Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the blues trail in Tutwiler

Here’s a photo by Melanie Young of Living Blues from the November 25 Mississippi Blues Trail marker ceremony in Tutwiler, from left: Jerome Little (Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors), Tutwiler Mayor Genether Miller-Spurlock, me, Robert Plant, former mayor Robert Grayson, and Mississippi State Senator David Jordan. All spoke at the event, with local officials taking pride in Tutwiler’s place in blues history and Senator Jordan reminding the local “Bible thumpers” of their connections to the blues. Former Tutwiler resident Panny Mayfield of the Clarksdale Press Register arranged for Plant’s participation in sponsoring the marker. His appearance was kept hush-hush so as not to overwhelm Tutwiler with hordes of Led Zeppelinites, so festivities remained pleasantly low-key. Many of the older residents in attendance had no idea who he was, in fact, although they did know the people pictured on the marker, including Tutwiler musicians Tom Dumas and Lee Kizart, as well as Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, who is buried about two miles from town. Plant took time for interviews and conversations with media and fans. He recalled Sonny Boy’s stays in England, talked about his fascination with the Delta and with its blues artists, including Rube Lacy and Tommy McClennan, and mentioned that Led Zeppelin once had chances to purchase the Chess, Sun, and Vee-Jay labels – he and Jimmy Page wanted to do it, but the other band members weren’t interested. Local blues aficionado Johnny Jennings also had some interesting stories to tell about meeting Sonny Boy in Tutwiler. (More about that another time.)

Some culprits from the Mississippi Blues Trail staff sabotaged me that day (my birthday) by circulating 61 on 49 name tags and coronating me with a paper crown. My sister Julie published my “61 on 49” reference as a mystery quiz on Facebook, prompting a guess that I would be turning 61 in the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility on Highway 49. Now that is truly insulting. I would hope that if I ever achieve the necessary criminal credentials, I would at least have the honor of serving in the state penitentiary at Parchman, which is only a few miles down the road on 49.

Robert Plant said he was also 61. In honor of the first (and only) time I saw Led Zeppelin (at the Kinetic Playground in Chicago, Feb. 7, 1969), here is a photo of a John Bonham drumstick I picked up at that concert:

Jim O'Neal

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