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Some folks say the Big Bill Blues ain't bad. Musn't have been the Big Bill Blues I had - Big Bill Broonzy, Big Bill Blues

Author Topic: Blind Willie Johnson in my town  (Read 5938 times)

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Offline Dave in Tejas

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Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« on: November 10, 2008, 06:18:51 PM »
Blind Willie Johnson lived and died here in my town of Beaumont, Tx, at 1440 Forrest St. I recently visited the empty lot where his ?House of Prayer? stood and burned in 1945, in which he died afterwards.


I took some pictures, and cruised the neighborhood.

Willie Johnson was a street preacher and singer, and his neighborhood was bustling in the ?40?s with the shipyard nearby. There is a large concentration of black churches in the neighborhood. I found 10 churches within a 3 block radius, many predate his time there.


There was a prominent juke joint at the foot of Forrest St, about a block from his house.

You can see the detail on the wall, it was probably a wild place. I can imagine him singing on the sidewalk near there.

« Last Edit: November 10, 2008, 06:25:50 PM by Dave in Tejas »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2008, 06:49:50 PM »
Thanks very much for the photos, Dave.  The sense of place that they give, along with your captions, to my sense of Blind Willie Johnson and his world is very enriching.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2008, 07:50:20 PM »
I second that. Thanks so much. Very evocative. I'll call up those images when I hear his music now.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Stuart

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2008, 08:22:12 PM »
And I'll third that. Much appreciated. Even though years have passed, the photos give a sense of place and the context from which the music came forth. The geography behind the history, so to speak.

And BTW, that is one great looking guitar--and I'm sure that it sounds as good as it looks. Play it a while, and if you do eventually decide to sell it, you can always tout it as being tested and bona fide.

Offline Slack

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2008, 06:49:32 AM »
Yes, thanks for posting those Dave!

Cooljack

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2008, 03:33:52 AM »
nice pictures, very interesting :D

Offline Dave in Tejas

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2008, 09:21:35 AM »
I can't get over the similarities of the picture above of the storefront / jukejoint and this cover of the Yazoo "Praise God I'm Satisfied" record.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2008, 12:04:43 PM »
I think thats a Robert Armstrong cover, no? Maybe he did his illustrator's due diligence research in situating BWJ.

My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline TX_Songster

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2008, 02:33:08 PM »
Dave,
That is great!  I love the painting "Rest Girls."  That should be preserved somehow.  You've inspired me to do a tour historic blues sites in East Texas.  I have visited Mance Lipscomb's grave in Navasota, but I didn't do any research or try to find any of the places he may have played in Navasota. 

Thanks for sharing,
Joel

Offline outfidel

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2008, 04:58:29 PM »
Great photos! I love the "Rest Girls" painting too -- John Tefteller should get a copy & do a re-printing.

btw, where (what town) did Mance Lipscomb meet Blind Willie Johnson? Supposedly BWJ would ask young Mance to tune his guitar for him. Looking at a map of Texas, I realize that Beaumont is a looooong way from Navasota.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2008, 05:01:01 PM by outfidel »
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Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2008, 06:45:02 PM »
Marc Silber has this story at http://commongroundmag.com/2005/04/journeys0504.html

Quote:
One of my mentors, Texas bluesman Mance Lipscomb, once told me about the day he heard the song ?Motherless Children? performed by two men standing on a corner in Navasota, Texas. In his velvety, crooning voice, Lipscomb said one of them was ?coffee-colored, blind, and used a jackknife for a slide.? The description gave me a chill because I was sure that it must have been Blind Willie Johnson himself whom he had heard so many years ago. (Mance also used a knife when he played slide guitar, and you can hear his knife rattle along the edge of the frets as it slides over the strings.)

End quote.

Mance's jackknife playing is so close to Willie J (see the Vestapol video) I just assumed he'd studied the guy. If that were the case you would think he would have known who he was. So the account above probably raises more questions than it answers.

Offline Dave in Tejas

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2008, 06:55:51 AM »
Right, BWJ only lived out the end of his life in Beaumont. Marlin Tx was his birthplace, not too-too far from Navasota.

The old juke joint (and the "Rest Girls" sign) is bull-dozed. I took the pictures, and went by a couple of weeks later for some others, and it was a bare lot.

No one has been able to find BWJ's gravesite.
« Last Edit: November 14, 2008, 11:20:00 AM by Dave in Tejas »

Offline Pan

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2008, 07:04:10 AM »
The old juke joint (and the "Rest Girls" sign) is bull-dozed. I took the pictures, and went by a couple of weeks later for some others, and it was a bare lot.

If this is the case, we have even more reason to be grateful for your pictures!

Thanks for posting them.

Pan

Offline outfidel

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2008, 12:55:06 PM »
Now I remember where I read the Mance-BWJ story -- it was in Mance's biography, I Say Me For A Parable. Here's some of what he said:

Quote
Lemme see. Was another blind fella, retcht in here an played on the streets in my hometown: Blind Willie Johnson. I got some a his songs. Oh yeah, I was a kid, in the teenage, maybe in nineteen-sixteen. He come from Marlin or Houston.

Cause he was travelin an he come to Navasota -- him an another blind fella follad one anothuh -- oh we was a dark fella, I furgit his name. But I knowed Willie Johnson. He could sang all those verses, but he couldn't play the gittah: he'd put it outa tune, an I'd tune it up fur im.

An they give him a privilege ta go ta play, make his nickels on Satiddy, on the streets. Now if he wadn a blind man, they wouldnt. Like I'm a man who was workin out on the fawms? If I played inywhere, it'd be out in the bottom out in the woods...

Yeah, I found im at Tex's Radio. Across from where the bank used to be at. Right there where he was standin ever Satiddy, until he moved from here in a diffunt town. He sided he could do better, an he moved up.

He'd come right there on the corner, an he had people here ta the highway. Just hunneds a people standin right there on the streets. White an black. Old colored folks an young ones an all. Listenin at his voice.

An how he got nated ta me (translation: how BWJ got familiar with Mance), he ask, "Was inybody here could play a gittah?"

An lot of them people pickt me out say, "Yeah! Here's Mance Lipscomb. He kin play purdy good gittah."

Say, "Tell him come up here an tune up my gittah."

An so, I went over there an squeezed through the gang. He couldn see me, he jest hear me walkin. An I walkt up an touch im, say, "Mista Willie, I'm the boy come ta tune yo gittah fur ya. If you will let me."

He say, "Come on! Yeah! Who is you?"

An I told him my name; he never did furgit it. I didn play much, but I know how ta tune up. An every Satiddy, if I was late gittin there, he'd ask people where was Mance Lipscomb at.

He had a rough old gittah. It was rusty as a terrapin. A old piece a gittah wit holes all in it. Somebody may a give it to im, he jest out trying ta make a livin.

An where he's made it then is sangin and playin. People put nickels in his cup an give im a little pocket change. He had a wire around the neck a his gittah, wit a handle on it. You'd drap a nickel in there, an the he'd play anothuh song, people'd go up ta him draptheir nickels in there an git out an put it in his pocket.

He was a real good songster. He wadn a gittah player. Oooh yeah, loud voice. Lookt like he was wholesome, he could hoot so. I done hear im sang so miny times I jest look fur im when I'd go ta town, cause I stayed in there in the country, a mile an a half outa town where I was bawn.
« Last Edit: November 14, 2008, 12:58:22 PM by outfidel »
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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson in my town
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2008, 02:50:09 PM »
Wow! Great. What do you think accounts for Mance's low opinion of BWJ's guitar playing though?
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

 


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