A lot of towns make claim to the title "Home of the Blues." And to be sure, cities like Memphis, New Orleans and Chicago have blues heritages worthy of celebration.
But not one of them can touch the blues bona fides of Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Everybody from Muddy Waters and Son House to John Lee Hooker and Ike Turner called Clarksdale home. Legends like Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Bukka White, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Lockwood and Howlin' Wolf hung out there, got drunk there and played there. Bessie Smith died there.
Simply put, Chicago, Memphis and other great blues towns might be holy sites for the blues, but Clarksdale is Mecca.
Yet the story of Clarksdale and it relationship with the blues isn't just a matter for the history books Today, the music is alive and well in Clarksdale. On any given weekend nights, its jukes are filled with beer, whiskey, revelers and raucous blues.
And at the center of it all are Terry "Big T" Williams and Wesley "Junebug" Jefferson, veteran bluesmen whose life stories tell the tale of Clarksdale and its blues scene over the past half-century.
Wesley, the older of the two at 62, has been a mainstay of the Clarksdale blues scene since the 1960s. As a child, blues was a constant presence in his life. Born in rural Coahoma County, Wesley was the son of sharecroppers who supplemented their income by running a country juke joint filled with gambling, whiskey, food and - always - blues.
Growing up, he experimented with a homemade diddley bow constructed of broom wire nailed to a wall, but he eventually graduated to guitar, then drums and, eventually, bass.
From the mid-1960s through today, Wesley has played with nearly every major figure on the Clarksdale scene: Big Jack Johnson, Frank Frost, Sam Carr, Robert "BIlbo" Walker and James "Super Chikan" Johnson.
And beginning in the early 1970s, he came to know another aspiring blues musician named Terry Williams, who had yet to acquire the nickname "Big T."
"He and his friends used to be peeping in the windows over at Smitty's Red Top Lounge," Jefferson says with a chuckle. "He was just a kid then, but he kept growing up and up and he told me he wanted to play with me. He played bass mostly back then. He was the baddest bass player around."
Eventually Big T would become better known as a guitarist thanks to his lengthy apprenticeship in the band of the legendary Big Jack Johnson and as a principal member of the now-defunct Stone Gas Blues Band.
But after decades as a sideman, Big T has emerged in recent years as one of the most fiery bandleaders in the Delta, known for his searing guitar playing and fierce vocals.
Yet for all of their accomplishments, Big T and Wesley remain unknown to most blues fans outside of the Delta.
Until now, those hoping to catch them in action had to venture out to one of the Delta's downhome jukes like the Do Drop Inn, Sarah's Kitchen or Red's Lounge.
As the music on this disc proves, the two masters of gritty Delta blues are deserving of a larger stage. Maybe now they'll get their chance.
- Jeff Konkel/Broke & Hungry Records
released April 15, 2007
Terry "Big T" Williams - guitar (tracks 2-10), vocals (tracks 3, 4, 7, 8 & 10)
Wesley "Junebug" Jefferson - bass (tracks 2, 5, 7 & 8), vocals (tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 9 & 11)
Lee Williams - drums (tracks 2, 4, 7 & 8)
Produced by Jeff Konkel
Recorded and mixed by Bill Abel, Big Toe Porta Studio
Mastered by Mark Yoshida, Audiographic Masterworks
Art direction and design by Joey Grisham
Band photographs by Jeff Konkel
Tracks 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10 & 11 recorded Dec. 29, 2005 at Jimbo Mathus' Delta Recording Studio in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Tracks 2, 4, 7 & 8 recorded Jan. 1, 2007 at Red's Lounge in Clarksdale, Mississippi.