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  • Shaw Furlow

Mississippi’s new blues history-makers

By guest columnist R. Shaw Furlow

Castro Coleman Christone Kingfish Ingram Vashti Jackson

If you’ve missed it so far, I want to remind you again that Mississippi’s musical heritage runs deep in the blues, country and rock. It’s the birthplace of America’s music.

Dockery Farm is where Charlie Patton and others worked during the day and played blues at night on the stoops or in a local juke joint. BB King’s ambition was to be the best tractor driver in the Delta region before he became the “King of the Blues.” Tommy Johnson from Terry and his nephew Robert Johnson from Hazlehurst became “overnight” stars once they made their first recordings and made a little money.

These folks invented, defined and, in a round-about way, promoted the blues. But Mississippi is still making blues history as blues capital of the world. The folks from the early 1900s are gone, but other have picked up the torch.

Probably the best known of the current Bluesman is Vasti Jackson. Jackson grew up in McComb close to the railroad tracks. At the age of twelve, he hoped a train, but was caught by the train authorities and returned home. He heard the blues from his family, and soon picked up a guitar and started replicating what he heard on the records. While studying music at Jackson State, he started playing juke joints, and before long had landed staff positions at Malacho and Alligator records. From there, it was on to playing with Cassandra Wilson, The Williams Bothers and BB King. He produced Bobby Rush’s Grammy nominated album Hootchie Man. Jackson has been involved with many film projects, including working with Martin Scorsese. Jackson currently lives in Hattiesburg.

I first met Castro Coleman, better known as “Mr. Sip, the Mississippi Blues child” six years ago when he and I were working on a project for the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. His set knocked me out. He wore a suit in 90 degree weathe, but looked and sounded as cool as cool could be. Also born in McComb, Coleman picked up the guitar at six years of age and started playing gospel music, eventually attracting the attention of the Williams Brothers and became their guitarist. As most sidemen do, he wanted his own band, and started the True Believers gospel group. The group had pretty good success, but in 2012 he tried the blues and was instantly a hit, and has now won several national and international blues awards. In 2018, he opened the wildly popular Sip’s Place in Magnolia just before the pandemic shut him down. Now with his album, “Castro Coleman and the True Believers, Back to the Roots,” he has returned to gospel -- his first love.

Then there is Christone Kingfish Ingram. At 23, he has turned the blues world upside down. Born in Clarksdale, Ingram became a sensation at age 14. Critics say he doesn’t play guitar, but becomes one with it. The emotion of the moment not only can be heard, but seen in his body language. Buddy Guy says Kingfish is the future of blues. At his age he hasn’t accumulated the resume of Jackson and Coleman, but he was asked to play at the prestigious Berklee Performance Center in Boston, where there are many guitarists studying all types of music. They all came out to hear the kid, and were blown away by his prowess and shocked that he was their age. That covers the blues, but I could have written much the same column on Mississippi country, rock or gospel artists. Or on the number of composers writing music for bands and choirs. Our bench is deep, and there’s no end in sight. These three new blues history-makers, along with Libby Rae Watson, Carey Hudson, Bobby Rush and many others continue to make Mississippi the place that keeps birthing American music.

That’s it for another month, my friends. Do yourself a favor, and support the arts.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Shaw Furlow is a local composer, musician and arts promoter. He produces an internet-based video show -- From the Shadyside -- that spotlights area musical talent and is a consultant to school bands in the region. Bob Arnold is Editor of the Wesson News.


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