Eight miles from Parchman Farm lies the Delta town of Drew, Mississippi, at one time the cotton gin capital of the entire globe. Roebuck “Pops” Staples called it home as a boy, when he tagged after blues granddaddy Charlie Patton from nearby Dockery Plantation. Decades later, after his family group The Staples Singers had become gospel legends and won soul star status, Pops returned to the Delta for the dedication of a memorial gravestone for Patton.
His ride out to Dockery was JIM ELLIS, Drew-born homeboy with his own roots in the rich sediments of Delta music. Unlike many sincere sojourners, Jim didn’t pilgrim to the Delta to search for the blues… he was natural borned up in it, and it in him, those blues searching their own way out. From a raising of tough manual work alongside his artisan forebears, he lived roofing, carpentering, brick-building through bone-bitten cold and searing swelter – extremes dealt by a hard-wrought landscape that genders authenticity in men and in their music. Hear that real degree on the new record from producer Ted Gainey.
Young Jim pulled in neighborhood football passes from Archie Manning, then stayed up late with school aged harmonica handler Charlie Jacobs, woodshedding to records of Taj Mahal and Leo Kottke. Rambling the gravel stretches from Drew to all points beyond, Jim fell up in the tonks and joints stirring flirtatious hearts with his mannish looks and cavalier stance, mounting the little stages to amp familiar, desperate tones into ringing hollow nights, spurring the land to cry at his hand as it did under those who’d held this ground before him.
As rock and roll had followed in the footsteps of the blues, Jim’s bootprints now fell in the tracks of those departed Delta guitar men as he traversed the old backroads out through vast ploughed scenes, wearing his world like leather while the stoic echo of Johnny Cash rolled over fields from far horizons and banjo rattled through cotton stalks like the cackle and chortle of blackbird plumes spiraling across the delta sky; a poetic existence framed in mundane sameness, cottony monotony faced down with as firm a grip on the bottleneck as it held on him.
Jim covered the trails through a string of guitars, a string of bands and musical associations with Delta fixtures such as master painter Gerald Deloach and brilliant guitar stylist Duff Dorrough, till he knew every dirt road from here to elsewhere, till he could roll them home in semi-somnolence at any starry hour. Like Patton and the Sheiks, Honeyboy, Wolf and the rest, every little delta town became his province, the whole flat lattice his realm.
Notwithstanding his cracker complexion, Jim Ellis grew into the true modern blues figure, all conflict and complexity to his credential. Family tragedy and loss, love, sorrow and anger, the humor of a clown cowboy and money’s mean slave-driving, all pitch in to color the hues and shadows, dark notes and light keys of an earth-tone composition, the intense study that renders Jim Ellis. Witness Gainey’s portrait of a Delta original on the new album.
Read “The Secret History of Jim Ellis” at The Local Voice
Compact Disc is $11.99 plus shipping and handling.
12″ Vinyl Record is $15.99 plus shipping and handling.
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