Your Daddy B. Nice had never been a "blues" lover in particular. Not an expert, nor a researcher. In fact, had my Marine Corps daughter not been in flight school in Pensacola, Florida, I never would have had occasion to drive down through Mississippi. A onetime hippie, I had always thought the Deep South a violent backwater, like the scene in the movie "Easy Rider" where Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper get blown away by shotgun-toting rednecks.
But now, cruising down a sun-dappled, two-lane Mississippi highway two or three lifetimes (seemingly) later, I was the one in the cowboy hat and big black pickup, and lack of stress was the mood, as palpable as the warm Delta breeze blowing through my windows.
I was marveling at the kudzu growing like a green fairyland fungus over trees, poles, and utility wires, the cotton bales and white specks of cotton littering the roadsides, the secluded farms, plantations and shotgun houses, the time-weathered ruins and rusted gasoline signs, the pink flamingoes and bathtub planters, the flea markets and roadside stands. The older and rustier it was, the more charming it appeared.
And as I was flipping amongst--and enjoying--the mostly gospel music on the radio, I hit upon a fabulous rhythm and blues station playing the kind of music I hadn't heard on the radio since the 50's, 60's, and early 70's. I was hearing something heavenly and totally unexpected--music that made me smile, tear up and raise the volume to the max.
What was the vocalist saying? Something about a "black navigator"--what was that? And the refrain. What was the singer saying? Big and Honey? Big'un Hannasch? We'd had a German family by that name in my hometown up North.
The song was Johnnie Taylor's "Big Head Hundreds," and the moment marked your Daddy B. Nice's epiphany in Mississippi. Like St. Paul blinded by the celestial light and falling off his horse on the road to Damascus, I was transformed and given new reason to live.
Listening to Taylor and his cohorts (Marvin Sease, Peggy Scott-Adams, Tyrone Davis, etc.) on these Deep South airwaves, I kept asking myself: How could there be a body of music this good, yet completely ignored around the country and the world? Either the music industry was guilty of an incredible travesty or I was listening to a fluke, a few one-hit, regional wonders.
How ignorant I was. This was music that suffered nothing in comparison with the greatest soul hits of yesteryear, songs with which the new music was often queued up: Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," Clarence Carter's "Slip Away," and Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come."
So your Daddy B. Nice began visiting. Every time I drove down to see my daughter, I'd schedule more and more time in Mississippi. And after my daughter moved on, I kept going. Every vacation, every window of opportunity, every excuse I had to take a trip, I'd head for Jackson, Greenville, Mobile, Helena and points beyond, immersing myself in the music as it's heard on the Stations of the Deep South.
I learned to slip into the loose comfort and old-fashioned nuances of the Mississippi accent, where a name like Lee "Shot" Williams is pronounced "Leeeee-schaddd," as in "Leeeeee-schaddd" a horse. And patiently, over the years, I began to ferret out the names of the artists and recognize their songs, and gradually distinguish the veterans of the scene from the younger performers.
The music wasn't a fluke or a novelty, however tenuous the radio exposure, "chitlin' circuit" venues and lawn chair-and-cooler festivals that serve as its life support.
On the contrary, because of the long exclusion of "adult" rhythm and blues from the marketplace, Southern Soul already comprises an entire genre and--for most music lovers--a treasure chest of hidden classics just waiting to be enjoyed.
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