It's King Biscuit Time: The annual King Biscuit Blues Festival, now in its 17th year, will be held in nearby Helena, Arkansas, Thursday, October 10th, through Saturday, October 12th. Solomon Burke (see Music Feature, page 41) and Ike Turner (Saturday, 10:30 p.m.) will headline the free festival this year, while other must-see acts include Texan Henry Qualls (Friday, 5:30 p.m.), Denver's Otis Taylor (Friday, 2:40 p.m.), New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas (Saturday, 8:40 p.m.), and Georgia blueswoman Precious Bryant (Saturday, 2:40 p.m.).
Fans of North Mississippi's own Jessie Mae Hemphill will want to catch Bryant's set: The guitarist was "discovered" by folklorist George Mitchell when he was making field recordings back in 1969, yet it was another three decades before she was tapped for a full-length album, 2001's Fool Me Good. Oxford, Mississippi, native Amos Harvey did the production honors, cutting Bryant in a quilt-draped living room near her home in southwest Georgia. Fool Me Good has a timeless feel, Bryant singing and picking determinedly, armed with a voice that belies her years. Her rhythmic style, as percussive as Hemphill's hard-driving riffs, punctuates every line with an almost masculine panache.
Ex-Memphian Mark Lemhouse will also be appearing at the King Biscuit festival, performing with bassist Scott Bomar and drummer Paul Buchignani (Saturday, 1:45 p.m.) and again with local roustabouts The Bluff City Backsliders at 5:30 p.m. the same day. Lemhouse will be in town celebrating the release of his solo album, Yellow Dog Records' Big Lonesome Radio. The record, produced by Bomar at Easley-McCain Studios earlier this year, takes on rockabilly (Charlie Feathers' "One Hand Loose"), country blues (an exceptional take on Charley Patton's "Pony Blues"), modern eclecticism (Tom Waits' "No One Can Forgive Me but My Baby"), and tango (Lemhouse's own "Edwin's Lament").
The former Backslider shines on every track, wrangling heartfelt sentiment from his battered National Resonator guitar. While he easily shifts genres, Lemhouse seems most comfortable playing hill-country blues, particularly on the Fred McDowell tune "What's the Matter With Papa's Little Angel Child." Lemhouse glides effortlessly up and down the frets, evoking the style of his mentor, Robert Belfour, who, he explains, "taught me to use my thumb to maintain the bass. When I lived in Memphis, I really got to know [Belfour] and learn his style."
From his current home in Salem, Oregon, Lemhouse confesses that he misses performing with the Backsliders and his other band, the Handy 3. "Out here, it's so different," he says with a laugh. "These West Coast bands all play in a Chicago jump-blues style, and they get so bummed when I want to do songs that have just one or two chord changes. Last week, I played with a band that hated my single-chord style!"
Not able to catch Lemhouse in Helena? His CD-release party will be at the Hi-Tone Café Thursday, October 17th, with The Gabe & Amy Show opening.
This Friday, Shangri-La Records will be celebrating Little Milton Appreciation Day in honor of the bluesman's new Malaco disc Guitar Man. I caught up with the Greenville, Mississippi, native the other day, and he couldn't be more pleased. "The first time I came to Memphis was in the early 1950s," Milton Campbell remembers. "I was extremely excited -- it was the first time I'd been north of Greenville!"
In 1953, Campbell made his wax debut on Sam Phillips' Sun label. "I have to give Ike Turner the credit for that," he says. "Ike also encouraged me to move up to East St. Louis [in Illinois]. He and I worked 12 to 15 dates a week up there, playing three or four gigs a day on the weekend. We'd play St. Louis, Missouri, where they had a curfew. Everything would close down at 2 a.m., and we'd head across the river to the Illinois side, where it was 24/7. We worked nonstop."
In St. Louis, Campbell ran his own Bobbin label, before embarking on a career at the Chicago-based Chess Records, which yielded the chart-topping soul-blues hits "We're Gonna Make It," "Grits Ain't Groceries," and "If Walls Could Talk."
Campbell signed to Stax in the '70s, hitting again and again with singles like "Annie Mae's Café" and "Walking the Back Streets and Crying," staying with the label until it folded in 1975. Yet he didn't move to Memphis until the late '70s, when he decided, after 36 years in Chicago, he was ready to return to his Southern roots. "The Southern hospitality and the atmosphere down here are two things I want to be around," he says, proclaiming, "Memphis is my hideaway." He'll be signing copies of Guitar Man at Shangri-La Records at 5 p.m. Friday afternoon. "Later that weekend," he says, "I'm gonna be down at King Biscuit, hanging out with Ike."
Andria Lisle covers local music news and notes each week in Local Beat. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.