Fat Possum
jim bunkley Artist:
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Jim Bunkley
Vol. 17 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
I like Jim Bunkley's style. When he uses the bottleneck on "Oh Red #2", he has a very physical and exciting approach, seemingly winging it even when he's probably not. He sings about Them Greasy Greens in a way that suggests he's done this at a thousand parties but everyone still gets a kick out of it, him included. He's also effective at quieter, more measured blues, as on "Jack of Diamonds".

"Jim Bunkley lived in a small tar-papered house he bragged was his own, in Geneva, Georgia, his birthplace. He was 'eight years old when they took the census in 1920.' It was about that time he made friends with the guitar. 'When I was about eight, my brother had one, and me and my nine year-old sister used to play it. Us couldn't hold it. Had it hanging up 'side of the wall and we'd get up on a chair and play it. Everyone in my family could play - we had five boys and four girls.'

"When he 'got up in age,' Bunkley was about the best known musician around Talbot County. He recalled the many times he walked away with prizes offered at a theater in nearby Junction City. 'I was rough then,' he said. 'I had on a great big ole cowboy hat and I got up there on the stage and cracked a whole lot of jokes and then played. I win all that money, too.'" - George Mitchell
como fife and drum Artist:
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Como Fife and Drum
Vol. 35 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
The Como Fife and Drum band features the legendary Napolian Strickland, who was considered by many to be the fife-blowingest man in north Mississippi. There are few sounds that I find as exciting as when Strickland lets loose with a holler, as he does on "Hey Freddie". The drummers are not identified on the sleeve, but other Mitchell recordings of the Como Drum Band have credited Otha Turner and John Tytus as Strickland's bandmates.

Note that we have an extensive article on Otha Turner and Mississippi fife-and-drum music posted on the 50 Miles of Elbow Room articles page.
james davis Artist:
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James Davis
Vol. 43 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5

t would be pretty difficult for an artist to be further up the 50 Miles alley than James Davis is. Davis played "Georgia drumbeat", an instrumental music that contains elements of blues, fife-and-drum, and country. Within five minutes of my first exposure to Mr. Davis' music, I was having visions of visiting him down in Georgia and/or flying him up to NYC to play at a party. (regrettably, he has since passed away) There are four tunes here, all rockers. One of these songs can also be heard on the superb Georgia Blues Today compilation, which is one to grab if you ever see it.

James Davis: electric guitar
Ulysses Davis: drums
Delma Davis: drums

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William "Do Boy" Diamond
Vol. 12 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
William "Do Boy" Diamond played guitar and sang expressive, brooding blues, mulling over gone-wrong circumstances. You take your good woman to be your friend and as soon as your back's turned some bastard comes walkin' in. He needs to buy himself a bulldog just to watch while he's asleep, since there are so many evil women, one may poison him. Still, he doesn't let it get him down: "Best woman quit you, don't you weep and moan / Get another high yellow, boys, and you can carry that same thing on". Some days, his is the only music I want to hear. This 7" was recorded in Canton, Mississippi, on September 15, 1967, and he delivers "Hard Time Blues" and "Just Want to Talk to You".
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Robert Diggs
Vol. 21 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Robert Diggs was a melodic and expressive harmonica player from Friars Point, Mississippi. A highlight of this four-song EP is a particularly lovely take on the Someday Baby Blues, one of my favorite tunes. Sometimes all you really need is a harmonica, a voice, and a foot to stomp with.

"Robert Diggs [lived] in Friars Point, an isolated town with a sluggish atmosphere in the heart of the Delta. He started blowing harmonica when he was only six years old. Diggs and his sister, both blind, traveled throughout the south in their youth playing harmonicas together. Since he has rarely been accompanied by guitar, Diggs is unusually talented in blending his harmonica and voice into one." - George Mitchell
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Sleepy John Estes
Vol. 9 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7"
$5
Sleepy John Estes plays acoustic blues with a plaintive heartbreaker of a voice and the warm thud of a booted foot dropping in time.  His pre-war material is some of my favorite music and these tracks recorded in Brownsville, TN, in 1962 also hit the spot. 
georgia fife and drum Artist:
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Georgia Fife and Drum
Vol. 34 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
The Georgia Fife and Drum band played rousing, good time music. This band tends to favor an earthier drum sound than the firecracker snare beats heard in Mississippi f&d groups such as the Como Drum Band. One track shares lyrics with "You Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dog Around," a tune popularized by fellow Georgians Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers. Also comes with buck dancing!

