Thursday, May 18, 2006

Smokestack lightnin'.

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending some of the morning in the company of Richard Ramsey, Program Director of the Howlin' Wolf Blues Society, native of West Point, noted raconteur and oral historian of the musical heritage of the Black Prairie (home to blues, rock, and country legends like Elvis, Wolf, and Jimmy Rodgers and truly one of America's prime musical crossroads!), and chief curator of the new Howlin' Wolf Blues Museum in the Friday House. As a teen Ramsey often sold Wolf his hunting license and changed the tires on Mr. Burnett's car at his father's shop on Main Street (MS Highway 50). He also heard Wolf play in Calvert's Alley just up the block.

Calvert's Alley

We drove through Cottrell Street, West Point's original African American business district, a 2–3 block stretch with multiple jukes, not dissimilar to Hanna Street in Indianola, home to the famous Club Ebony. Ferdinand Sykes' joint is still in decent enough repair as compared to the abandoned Roxy's Juke out in White Station.

Sykes' Juke

Fernandez Juke

Abandoned Juke, White Station, MS

Juke in WS

Along Cottrell, Wolf also played on the second floor gallery of Annie Garth's house and at Dismuke's, a joint he passed when running away at 13 from the house of his mean Uncle Will Young out in White Station. He ran into town on the railtracks and then hopped a train to Ruleville, where his father worked.

Annie Garth's

Annie garth's

Dismuke's and train tracks (left Ruleville right White Station)

Like that other famous Mississippi musical legend, Jimmy Rodgers, trains played a great role in Wolf's early years and young adulthood and had a profound effect on his imagination. You can just imagine growing up in White Station nigh the tracks and hearing the night train roar through regularly with horn's ablarin'. Back then, the tracks also formed a walking path from White Station to West Point and even the world beyond long before any sort of paved road existed. Now they do so again through a rails and trails revitalization project. Smokestack Lightnin' indeed!

White Station, looking SW towards West Point

White Station tracks towards West Point

There will be much more of Wolf's story in West Point and environs here later this summer and at Perfect Sound Forever as an intro to my coverage of the 11th Annual Howlin' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival coming up the Friday of Labor Day weekend.

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