Documentary aims to shine spotlight on raw, wild blues scene of the Delta
(CLARKSDALE, MS) In the century since the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta gave birth to the blues, the music has spread across the globe and undergone countless permutations. But in the land of its birth, blues continues to thrive in its wildest and rawest form. An upcoming documentary M for Mississippi: A Road Trip Through The Birthplace Of The Blues aims to shine a spotlight on the state’s ongoing blues tradition.
The film follows two self-proclaimed blue fanatics – Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel – on an eight-day road trip across Mississippi as they visit some of the state’s most powerful blues artists in the intimate settings ranging from rural house parties and juke joints to cotton fields and a living rooms. Principal filming for the documentary concluded in early April. The film and its accompanying soundtrack will be released on DVD and CD this fall. The project is a joint production of Broke & Hungry Records, Cat Head Presents and Mudpuppy Recordings.
The film will feature performances and interviews from such diverse blues figures at Robert “Bilbo” Walker, T-Model Ford, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, L.C. Ulmer, Pat Thomas, Terry “Harmonica” Bean and Wesley Jefferson. In total, more than a dozen key figures from the state’s blues community will be profiled.
"Most music documentaries today rely heavily on overused file footage or new shots from big clubs and festivals. Our film isn't about all that,” Stolle said. “It's about capturing a disappearing music and culture as it really is – in the juke joints, cotton fields and house parties of Mississippi. Our project isn't about the big names. It's about the names you need to know – whether it's an 80-year-old guitarist you've never heard of or a juke owner who just doesn't give a damn."
The filmmakers admitted to a sense of urgency in getting the film made. “The sad fact of the matter is that you couldn’t make this film a decade from now,” Konkel said. “When you talk about young Delta blues artists, you’re talking about guys in their fifties. Many of the artists in this film are well past 80. They’re the last living link to a rapidly vanishing blues tradition. We’ll always have blues, but it won’t be like this. This film aims to celebrate this music and the musicians while they’re still here and can benefit from the exposure.”
In addition to their roles in front of the camera, Stolle and Konkel are among the film’s producers.
This is Stolle’s second film project, falling on the heels of his acclaimed documentary Hard Times, which documented the life and music of bluesman Big George Brock. Stolle’s label Cat Head Presents also has released three acclaimed CDs on Brock, including most recently Live at Seventy Five, which is nominated for a 2008 Blues Music Award in the “Traditional Album of the Year” category. Stolle also is owner of the celebrated Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Earlier this year he received a prestigious “Keeping the Blues Alive” award from the Blues Foundation.
Konkel is the owner of Broke & Hungry Records, a label dedicated to promoting and recording raw blues from Mississippi. His work netted him Producer of the Year recognition in the 2007 Living Blues Awards. To date, his label has issued four acclaimed records, including two on Bentonia, Mississippi blues guitarist Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Holmes’ most recent CD, Done Got Tired of Tryin’ is nominated for Acoustic Album of the Year for the 2008 Blues Music Awards. This spring Broke & Hungry released The World Must Never Know, the debut-recordings of a mysterious 78-year-old blues guitarist from the Delta.
M for Mississippi also benefits from the contributions of co-producer Kari Jones whose Mudpuppy Recordings will recently launched with a bang with the release of jack daniel time, a new record by legendary Delta bluesman James “T-Model” Ford.
Behind the camera and editing desk is filmmaker Damien Blaylock, whose past projects include the documentary Hard Times, the Big George Brock documentary. Blaylock’s forthcoming projects involve actor/musician Steven Seagal and also include Super Chikan: Child of the Delta and Blind Faith, a documentary on blues sculptor Sharon McConnell.
Mississippi blues guitarist Bill Abel was brought on as the project’s sound engineer. Abel’s past engineering efforts include critically acclaimed offerings by T-Model Ford, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Odell Harris, Terry “Big T” Williams, Wesley “Junebug” Jefferson and several of Abel’s own recordings.
Several key sponsors have signed on to support the production of M for Mississippi: A Road Trip Through the Birthplace of the Blues. Major sponsors now include the Rootsway Roots & Blues Association and LiveBluesWorld.
The Rootsway Roots & Blues Association (www.rootsandblues.org) is a nonprofit organization from Parma, Italy. Founded in 2004, the group is dedicated to promoting rural and indigenous American and African-American musical art forms throughout northern Italy. Roots & Blues has brought several Mississippi blues performers to Italy in recent years.
Live Blues World (www.livebluesworld.com) has also joined the effort as a major sponsor. The web community is billed as “the online home of the blues and blues infected music, connecting artists and fans in the fastest growing social network dedicated to the blues.”
Additional sponsors include the Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival and British blues artist Bob Long.
Individuals and organizations who are interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities can contact Jeff Konkel at firstname.lastname@example.org or Roger Stolle at email@example.com.
To view a promotional trailer for the film or to pre-order the DVD and CD, visit www.mformississippi.com.