Note that we have an extensive article on Otha Turner and Mississippi fife-and-drum music posted on the 50 Miles of Elbow Room articles page.

J. W. Jones: fife
Floyd Bussey: bass drum
James Jones: small drum
jessie clarence gorman Artist:
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Jessie Clarence Gorman
Vol. 32 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Fat Possum's reissue series of George Mitchell's classic recordings is such an embarrassment of riches that it's easy to take it for granted and almost be overwhelmed by it. So many records, so many of them by relative unknowns. Well, let me tell you, if you wanted to hear this music a few years ago, that meant you'd be scrolling through countless copies of George Mitchell's Black and White Minstrels records on Ebay, hoping to stumble upon the real deal. And if you did find one, it would be typical for a used copy of, say, Georgia Blues Today or that Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods record to go for ~$50. Trust me, times are better now.

Which brings us to Jessie Clarence Gorman. Who's he? Born in 1928 in Talbotton, Georgia, his older brother taught young JC to play the guitar when he was nine years old. He played the old blues numbers when he was a young man, but later gave it up for rock 'n' roll. By the time Gorman and Mitchell made their acquaintance in Thomaston, Georgia in the spring of 1969, Gorman said that he didn't remember all those old songs too well. Be that as it may, he was able to deliver a superb "John Henry" on the electric guitar (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgMe5wpW5U0) and two versions of "Going up to the Country" on the acoustic. Short and sweet.
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Jimmy Lee Harris
Vol. 25 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5

Absolutely terrific acoustic country blues from Jimmy Lee Harris, recorded in Phenix City, Alabama, by George Mitchell in ~1980.  Harris was around 45 years old at the time and a vibrant player with a loose, hypnotic style.  Most of his songs are originals, a few of which sound largely improvised, with a relaxed, comfortable approach that’s very appealing.  On one track he’s accompanied by his brother Eddie, a fine guitarist in his own right, while Jimmy Lee contributes some very convincing mock harmonica, a technique he learned while incarcerated (“I didn’t have nothing to play in there, and I made that up in jail.  I put my hands to my mouth and just did it, they all called me the Harp Boy.  It sounded all right to the boys, so that’s how we had our music.”).

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Jessie Mae Hemphill
Vol. 45 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5

First ever recordings of the great Jessie Mae Hemphill.  Two sweet-voiced a cappella gospel numbers (“Home Going” and “I Want To Be Ready”) on one side and an interesting interview on the other, where she discusses learning to play music from her grandfather, the legendary Sid Hemphill.  Recorded in Senatobia, MS in August 1967, back when she was still known as Jessie Mae Brooks.

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Rosa Lee Hill
Vol. 38 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5

Rosa Lee Hill’s style of acoustic blues is instantly recognizable, with a stark and hypnotic picking technique that mirrored her vocals.  A daughter of Sid Hemphill and an aunt of Jessie Mae Hemphill, both legendary figures in the music, her technique would draw the listener in to such a degree that subtle changes bring big surprises.  Also recorded by Alan Lomax in 1959 during his famous “Southern Journey,” these recordings were made in Como, MS, on August 23, 1967, the year before she passed.

robert johnson Artist:
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Robert Johnson
Vol. 27 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Robert "Nighthawk" Johnson sang bluesy, time-stopping gospel. He would pick stark tunes on the acoustic guitar, sometimes with a bottleneck, and sing in a deep, moaning style: "Been drinkin' tears for water, tryin' to make it home". The lucky among us are familiar with Johnson's haunting and powerful contributions to the top-tier Sorrow Come Pass Me Around compilation LP. On this record, Mr. Johnson is accompanied by his daughters Norma, Dorothy, and Shirley. "Hold My Body Down", "Trying to Make it Home", "Precious Lord", and "He'll Make a Way". Recorded in Skene, Mississippi, on July 2, 1969, and the spirit was moving.
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Paul "Wine" Jones
Mule
Fat Possum
LP
$11

