10 January 2010
Reissues: The 1968
Memphis Country Blues
Festival With Bukka White
2009 was a funny year: new blues releases
were abundant, but not enough good stuff
crept through to populate a top 10.

Thus, it seems only proper to write a few
words about some older CD’s I discovered
and actually enjoyed listening to last year.
CD 1 of this set is exactly what the title says: the Memphis Country Blues Festival
as recorded on Saturday, July 20th,1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Performers
include Bukka White, Joe Callicott, Furry Lewis, Rev. Robert Wilkins and Nathan
Beauregard – and it’s the latter two that steal the show.

The approximately 100-year-old Beauregard, who by his own admission had
stopped learning new material in the 1930’s, turns in the most decidedly electric
performance of the evening. His versions of “Highway 61” and “Kid Gal Blues”
included here are not to be missed – especially since he only ever recorded six

The Reverend Robert Wilkins is mostly remembered for his composition “Prodigal
Son” that was covered by The Rolling Stones for their “Beggars Banquet” LP. At
the time this Memphis festival took place, however, that Stones release was still
a good six months in the future, and as much as I love Mick and Keith’s version, it
pales in comparison to the passion and the fury present in these readings of “In
Heaven, Sitting Down” and “What Do You Think About Jesus”. With John Wilkins
on electric bass and Douglas Wilkins on backing vocals and percussion, the good
reverend teaches a masterclass in simplicity and dynamics. A definite highlight!
A Memphis, Tennessee studio recording from
Sunday, July 21st, 1968, CD 2 of this set is
devoted entirely to Bukka White. On the three
tunes he had on the festival half, Bukka was
accompanied by Jim Crosthwait on
washboard; here, he works with various
combinations of Crosthwait, Harmonica Boy
(harmonica), Trevor Koehler (piano), Bill Barth
(guitar), Anchor (bass), and Joe Gray (drums).
Indeed: CD 2 is the album originally issued as
“Memphis Hot Shots”, with what must surely
be one of the most memorable blues album
covers ever conceived.    
While no match for his pre-war output, the solo/duo tunes on this album are
nevertheless solid – and the rest is genius! After all that 21st century hype about
pushing the envelope and merging blues with hip-hop, it’s a relief to come across
a recording that actually does all that and more. Recorded in 1968, the full-band
version of “Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues” is well worth the price of this album
alone, sounding more current than most of what you’ll find in the Contemporary
Blues section today.

It is understandable that at the time of recording, Mike Vernon felt that at least
half the album ought to be in a more traditional vein – in the liner notes, he
points out that original reviews were mixed as it was… All the more remarkable
then that such a successful experiment was ever undertaken. Bukka White is in
fine form and the assorted members of The Insect Trust do an astonishing job of
backing him up and taking his music to bold new places. Recommended!


Various Artists: The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival With Bukka White.
Sony BMG, 2006

Reissue produced by Mike Vernon

Blue Horizon Records

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