Friday, July 19, 2013


This week's post will be a short one....Next week, we will look at some new releases, including a sneak preview of the upcoming Buddy Guy double-disc set.  This week, we will pay tribute to a couple of blues giants who recently passed away.

Texas Johnny Brown passed away on July 1st, at the age of 85.  He was diagnosed with liver and lung cancer about three months earlier.  Born in Choctaw County, Mississippi, Brown became a music icon in Houston, getting his start playing with his dad, who had to retire from the railroad when he lost his sight, but was a guitarist in the Lightnin' Hopkins tradition.  Part of the elder Brown's retirement package was a pass that he could use to travel anywhere on the railroad for either half price or for no ticket.  Together, they traveled from town to town, playing clubs and street corners.

Brown eventually settled in Houston, where he found work as a session man for Duke and Peacock records in the late 50's/early 50's, backing Lightnin' Hopkins and Joe Hinton, among others.  He was also a member of Amos Milburn's band, the Chickenshackers.  During this time, he recorded several tracks for Atlantic Records (in 1949), including "There Goes The Blues."  In the late 50's, he toured with Bobby Bland (as lead guitarist) and Junior Parker, also recording with them and cutting a few sides himself.  Brown also wrote some tunes as well, the biggest of them being "Two Steps From The Blues."

Brown recorded and performed until 1963, when he took a series of regular day jobs, including truck driving, landscaping, operating equipment, and working as a mechanic.  When he retired in 1991, he reformed his band, The Quality Blues Band, and performed with them until his death.  He was also able to record a couple of his own albums on Choctaw Creek Records, in the late 90's and early 00's, showing that he still was a force to be reckoned with.  He continued to play festivals and club dates until shortly before he died.

T-Model Ford didn't even start playing the guitar until he was 58, after his wife, the fifth of six, left him.  I'm not sure what was different about her departure from the first four in that she inspired him to play guitar and take up the blues (reportedly she left him a guitar as a parting gift), but I'm certainly glad she did because we almost certainly never would have been able to experience Ford's unique musical vision if she'd decided to stick it out.

Ford passed away this week in Greenville, MS, from respiratory failure after a series of strokes and heart issues.  He was either 89 or 93, depending on who you ask (Thursday morning on Facebook, Roger Stolle confirmed he was 92).  He was born in Forest, MS, and was plowing a field behind a mule in his early teens.  He also worked as a truck driver, in a saw mill, and killed a man in his early twenties and went to prison (where he got the scars from prison shackles that he wore on his ankle for the rest of his life).

He taught himself to play guitar, never learning to read music but doing his best to sound like his favorite guitarists, eventually working his way to an opening slot for Buddy Guy, playing rhythm guitar on Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes' The Heartbroken Man, and later signing with Fat Possum Records, where he released six albums of his compelling mix of blues from the Delta and Chicago.  He followed these recordings up with a really cool acoustic/electric release for Mudpuppy in 2008 (which includes one of my favorite instrumentals, "Red's Hideaway"), and later a pair of collaborations with the Seattle band, GravelRoad, before suffering a second stroke in 2012.

If you're not familiar with T-Model Ford, I highly recommend Jeff Konkel and Roger Stolle's documentary, M for Mississippi, which includes a profile of Ford, where he recounts his long and interesting life, plus he does one of his incredibly raw tunes, backed by his teenage son, Stud, on drums.  Lots of fun!!

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