“Paul Jones of Belzoni, Mississippi, a small town with a rich blues heritage in the heart of the delta, is a professional welder. He lives with his wife Bessie Mae in a house he purchased with the sweat of his brow. Before becoming a welder, Jones worked in a Delta cotton gin; before that, like many of his Delta neighbors, he worked on a farm. And throughout his adult life, Paul Jones has been a bluesman, known and admired by a number of his fellow Delta musicians but seldom venturing far from home. His style is deeply rooted in the rural blues of the delta, but so distinctly original and idiosyncratic that his sound will not easily be mistaken for that of any other artist. Rock-solid bass-string drones, expansively sonic guitar textures, a seasoning of wah-wah riffs, and a voice that can sound vinegary, molasses-like, or simply, urgently passionate, as the song demands - these are some of the qualities that make Paul Jones a unique and formidable talent.

“At 48, Paul is old enough to have heard some of the Delta’s most celebrated blues stylists as a youth, young enough to be a post - B. B. King “modernist” if he'd chosen to go that way. Instead he developed a style that is unabashedly “country” and “in the tradition” but with modern shadings - that wah-wah pedal - and a dexterous manner of subsuming rhythm and lead functions in to a guitar style with the momentum and unpredictability of a runaway steamroller.”
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Junior Kimbrough
All Night Long
Fat Possum
LP
$13
All-time classic from Junior Kimbrough & The Soul Blues Boys.  David Nelson’s oft-quoted description of Kimbrough’s music does it right: “Kimbrough’s music carries the emotion and soul of the deepest blues, yet his music can also match reggae in its hypnotic qualities, as well as stand up to any rock ‘n’ roll for sheer intensity. … Bass, drums, and guitar…anticipate and feed off each other and know where the songs are going, becoming one big churning force.”
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Furry Lewis
Vol. 39 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Two very nice acoustic numbers from Furry Lewis: “Good Morning Judge” b/w “Furry Lewis Careless Love”.  A similar sweet rolling style is employed on each side, with more of a percussive approach on the flip.  Recorded in Memphis, TN, in 1962.  Time done been, won’t be no more.
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Mississippi Fred McDowell
Vol. 29 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7"
$5
Two barnstormers from slide guitar master Mississippi Fred McDowell, teamed up with the harp-gobbling Johnny Woods.  If my ear does not deceive me, it sounds like these tracks are also found on the full-length McDowell/Woods LP/CD that came out on Fat Possum some years ago.  “Shake ‘em on Down” b/w “Mama Says I’m Crazy”, recorded in Senatobia, MS, a town with a tradition of delivering good times such as these, on August 26, 1967.
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Green Paschal
Vol. 11 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Six tracks of acoustic bluesy gospel done in a rolling, Chattahoochee style, with occasional bottleneck punctuating his guitar lines.  Includes a version of Rev. Edward W. Clayborn’s classic Your Enemy Cannot Harm You.  Very sweet.  Recorded in Talbotton, GA, in 1969. 
cliff scott Artist:
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Cliff Scott
Vol. 24 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Cliff Scott lived (lives?) in Dranesville, Georgia, and learned a good deal about music from his neighbor Dixon Hunt. Approximately 40 years old in when these four tunes were recorded on March 24, 1969, Scott shows himself to be skilled at deep bottleneck blues, more easygoing, steady rolling tunes, and percussive, danceable instrumentals. Woke Up this Morning has a bit of the same feel as Muddy Waters' plantation recordings, minus Muddy's big-city visions.
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Will Shade
Vol. 33 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Ragged but right four-song EP from Will Shade, formerly of the Memphis Jug Band.  Two of these tracks were also found on the Tennessee Legends compilation, but even owners of that record will want this 7” to get in on Shade’s hilariously foul-mouthed “Dirty Dozens”.  On “Wine-Headed Man,” Shade delivers an excellent improvised number that pokes fun at the visiting white boys, a tradition that is often executed but seldom commercially released.  Fahey: “He had the most infectious smile I have ever seen on anyone.  He could have sold me the Brooklyn Bridge if he wanted to.”
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James Shorter
Vol. 19 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Four intimate and heartfelt gospel songs recorded in Senatobia, MS, in 1967.  With just voice and minimal percussion, it has a real “you are there” feel that adds gravity to the material: “Will I ever get back home?”  Jessie Mae Hemphill joins in on “Search Me Lord”.
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Lonzie Thomas
Vol. 8 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
“I watched my daddy’s fingers on the guitar and I caught it,” remembered Lonzie Thomas, who was born in his present home of Lee County, Alabama, in 1921.  He was shot in the face and blinded at the age of 22.  “After I got blind, I got more interested in playing and singing,” he said.  “It was something to keep my mind off worrying.”  It was also one of the few ways a blind man could make a living, and he began playing on the streets of Opelika and Columbus for tips and at parties.” – George Mitchell, from In Celebration of a Legacy.  His take on “Raise A Ruckus Tonight” and “Red Cross Store” found on this four-song EP are particular favorites.
othar turner Artist:
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Othar Turner
Vol. 7 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5
Two very nice solo acoustic guitar blues tunes from beloved fife-and-drum master Otha Turner, recorded by George Mitchell in Como, Mississippi, on August 24, 1967. You get two previously unreleased songs, his classic "Black Woman" paired with his take on the traditional "Bumble Bee" theme. Mr. Turner is one of the most expressive singers I've heard and it is a real treat to hear him in what is an atypical setting for him. Note that we have an extensive article on Otha Turner and Mississippi fife-and-drum music posted on the 50 Miles of Elbow Room articles page.
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Various Artists
The George Mitchell Collection, Volumes 1-45
Fat Possum
7CD box set
$32

