Fat Possum
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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
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Jim Bunkley / George Henry Bussey
The George Mitchell Collection
Fat Possum
LP
$14

“This 17-track collection of stripped down traditional blues songs performed by Jim Bunkley and George Henry Bussey was recorded by George Mitchell in Geneva & Waverly Hall, GA, in 1969. Jim Bunkley, born & raised in Geneva, GA, ‘made friends with the guitar’ at age eight. The self-proclaimed best known musician in Talbot County, Bunkley would take the stage with a great big ole cowboy hat, cracked a whole lot of jokes, & then played his heart out. George Henry Bussey was a woodworker, born near Waverly Hall, GA, about 15 miles from Geneva, where Bunkley lived. Although coming from a musical family in which everyone seemed to play an instrument & sing, Bussey didn't start playing the guitar until he was 18. ‘I listened to a lot of Blind Boy Fuller's records, but I wouldn't try to play it like he played it. I just played it in my own way.’” - Fat Possum. Download included. Hear Bunkley's Them Greasy Greens, Black Gal (with Lottie Kate Bunkley), and Bussey's Blues Around My Bed.

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RL Burnside
First Recordings
Fat Possum
LP
$14

14 songs from RL Burnside’s first recording session, captured by George Mitchell in 1968. By turns, it’s spellbinding, deep, & raucously fun acoustic blues. Limited edition, 180-gram vinyl pressing. A classic, restocked after a long absence from these parts. Hear Goin' Down South & Poor Black Mattie.

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RL Burnside
Mississippi Hill Country Blues
Fat Possum
LP
$14

"It's a pleasure to hear RL Burnside's early acoustic blues played the way he learned them in the hill country of Northern Mississippi. Three of these tracks date from 1967 and were recorded in Coldwater, MS, by folklorist George Mitchell, while the remaining were recorded in the early '80s by Swingmaster operator Leo Bruin in Groningen, Netherlands. This is Burnside playing solo (and mainly) acoustic country blues with the only addition to his guitar & voice being the harmonica of Red Ramsey on 'Rolling and Tumbling.' While you can't go wrong with the purchase of any Burnside recording, these Swingmaster sessions portray a natural relaxed unaccompanied Burnside." - Fat Possum / Al Campbell, All Music. Download included. Hear Miss Maybelle.

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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 & John Tytus as Strickland's bandmates.

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

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James Davis
Vol. 43 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7" EP
$5

It would be pretty difficult for an artist to be further up the 50 Miles alley than James Davis. 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. Hear Old Country Rock #1

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

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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. Hear Special Agent.

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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. Every Time I Come Around 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 there is 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
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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.”). Hear I Wanna Ramble.

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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 draws 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. Sample her great Pork and Beans.

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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. Recorded in Skene, Mississippi, on July 2, 1969, and the spirit was moving. Hear Hold My Body Down and He'll Make a Way.
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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
Good Morning Judge
Fat Possum
LP
$14

Very fine & sometimes charmingly off-kilter “revival” era recordings of the great Furry Lewis, recorded in Memphis, TN, by George Mitchell in 1962 & ’67. Hear Furry Lewis Rag, an enduring favorite here. Download included.

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Furry Lewis
Vol. 39 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7"
$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. Hear Good Morning Judge.
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Mississippi Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods
Mama Says I'm Crazy
Fat Possum
LP
$14

Wild guitar/harmonica throwdown recorded by George Mitchell in Senatobia, MS, a town with a tradition of delivering good times such as these, on August 26, 1967. Can’t be beat. 180 gram pressing. Hear Shake 'em on Down.

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Buddy Moss
The George Mitchell Collection
Fat Possum / Big Legal Mess
LP
$13

"Born in 1914, Buddy Moss’ first instrument was harmonica. He grew up in Jewel, a small town in Warren County, Georgia, before moving with his family to Augusta, and later to Atlanta, where he started busking. With local musicians Curley Weaver and Robert 'Barbecue Bob' Hicks. Moss formed the Georgia Cotton Pickers, with whom he would make his recorded debut in 1930, recorded at the Campbell Hotel in Atlanta. Following his debut with the Georgia Cotton Pickers, Moss taught himself the guitar, and made his first records under his own name in 1933. After Hicks died of pneumonia in 1931, Moss started playing parties around Atlanta with Blind Boy Fuller. Moss was an in-demand recording artist throughout the 1930s, cutting dozens of sides for labels like Okeh and Columbia, and recording alongside Weaver, Fred McMullen, and Josh White.

