This issue of LB is full of stories that have been a long time coming. Margo Cooper began interviewing Robert “Bilbo” Walker for our cover story back in 2009. Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry came to my attention back in the mid-1980s when he and his band the Relaxations were playing the local college bar circuit in Oxford, Mississippi. Harmonica player Hook Herrera is the first Native American bluesman we have ever featured in the magazine—a genre that has existed for decades. And Jim O’Neal has been working on his research on Casey Bill Weldon for several decades.
Robert “Bilbo” Walker is one of the last of his generation of Clarksdale-area bluesmen, a group that included Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, and others. Walker is legendary in contemporary Delta blues lore for his appearances at the Bobo Store in Bobo, Mississippi. During the 1980s and ’90s Walker, who was living in California at the time, would pile his family into his refurbished Greyhound bus, drive straight through to Bobo, play blues at the store for several days, and then pack up and drive home. At age 76 Walker is still going strong and is even about to open a Juke Joint on family land near Clarksdale.
Fifty-three-year-old Hook Herrera is the first (to my knowledge) Native American bluesman profiled in LB. The Native American blues scene goes back for generations in areas like California, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas. Perhaps the most popular being the blues rock band Indigenous but there are other more traditional players like Jimmy Wolf, C. W. Ayon, and Marc Brown. Many popular African American bluesmen have Native American bloodlines. Charley Patton is probably the best-known early bluesman with Native blood, but there are many others, including Scrapper Blackwell, Sam Chatmon, Bo Carter, Lowell Fulson, Howlin’ Wolf, Champion Jack Dupree, Honeyboy Edwards, Tommy McCracken, Lee Gates, Corey Harris, and Alvin Youngblood Hart. While the scene tends to fly under the radar for most blues fans, it is an active one that deserves more attention.
This issue’s historical article on Casey Bill Weldon has been, to steal a phrase from Jim O’Neal, enough to give me the Willies. I started out working with Gayle Dean Wardlow on an article on Willie Brown that includes at least three trails on different Willies. After I decided to push this article into the next issue Jim suggested he pull together his Casey Bill Weldon article. William Weldon, often confused with Will Weldon, brings yet more Will, Williams, and Willies into the mix. Let’s hope by the end of this issue’s feature (and the next one on Willie Brown) we will be able to sort out my case of the Willies!
Casey Bill Weldon has been a biographical mystery to blues researchers for decades. How could a man who recorded over 75 sides remain so undocumented? After many years of research Jim O’Neal has finally begun to unravel the mystery of the Hawaiian Guitar Wizard. Living Blues is pleased to announce that thanks to Steve Salter and the Killer Headstone Project a headstone will soon be placed on the Casey Bill Weldon gravesite located by O’Neal while working on our story.
I want to extend congratulations to LB writer and photographer Gene Tomko for receiving the 2014 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Journalism. Tomko’s Lost Blues Files article in this issue on Little Walter’s second cousin Boogie Jake is a fine example of his work. Jake worked with his cousin, recorded for Chess, was a star in the Louisiana (and later California) blues scene until he dropped out and moved back home in the 1980s. A fascinating story of yet another lost bluesman found.
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Brett J. BonnerEditor