Restocked, lower price!  Several years ago Fat Possum bought the rights to the recorded archive of folklorist George Mitchell, which resulted in the release of several CDs and a slew of 7”s, a fair number of which are also stocked here. This budget-priced 7CD box compiles all of the material released on those 45 7”s, plus a full CD of extra tracks.  Mitchell’s recordings and books such as Blow My Blues Away and Ponce de Leon have had a substantial impact on 50 Miles of Elbow Room, so this will get a special mention in these parts. 

For many years, the recordings made by George Mitchell as he traveled the south needed to be procured in a similar manner to which Mitchell learned about the musicians he recorded: following up on a lead here or a reference there, analyzing some scrap of information that might prove to be key, and generally a lot of asking around.  A music enthusiast from an early age, Mitchell’s first trip to hang out with blues musicians took place in 1961, when he was only 17 years old.  Over the next 20 years, he proceeded to periodically record, interview, and photograph many great blues artists.  Along the way he made the first recordings of some artists who later went on to great renown, such as RL Burnside and Otha Turner, as well as some of the earliest “revival” sessions with pre-war stars such as Sleepy John Estes and Furry Lewis.  Mostly he recorded people who remain largely unfamiliar to modern listeners, but whose music offers great rewards: the massive “Georgia Drumbeat” stomp of James Davis, the deep and inscrutable blues of Cecil Barfield, the stately slide guitar gospel of Leon Pinson, the ancient-sounding blues of Lonzie Thomas, the stunning high and lonesome tunes of John Lee Ziegler, beautiful a cappella spirituals, and on and on.  Particularly noteworthy is the amount of material from the Chattahoochee Valley region, which was largely ignored by other folklorists of the time. 

Though these recordings are consistently outstanding, what makes this material truly special to me is the manner in which it transports the listener to a different place and time, giving a sense of how the blues existed during a period when the status of the musicians who played it was often starting to fade in their communities.  That said, the performances often have an intimate and relaxed feel to them, as befits a music played for the joy of a few.  In his liner notes to this box set, Sam Sweet sums it up quite well, “A detailed picture of 20th century black musical culture in the rural South emerges from the recurring themes in Mitchell’s archive: kids learning instruments from their relatives or family friends; musicians spending their entire life within the distance of one or two towns; musicians forming irreplaceable and lifelong musical partnerships; people staging non-church-related concerts and parties for themselves in the woods and fields near their homes.  What Mitchell amassed over his 20 years in the field is as good a picture of that world as any of us are ever going to get.”