Ultimate Southern Blues Road Trip Births New Documentary
How’d you like to take a road trip through the Mississippi Delta with Dr. Ike? When documentary filmmaker Daniel Cross wanted to meet the elder statesmen of Southern blues, he asked the good doctor to make some introductions. Together they criss-crossed the deep South for the next year and a half, stopping at juke joints and the homes of Ponderosa Stomp favorites like Lil Buck Sinegal and Barbara Lynn. Fortunately for us, Ike brought Stomp veterans David “Lefty” Parker and Scott Bomar to amp up some jam sessions, and Cross and his crew shot beautiful footage of the musicians and their towns, from Lafayette, Louisiana to Como, Mississippi.
Travel the Backroads with the Last of the Blues Devils
In the resulting film, I Am The Blues, the artists who’ve lived history tell their stories in their own words and music. The documentary, produced by EyeSteelFilm, made its North American debut at South by Southwest last month to enthusiastic reviews. As advertised, it “takes the audience on a musical journey through the swamps of the Louisiana Bayou, the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta and moonshine-soaked barbeques in the North Mississippi Hill Country.”
Ponderosa Stomp Artists Profiled in I am the Blues
The movie offers portraits of more than a dozen artists, nearly all of whom have graced the stage at the Ponderosa Stomp. The best-known among them is Bobby Rush, a Louisiana native who was based in Chicago for decades but never stopped working the southern Chitlin’ Circuit. Rush, who has since moved back to the South, is our on-screen guide to the area, driving back roads and talking about the indignities and triumphs of making music under Jim Crow. The realities of race and economics are never far from the surface here–in a scene shot through a keyhole, Rush has to contend with a promoter who owes him money.
Bayou Fishing, Back Porches, Living Rooms and Crawfish Boils
I Am The Blues gives us music in context, from mossy cyprus trees to back porches to gravel parking lots. Stomp fans will relish the glimpses of these artists’ lives off-stage: Jimmy “Duck” Holmes opening the Blue Front Café in the morning, Lil Buck Sinegal sharing a worm with another bayou fisherman, the Reverend John Wilkins with his congregation in Hunter’s Chapel Church. When Dr. Ike brought the crew to RL Boyce’s house in Mississippi, Boyce was sitting on a guitar amp out front, with a harmonica player next to him and a drummer behind him in the grass. The film is full of intimate performances like this, including a jaw-dropper from Barbara Lynn, who casually shreds a gold-plated guitar in her Beaumont living room. Other times we see musicians playing for each other: at a crawfish boil in Lafayette, Carol Fran sings with her nonagenarian uncle Henry Gray on piano, and, later, Rush and Little Freddie King study L.C. Ulmer’s fingers as they skitter across the fret board of his guitar.
A Poignant Look at “The Last of a Kind”
The documentary also shows that some of these artists are aging without the benefit of fair pay for their work (one featured musician, Bud Spires, passed away before the film was released), and the picturesque Southern landscapes include glimpses of a region still struggling with inequality. Cross’ achievement is making such a vivid record of this environment, and the unflagging vitality of these artists. Best to listen to them while we have the chance, and thank I Am The Blues for sharing their stories while we can still pay them their due, at the Stomp and beyond.
New Orleans Debut Screening of I Am the Blues on April 26 at Sync Up
The New Orleans debut screening will be part of Sync Up Cinema in New Orleans at 1205 N. Rampart at 8pm on Tuesday April 26, 2016. It’s free and open to the public.
Featured Ponderosa Stomp artists included in I am the Blues : Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, RL Boyce, L.C. Ulmer, Bobby Rush, Little Freddie King, Barbara Lynn, Lil Buck Sinegal, Henry Gray, Lazy Lester, Carol Fran. And cameos by Classie Ballou, Guitar Gable, Warren Storm, Jockey Eitienne, and CC Adcock