Mississippi Blues Trail Series: Jackson County Blues – Moss Point, Pascagoula & Ocean Springs
An Article by Johnny Cole
Photos by Stephen Anderson
When traveling Highway 90 from Mobile, Alabama in the direction of New Orleans, an enthusiastic fan of the Blues can easily find a host of interesting landmarks along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with deep roots in this cherished musical art form.
Recently, the Southland Music Line premiered its Mississippi Blues Trail Series to our readers with the article highlighting the 100 Men DBA Hall in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (An article written by Brenda Germany).
As native Mississippians, we at “The Line” have grown to love and find inspiration in the Blues and American Roots music and are honored that Mississippi is recognized as the birthplace of American music.
We have covered countless Blues festivals, including the Bogalusa Blues & Heritage Festival (Bogalusa, LA), the Bentonia Blues Festival (Bentonia, MS), and a number of Shed Fests at The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, to name only a few. Photographer, Stephen Anderson, has captured several Mississippi Blues Trail marker unveilings and in 2017, The Line had the privilege of covering two Mississippi Bicentennial ceremonies, honoring the state’s illustrious history of the Blues by releasing an official U.S. postal stamp. Above all, a love for the talents of many Blues greats from yesterday and those still carrying the torch, such as Libby Rae Watson, Wes Lee, Cedric Burnside, Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Lightning Malcolm, Bill Steber, Bill Abel and Rambling Steve Gardner are motivating factors in our mission and “southern pilgrimage in search of the best music”.
The Moss Point marker can be found at 5030 Main Street near the Riverfront Welcome Center.
After crossing the Alabama-Mississippi state line, it doesn’t take long before having the opportunity to meet the first of three Mississippi Blues Trail Markers in Jackson County as of 2019. The city of Moss Point’s treasured history is recognized with its very own marker. Long before Moss Point was even incorporated as a city in 1901, it was flourishing with an abundance of musical greats that helped to shape the roots of American music as we know it – a good reason why there is a marker recognizing its contributions. An impressive list of African-American musicians played the tiny venues of the area, often before receiving national attention. Many of these musicians entertained along the Gulf Coast, traveling across the South and nationally, while others found themselves performing around the globe as members of prominent bands and musical troupes.
Musicians and entertainers such as Charles Fairley (known for his work with Otis Redding and Guitar Slim), Charles Polk (played drums Bobby “Blue” Bland’s orchestra in the 1970s), Clyde Needham, Carlton Reese, Henry Dees, Otis Carter, and the Nelson Brothers are rightfully mentioned. Local newspapers reported about a number of thriving local bands as far back as the late 1800’s. During the years of segregation, the now celebrated Magnolia High School produced a staggering number of musicians and individuals that helped shape the local music scene. One such person is former Jackson State and NFL All-Pro player, Verlon Biggs. He and Magnolia High School band director and football coach, saxophonist Carlton Reese, owned and operated The Kickoff Club in Moss Point where Blues was performed regularly. It doesn’t take much to recognize the value of this school and its influence on the scene coming out of Moss Point. Black fraternal organizations and groups have also played a huge contributing factor in the city’s wealth of talent being cherished by a growing number of fans. The Moss Point marker can be found at 5030 Main Street near the Riverfront Welcome Center.
The Pascagoula marker can be found at the Jackson County Fairgrounds on Short Cut Road.
Living up to its nickname, City of the Singing River, nearby Pascagoula is also home to a Blues Trail marker. Located at the Jackson County Fairgrounds, this marker recognizes the history of the The Mississippi Gulf Coast Blues & Heritage Festival, one of the longest running Blues festivals in the South. The festival, which has run continuously since 1991, with the exception of 2005 when the area was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, was originally held at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum in Biloxi before moving to its present location at the Jackson County Fairgrounds on Short Cut Road in Pascagoula. There has been no shortage of blues, soul, gospel, and zydeco entertainers from near and far to grace the stages of this popular festival. The Line’s Stephen Anderson was in attendance at the 2016 marker unveiling presentation and we shared a collection of photos from the event on our website.
Pascagoula sits on the banks of the Singing River (Pascagoula River), the last unimpeded major river system in the lower 48 states, a treasured scenic wonder that empties its waters into the Mississippi Sound bordered by barrier islands renown to local fisherman and water sport enthusiasts. Giving a nod to the reportedly still-heard soulful song of the legendary Pascagoula Indians who marched into the river rather than face certain death at the hands of the Biloxi tribe, the city hosts several additional Blues and Roots music events throughout the year such as Free Flowing on the River at Lighthouse Park and the “Blues at the Beach” series held each spring and summer at Beach Park where rum runners once delivered their goods during the Prohibition Era. One of the city’s most popular live music venues, Jack’s by the Tracks, along with a variety of original music, often features many notable Blues and American Roots artists.
The Allman Brothers featuring Jaimoe, the legendary drummer from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. (Photo taken from the Ocean Springs Blues Trail Marker)
The final marker in Jackson County is located in the city of Ocean Springs. The marker listed as “Ocean Springs Blues” is located in Marshall Park at 801 Washington Avenue near the historic railroad depot in this picturesque coastal town known for its world renown artists, potters, musicians, and festivals. Ocean Springs received its marker for the city’s history of embracing live music and those who helped to bring their love of music to the world.
Jai Johanny Johanson aka “Jaimoe”, born as Johnnie Lee Johnson in Ocean Springs, (grew up in nearby Gulfport) has a cherished history of first performing with many local artists including Little Charles Wheeler at the Gulf Hills Dude Ranch and other venues, later with R&B greats Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, and Sam & Dave before joining The Allman Brothers Band in 1969. The southern rock band’s distinctive sound mixed several genres including blues, jazz and a variety of rock and roll styles that led them to become one of the most famous bands in music history. Jaimoe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Allman Brothers Band in 1995.
Another musician notable with roots in Ocean Springs was acclaimed African-American pianist Tempy Smith, who with her family, became quite popular along the coast prior to relocating to New York City where their popularity grew in during the city’s exciting jazz scene of the 1920’s. Ocean Springs born Henry “Hank” Donahue was yet another popular bandleader along the Mississippi Gulf Coast during the mid-20th century known for spreading his love for the Blues across the region, an influence that continues to this day.
Today, several music venues in the Ocean Springs area, including the legendary Julep Room, Murky Waters BBQ, The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint and others continue to promote the Blues and live music. The Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education also regularly highlights Blues music events throughout the year.
The Blues and its history are undoubtedly alive and well in Jackson County, Mississippi. It is well worth tracing the many Blues Trail markers in this county, across the Gulf Coast, throughout the state and abroad. The Southland Music Line will soon be sharing more of our Mississippi Blues Trail Series. We invite our readers to join us as we embrace this glorious history of one of the truest art forms our world has to offer.
Tempy Smith, who with her family, became quite popular along the coast prior to relocating to New York City where their popularity grew in during the city’s exciting jazz scene of the 1920’s. The Ocean Springs marker can be found in Marshall Park at 801 Washington Avenue near the historic railroad depot.
Click Here for the article:
Mississippi Blues Trail Series: 100 Men D.B.A. Hall – Bay St. Louis
by Brenda Germany
Page Designed & Edited by Johnny Cole
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