the 30s near Tuskegee, Alabama, is of an old rural man named George Moore, who was probably born before the abolition of slavery. His dapper attire - tie, white shirt, jacket and hat with the side brim turned jauntily up - contrasts with his white beard and piercing eyes that seem to stare right into your soul. This image with the text from a poem by Langston Hughes was first shown at the 2nd Annual African-American Art Exhibition at Actor's Theater in 1996 and has come back to haunt us again.
Blues music can be sung and played by anyone, but the experience of the toil and prejudice of those hard times is quickly fading away with the passing of each generation of blues musicians. This music of black Americans, which was originally rooted in African rhythms, field hollers, work and gospel songs, has been gradually absorbed by the white culture and packaged into a commercial commodity. The early musicians played the blues that they lived; today's musicians play the blues that they love.
When I first started collecting records in the 60s, the only musicians in the racks came from the South, where they had hoboed, picked cotton or done time. Today this music is having to share that space with the ever-increasing new generation of talented white musicians. That's okay, but they had better pay their dues musically, not sociologically, before I buy their records.
Fred's House Party
Fred Murphy started playing his blues in the 30's, before most of us were born. He lived around Memphis before he came to Louisville following WWII. He was honored at Stevie Ray's on Sunday, July 14, with an old-fashioned house party organized by Pen and Brenda Bogert. Firehouse Bar-B-Q filled our stomachs with a selection of ribs, pork and chicken. We had all the ingredients except for a few more people to pay tribute to this 84-year-old legend.
Each of the five bands gave their best shot with short but spirited sets, starting with the Walnut St. Blues Band. This band, fronted by Artie Wells, has regular gigs each weekend at the 537 Lounge on Fridays and Billy's Place on Sundays. MR2 Blue followed with the one-two punch of Mike Perry on guitar and Joe Pinkerton on harp. Then it was time for Fred's group, the 10th Street Blues Band. Unfortunately, Fred had nurse's orders not to get up and play with his band and had to be restrained on several occasions when the blues beat got him moving a little too much. You could feel his frustration. Billy Bird took over harp and vocal duties, along with Matt Swensen on guitar, James Watkins on bass, Sonny Sitgraves drumming and Pete Peterson playing a keyboard the size of a computer keypad. Pen Bogert did some fine slide work on his Gibson guitar, which recalled the sound of Robert Nighthawk.
The real surprise was the appearance of Waymond "Junie" De Haven. De Haven used to play with Fred and Henry Woodruff at the Sunset Bar at 8th and Liberty, then owned by Pops Thurmond. De Haven moved to Joplin, Missouri in 1969, so this was quite a nostalgic reunion. He strapped on his guitar and sat in for the last part of the set as though he had never left town. After the party, Junie said he was only seventeen years old when he sat in with the Sunset Royals and still remembers how Fred used to run up and down the floor singing, "Nights By Myself." The only keys Junie knew then were E, A, and B, so Smoketown Red wood-shedded with him. De Haven plays occasionally now, jamming around Joplin and performing with Michael Burks.
After the 10th Street Blues Band finished, it was time for Fred to go back to Meadows South Nursing Home. The Mudcats were next with several new original songs, including "Hollywood Smile" and "Eyewitness Blues." Lamont Gillispie and the 100 Proof Blues Band closed out the party. Lamont paid tribute to Lefty Dizz, playing "Love Her with a Feeling." That got the women of all colors lined up in front of the stage dancing. Look for Lamont's CD, recorded live in Madison, Indiana, which is coming out next month.
Fred's House party was also a CD release party for Fred. The recording I Heard a Little Rumblin' was produced by Pen and Brenda Bogert and recorded at their home just two weeks before the party. It captures a very special moment in the twilight of Fred's musical career. He reached way back and sang several songs I have never heard Fred sing before. This intimate acoustical setting featured Bogert's guitar providing the sensitive accompaniment to showcase Fred's simple harp, gospel-laden vocals and occasional narratives. This well-produced recording pays a highly deserved tribute to a man who has been so important to Louisville's blues heritage. The profits for the sale of this CD will help pay for some of Fred's medical expenses. Fred heard a little rumblin' at this party and it sure sounded good.