Going Down to Clarksdale 

The prime-time slots at the 19th annual Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, this weekend, might belong to big names like Latimore and the North Mississippi Allstars, but this free three-day event is really all about the little guys -- hard-working players such as Wesley Jefferson, Big T, Tater Foster, and Arthneice Jones who toil year-round in Clarksdale clubs and regional acoustic faves like Jimmy "Duck" Holmes.

click to enlarge Sam Carr
  • Sam Carr

Hammering that theme home, festival organizers have planned a Saturday-night tribute to area drummer Sam Carr. Son of guitar great Robert Nighthawk, the 80-year-old Carr gained fame as the beatman for Sonny Boy Williamson II and the Jelly Roll Kings. Today, his credits include sessions with Buddy Guy, T-Model Ford, and Robert "Bilbo" Walker.

"Sam Carr is important on so many levels -- from his history, which spans from the 1940s to now, to his distinctive style," says Roger Stolle, who owns CatHead Delta Blues & Folk Art in downtown Clarksdale.

"When he's playing in the juke joints, by the first lick on the drums, you know that it's either Sam or somebody trying to sound like Sam," Stolle explains. "He plays so simply, yet he adds so much to the music. He broke the mold. There won't ever be another drummer like him, and we just can't celebrate this guy enough."

Stolle's label, CatHead Music, will celebrate the release of bluesman Big George Brock's second album, Round Two, at Clarksdale's Ground Zero Blues Club this Saturday night. The CD, a follow-up to Club Caravan, was recorded at Justin Showah's subterranean Electric Catfish Studio in Oxford, Mississippi, this past May, with Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin sitting in for tracks such as "So Long" and "Shake for Me."

"We brought George back down to Mississippi to record, because I've always seen him as more of a Delta player than a Chicago-style musician," Stolle notes of Brock, who was born in Grenada, Mississippi, and raised on Delta plantations before relocating to St. Louis several decades ago.

According to Stolle, the title of Brock's latest refers to the fact that it is indeed his second "comeback" album. The title also references his boxing career, specifically his fight with Sonny Liston in 1952.

"It was in St. Louis," Stolle confirms, "and Sonny was talking about how he could knock out George. They set up an impromptu match, and Sonny landed one on George's right eyebrow, but he didn't go down. In the second round, George said, 'I have to knock this guy out, or I might not make it.'"

Brock won the bout.

"[Brock] isn't just some guy playing blues music. This is a real bluesman, which is a vanishing commodity," says Stolle.

"One of the most beautiful things about the Sunflower Festival is the authenticity of the acts," he continues. "Hardcore music fans come here to be educated. These old guys might not tour, but they're still alive and playing in Mississippi."

"There are still more guys," Stolle adds, listing L.C. Ulmer and O'Dell Harris, who are performing at the mini blues fest that CatHead will put on this Sunday, as two virtually unknown "real deal" players.

"They still exist, but you have to wonder where they've been for the last 70 years," he says.

For more information about the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, go to www.SunflowerFest.org. For more on CatHead's mini-fest, and a complete rundown of Clarksdale activities, visit www.CatHead.biz.

If you venture down to Clarksdale this weekend, be sure to stop in Theo Dasbach's Rock 'N Roll Museum at 113 E. 2nd Street. The private enterprise, launched in the Netherlands a decade ago, just opened its stateside doors last week, displaying Dasbach's mind-boggling collection of autographs, albums, and music memorabilia, including a copy of Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88."

Dasbach decided to open his museum in Clarksdale after happening onto the E. 2nd Street location, formerly home to Conerly's Shoe Store.

"Originally, I worked for an international bank, and the museum was a hobby," he explains. "My wife and I moved to Memphis in June 2005, and, when I retired, I started looking for a location for a permanent museum. Memphis already has so many [similar] things, and in Clarksdale, we thought we could add something. Bubba O'Keefe showed me the spot, which is near CatHead and [Morgan Freeman's restaurant] Madidi, and I couldn't sleep all night. We bought the building the next day!"

Go to www.RockMuseum.biz for a virtual tour and more details.

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