"In 1935, Moss went to prison for the murder of his wife in an incident that was never fully recounted or explained (Mitchell has been told that Moss killed his wife by hitting her with a guitar). Moss’ good behavior and the lobbying of two sponsors willing to make sure Moss met the terms of his parole helped him get out of jail in 1941. Following his release from prison, Moss cut several sides for Okeh with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, but his recording comeback was cut short when the war effort forced the industry to drastically cut back its use of the shellac that went into making 78 records. Though Moss continued performing in the areas around Richmond, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina, in the 1940s, music was no longer his profession or his living. He worked on a tobacco farm, drove trucks, and worked as an elevator operator over the next twenty years. Moss performed sporadically during the blues revival years of the 1960s, but went largely unrecorded, even as peers like Josh White were finding mass audiences." - Sam Sweet

George Mitchell: After Willie Rockomo and Peg Leg Howell, Buddy Moss was the first guy I recorded outside of Tennessee. I was a freshman at Emory. Bob Koester, from Denmark, was auctioning an old Buddy Moss 78 in a Schwann catalogue, and the ad read something like “one of the finest guitarists who ever lived…if only he was still alive.” I remembered hearing Moss’ name from Peg Leg Howell, so I found out he lived down on Park Avenue. He was still playing, but only for himself and friends. I went down there and he didn’t have electricity, so I invited him up to my house for dinner. And we had dinner, and afterwards, he played in my living room for my family, and I recorded it. That’s when I realized blues singers weren’t just in Memphis – they were in Atlanta, and everywhere else.

Hear Amy. LP includes download card.

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Rev. Leon Pinson
The George Mitchell Collection
Fat Possum / Big Legal Mess
LP
$14

“Rev. Leon Pinson grew up in north Mississippi, then lived in the Delta for over three decades, steadily playing his brand of blues-inflected gospel. Beginning in 1929, Rev. Pinson traveled the northern Mississippi region alongside his musical partner, the harmonica player Elder Roma Wilson. The pair built a strong following on the church circuit, earning renown for their renditions of 'This Train,' 'Lily of the Valley,' and 'Better Get Ready.' In the 1940s, Elder Wilson left Mississippi for Detroit, where he would make his first recordings. Meanwhile, Rev. Pinson settled in Cleveland, MS, where he’d play outside of Charlie White’s barber shop. Later he opened his own shoe shine stand, picking up the guitar when business was slow. Rev. Pinson and Elder Wilson were reunited in the 1970s, when Wilson returned to Mississippi. The pair gained widespread acclaim from appearing at several prominent festivals.” - Sam Sweet

George Mitchell: “We found him playing outside this little store. We recorded him a lot on acoustic, but when he was in public, he had a little loudspeaker and an electric guitar, and he made some noise. His gospel felt like blues. He had a really beautiful sound.” These lovely recordings were made in Cleveland, MS, in 1967. Hear Hush, Somebody is Calling My Name. LP includes download card.

Alan Young’s Woke Me Up this Morning book includes this tantalizing bit of info: “These days, he carries cassette tapes for sale at concerts and other performances. But he has eliminated the recording studio and the need for professional duplication. When he decides to make some tapes, he sets up his portable recorder and sings and plays into it. When he has filled up a 60 minute cassette tape, he uses another twin-deck recorder to run off a dozen or so copies. He sells them at $11 each; when they’re all gone, he loads his little red portable recorder, sets up his instruments, and makes another tape. He keeps no store of ‘master tapes’; each batch of tapes he makes contains new recordings.” (!)

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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. In addition to a 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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Houston Stackhouse
Houston Stackhouse & Friends: The George Mitchell Collection
Fat Possum
LP
$14

“Born in Wesson, MS, in 1918, Houston Stackhouse's first instrument was the harmonica. Throughout the 1930s Stackhouse played around Mississippi with the Mississippi Sheiks & Robert Johnson. Stackhouse taught the slide guitar to his cousin, Robert Nighthawk, and the two would play together on Mother's Best Flower Hour & the King Biscuit Time show, both broadcast on KFFA in Helena, AR. Playing on KFFA, Stackhouse was brought into contact with James Elmore, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Roosevelt Sykes, & Earl Hooker. Electric guitar became Stackhouse's full-time instrument. This twelve-track collection of stripped down traditional blues songs performed by Houston Stackhouse & Friends was recorded by folklorist George Mitchell in Dundee, MS, in 1967 and is appearing on vinyl for the first time.” - Fat Possum. Absolutely love James "Peck" Curtis' drumming, as on Right Around the Corner. Download included.

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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 is a particular favorite.
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Othar Turner
Vol. 7 of the George Mitchell collection
Fat Possum
33 1/3 rpm 7"
$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. Hear Black Woman.

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 a 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.”