Bootheel Blues Society
Robert Nighthawk was one of the most talented blues guitarists of his era. Although he rarely stayed long in one town, he called Friars Point, Mississippi home at various times from the 1920s to the 1960s. In a 1940 recording, he sang of “going back to Friars Point, down in sweet old Dixie Land.” During Nighthawk’s time, blues musicians played at local juke joints and house parties and in front of stores.
Nighthawk was one of the Delta’s most famous blues artists during the 1940s and ‘50s, known for his radio broadcasts on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, and WROX in Clarksdale, as well as for his recordings and his constant traveling. Nighthawk was always in the process of changing his address, his marital status, or his name. He was born Robert Lee McCollum on November 30, 1909, in Phillips County, Arkansas and he played harmonica before he learned guitar from Houston Stackhouse on a farm in Murphy Bayou, Mississippi, in 1931. On his first records, including “Prowling Night Hawk” in 1937, he was called Robert Lee McCoy; among several other recording names, the most appropriate was Rambling Bob. He lived in Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, Florida, and elsewhere, in between periodic returns to the Delta.
He was famed for his laid back vocal style and influential slide guitar sound, which he achieved by sliding a piece of brass pipe along the guitar frets. His best known records included “Annie Lee Blues,” “Black Angel Blues,” “The Moon is Rising,” and “Crying Won’t Help You.” B.B. King once named Nighthawk as one of his ten favorite guitarists. Nighthawk’s renown has spread internationally since his death in Helena on November 5, 1967. He was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983, and a powerful album released in 1980, Robert Nighthawk: Live on Maxwell Street 1964, was named one of the ten best rock ‘n’ roll albums of the year by critic Greil Marcus. The state of Mississippi erected a Robert Nighthawk Blues Trail Marker at Friar's Point in 2007. In 2009 in what would have been Nighthawk's 100th birthday, the Chicago Blues Festival honored him with special performances of his music and the first day of the festival was known as "Prowling Nighthawk".
Among Nighthawk’s several marriages, at least one was in Friars Point, where he worked on John McKee’s plantation. While most local blues activity was in plantation juke joints or in the New Town area on the southern end of Friars Point, sometimes merchants hired musicians to play inside or in front of their downtown stores to attract potential customers; at other times, performers would just set up outside and play for tips. African American performers based in Friars Point who later made records also included the Sons of Wonder gospel group and blues harmonica players Robert Diggs and Blind Mississippi Morris Cummings. Robert Nighthawk had long been suffering with poor health and he returned to the Delta where he spent his time between Helena and the home of his son, Blues drummer Sam Carr, in Dundee, Arkansas. In November 1967, Nighthawk was admitted to the hospital in Helena. He died there on November 5th of congestive heart failure. Robert Nighthawk is buried in Helena's Magnolia Cemetery. Nighthawks' son, Sam Carr, continued as a blues drummer and died in Arkansas in 2009.
Robert Johnson's Blues Trail marker in Hazelhurst, MS
(photo by C. Lester)
The only known pictures of Robert Johnson
Robert Leroy Johnson
Robert Johnson was an American Delta blues musician. His recordings from the years 1936–1937 are considered by many to be among the finest examples of Delta blues music ever recorded. Johnson's mysterious life and death at age 27 have also prompted many legends. Adding to his mystique is the fact that there are only 2 known photos of Johnson known to exist. Johnson's songs, vocals and guitar playing have influenced a broad range of musicians, including Muddy Waters, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. Clapton has called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived". In 1986 Johnson was among the first musicians to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s "early influence" category. He was also ranked fifth in Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Robert Johnson was born in
According to a legend known to modern blues fans, Robert Johnson was a young black man living on a plantation in rural
When Johnson arrived in a new town, he would play for tips on street corners or in front of the local barbershop or a restaurant. He played what his audience asked for — not necessarily his own compositions, and not necessarily blues. With an ability to pick up tunes at first hearing, Johnson had no trouble giving his audiences what they wanted to hear and he also had an uncanny ability to establish a rapport with his audience — in every town in which he stopped, Johnson would establish ties to the local community that would serve him well when he passed through again a month or a year later.
Fellow musician Johnny Shines was 17 when he met Johnson in 1933. He estimated that Johnson was maybe a year older than himself and has said "Robert was a very friendly person, even though he was sulky at times, you know. And I hung around Robert for quite a while. One evening he disappeared. He was kind of peculiar fellow. Robert'd be standing up playing some place, playing like nobody's business. At about that time it was a hustle with him as well as a pleasure. And money'd be coming from all directions. But Robert'd just pick up and walk off and leave you standing there playing. And you wouldn't see Robert no more maybe in two or three weeks.... So Robert and I, we began journeying off. I was just, matter of fact, tagging along." During this time Johnson established what would be a relatively long-term relationship with Estella Coleman, a woman who was about fifteen years his elder and the mother of musician Robert Lockwood, Jr. Johnson, however, reportedly also cultivated a woman to look after him in each town he played in. Johnson supposedly asked homely young women living in the country with their families whether he could go home with them, and in most cases the answer was yes—until a boyfriend arrived or Johnson was ready to move on.
Around 1936, Johnson was put in touch with Ernie Oertle, who offered to record the young musician in
In the last year of his life, Johnson is believed to have traveled to
Blues Trail Marker for Big Walter Horton in Horn Lake, MS
(photo by C. Lester)
Big Walter Horton
Walter Horton, better known as Big Walter Horton, was an American blues harmonica player. He was born in Horn Lake, MS on April 6, 1917 and was playing harmonica by the time he was 5 years old. By the time he was in his teens, he was living in Memphis, TN. A quiet, unassuming and essentially shy man, Horton is remembered as one of the most influential harmonica players in the history of blues. Blues great Willie Dixon once called Horton "the best harmonica player I ever heard.”
Like many blacks in the American south, he spent much of his career making little money and living with constant discrimination in the segregated United States. In the 1930s he played with various blues performers across the Mississippi Delta region. His first recordings were made in Memphis, with backing guitarist Little Buddy Doyle in 1939. He eventually stopped playing the harp due to poor health and worked mainly outside of the music industry in the 1940s. By the early 50s, he was playing music again and was among the first to record for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis.
During the early 1950s he first appeared on the Chicago Blues scene, where he frequently played with fellow Memphis and Delta musicians who had also moved north. When Junior Wells left the Muddy Waters band at the end of 1952, Horton replaced him for long enough to play on one session with Waters in January 1953. Horton's style had by then fully matured, and he was playing in the heavily amplified style that became one of the trademarks of the Chicago blues sound.
Horton was active on the Chicago blues scene during the 1960s as blues gained popularity with white audiences. Starting in the early 1960s he recorded and appeared frequently as a sideman with Eddie Taylor, Johnny Shines, Johnny Young, Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon and many others. He toured extensively, usually as a back up musician, and in the 1970s he performed at blues and folk music festivals in the U.S. and Europe, frequently with Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars. He has also appeared as a guest on recordings by blues and rock performers such as Fleetwood Mac and Johnny Winter. He then became a fixture on the festival circuit, and often played on Chicago's Maxwell Street. In 1977, he joined Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters on Winter's album I'm Ready, and during the same period recorded some material for Blind Pig Records. Horton appeared in the Maxwell Street scene in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, accompanying John Lee Hooker.
Horton died from heart failure in Chicago on Dec. 8, 1981 at the age of 64 and was buried in the Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, IL. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1982.
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