Wednesday, May 5, 2010


The following article appeared in the May 5, 2010, edition of the Belzoni Banner. Some revisions have been made for this blog. I have also since been told by O.J. Turner Jr.'s son Jack that Tallyho, unhyphenated, is the correct spelling: he remembers throwing away the last box of labels after he took over his father's drug store. (See next post for more details on the Tallyho story.)


By Jim O’Neal
Research Director
Mississippi Blues Trail

Tally-Ho, a tonic once produced at Turner’s Drug Store, sold for a few dollars a bottle in the 1940s. Now, anyone who has an old bottle of it, or even the label from a bottle, is being offered a $100 prize in a contest sponsored by the Mississippi Blues Trail.

Why? Because Tally-Ho was the sponsor of a historic radio program featuring legendary blues singer and harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson, who lived in Belzoni at the time. Sometimes Williamson was joined by Belzoni guitarist Elmore James. Both men were elected to the Blues Hall of Fame on the first ballot ever circulated by the Memphis-based Blues Foundation. And the Mississippi Blues Trail is placing a historical marker at the old Turner’s Drug Store site on Hayden Street on May 15 in honor of the broadcasts, which boosted Williamson and James on their way to stardom before either man had started his recording career. Williamson later recorded such hits as “Eyesight to the Blind,” “Help Me,” and “Don’t Start Me Talking,” while James was known for “Dust My Broom,” “It Hurts Me Too,” and “The Sky Is Crying.”

In the 1940s and ‘50s, blues and country & western bands often played live on local radio stations across the South, advertising tonics, flour brands, and furniture stores. In 1948 WAZF in Yazoo City laid a direct telephone line to Belzoni and had a remote broadcasting studio built under the guidance of station engineer Don Flinspach and Belzoni merchant W.C. Warren of Delta Electric Co. Several hours of WAZF’s daily programming emanated from Belzoni, where local musician Bob Novak was hired as announcer. Sonny Boy Williamson came at 3:30 p.m., broadcasting live from the Easy Pay Store, singing blues and sometimes gospel songs, as well as a Tally-Ho theme song which began. “Tally-Ho sure is good, you can buy it anywhere in your neighborhood.” The Easy Pay also advertised its merchandise on the radio. Easy Pay owner George Gordon and O.J. Turner, Jr., of Turner’s were partners in the Tally-Ho venture, which was modeled after a popular tonic called Hadacol. Both tonics did a booming business at one time, and although they were advertised as vitamin supplements, the alcohol content of both offered consumers an extra “kick.” Older residents recall that Tally-Ho was popular both among whites and African Americans.

Parts of the Tally-Ho story have appeared in various blues history books, based on an interview that blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow conducted with Turner’s pharmacist W.G. Bush in the early 1970s. The tonic is usually spelled “Talaho” in these accounts. The Mississippi Blues Trail hopes to find an actual bottle to confirm the correct spelling. Other questions also remain, including the site of the radio studio that was constructed in Belzoni, and the call letters of the Greenville station that also broadcast from Belzoni. Some sources report that it was WGVM, while others cite WJPR. Anyone with a Tally-Ho bottle or label or information on the radio studio and stations, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, or other Belzoni blues musicians, including Robert Earl Holston and Boyd Gilmore, is invited to contact Helen Sims in Belzoni at 836-7761 or the Mississippi Blues Trail research department at (816) 931-0383, e-mail The blues trail is also looking for original photographs.

The marker at Turner’s will be the blues trail’s third in Belzoni. Pinetop Perkins and Denise LaSalle are featured on the first two. In addition to Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Turner’s, and Easy Pay, the new marker will also honor Belzoni educator Lonnie Haynes for his work in the 1950s as a blues drummer with James and Little Milton.

In addition, a 1939 photograph of a guitarist playing in front of Turner’s will be printed on the marker. (Hopefully someone in attendance can identify this unnamed musician.) In the future the blues trail hopes to honor some of Belzoni’s important venues for blues, including Jack Anderson’s cab stand, Jake’s Place, and the IBPOEW Elks Club.

The Mississippi Delta Blues Society, Mississippi Blues Trail, and the Turner family are sponsoring a full slate of events on May 15, including:

2:00 p.m.: Pinetop Perkins marker relocation dedication, 17150 Hwy. 49W, with music by band members who played with the late Belzoni bluesman Paul “Wine” Jones, plus Bill Abel and a blues jam with Old School Steve, W.H. Lowe, and the Willie Archer Blues Band.

4:00 p.m to 6:00 p.m.: DJ Frank spinning the blues at Hayden & Jackson in downtown Belzoni.

6:00 p.m.: Turner’s Drug Store marker dedication with music by Bentonia bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes.

7:00 to 10:00 p.m. Benefit for the Mississippi Delta Blues Society hosted by Restaurant 107, Long’s Deli, and the O.J. Turner, Jr. family, with music by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes with Stan Street & the Hambone Band, at Restaurant 107 (107 East Jackson Street).

R.S.V.P. 615-473-5436 or

[See next posting for more details on the Tally-Ho/Talaho saga.]

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