An Article by Brenda Germany
“You know, you’d prefer to play for people who understand the Blues and are into it. When you’re playing for that group of people it’s kind of like a family, like they’re a part of it and it isn’t about the musician; it’s about the music itself. So, there’s a good spirit about it. Of course, if you think it’s about you, people are going to let you know really quick, ‘Hey, man, this isn’t about you; it’s about the music.’ ” -Bill Abel, Delta Bluesman
Originating around the end of the 19th century from African Americans living in the Mississippi Delta region at Clarksdale’s Dockery Plantation, the Blues incorporates work songs, field hollers, shouts, and chants of “call and response” singing coupled with polyrhythmic percussion. Upon first hearing, the Blues flatted pitch and Blue or “bent”, sometimes called “worried”, notes may sound discordant in comparison with other music genres. But, it is by these very characteristics that the emotionally rich expressiveness of the Blues interacts with the listener, connecting them intimately to the music. It is said that the blues tuned guitar of a legendary blues musician was received in exchange for his soul at the Crossroads, in the superstition that no mere moral had the ability to create music with such influence.
Like all vibrant life forms, the Delta Blues generated offspring which would be conveyed by the Delta Bluesmen who migrated northward in search of employment opportunities in the industrialized cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis and Detroit following the Great Depression and World War II. Each of these variations developed their own unique characteristics based on the new environment.
In his lecture series “The Delta Blues Today”, presented by the MS Library Commission and MS Humanities Council, Bill Abel recently shared his music, stories, and passion for the Blues with enthusiastic audiences at the Ocean Springs Library (Manager, Yvonne Parton) and the St. Martin Library (Manager, Meg Henderson). Abel performed traditional and original Delta and Hill Country Blues songs while playing acoustic, electric, his own handmade guitars and Diddly Bows. Many of the songs performed were tracks from his latest CD release, “Celestial Train”.
Bill also shared personal stories of his experiences while touring with legendary Delta musicians including Paul “Wine” Jones, Cadillac John Nolden, Honey Boy Edwards, T- Model Ford, and performing at Blues festivals across the United States and such faraway places as Sweden, Italy, Norway, England and Belgium.
A Belzoni, MS native, Abel, was the beneficiary of a longing to play the Blues from the family radio tuned to the local public broadcasting station that played the Blues from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every weekday. He had the good fortune of learning the Blues from his neighbor Paul “Wine” Jones, later of Fat Possum Records fame, Henry Townsend, Model-T Ford and other mentors of whom he speaks fondly and with great respect for their talents. At the age of 21, Bill experienced, in his words “a Holy ghost encounter where Christ entered my body and gave me a desire for Godly things, one of which was old Blues spiritual music. I didn’t get a big dose of it until 2000 when I met and began performing Blues and spirituals with Cadillac John Nolden who knew over 200 old spirituals.”
Inheriting a desire to make use of found objects from his mother, an artist, Abel collects driftwood from the local river banks to construct guitars, made by hand from cigar boxes or pieced together with other found guitar parts and Diddley Bows, a one stringed guitar played with any type of metal, up to and including a pocketknife, or bottle neck glass slide. He is also a talented painter and potter with a degree in French Impressionism. His appreciation for nature and preserving those things that have survived the test of time is evident in his passion for keeping the pure form of Delta and Hill Country Blues alive.
Whether we give credence to the legend of that “Crossroads” guitar as the beginning of the Blues or believe that such a dynamic creation could only have come as a blessing, it inarguable that whatever its source, the Delta Blues was a mighty gift, indeed.
Bill Abel’s latest CD “Celestial Train” is an 11 track collection of traditional and original Blues and spirit-filled songs which No Depression describes as “the purest offering of hill country blues since R. L. Burnside, Fred McDowell and Junior Kimbrough passed.”
CLICK HERE TO MORE PHOTOS OF BILL ABEL BY STEPHEN ANDERSON.
Some additional photos from previous events:
Article by Brenda Germany; photos by Stephen “Andy” Anderson;
Edited and page done by Johnny Cole.
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