Published on October 21st, 2011 | by TLV News0
“143rd Mississippi Blues Trail Marker Unveiled On The Oxford Square Honoring Local Musicians” by Scott Barretta
by Scott Barretta (writer/researcher – Mississippi Blues Trail)
photos courtesy of Bill Perry, Jr.
OXFORD, MISS. (TLV) – On October 12 the 143rd Mississippi Blues Trail marker was unveiled on The Square to acknowledge the wide variety of blues activity that has taken place historically in Oxford and Lafayette County.
Whereas some markers acknowledge particular individuals, such as Muddy Waters or B.B. King, this marker covers topics including locally born blues artists R.L. Burnside (College Hill), Herbert Wiley (Oxford), and Bill Perry, Sr. (Tula); the Fat Possum label, which was founded in Oxford in 1991; photographer / writer / promoter Dick Waterman; local clubs that have featured blues over the last decades, including long departed venues such as The Gin and The Hoka; as well as the fife and drum picnics that took place for many years on the grounds of the home of African American businesswoman Molly Barr.
The marker complements another local marker, titled “Documenting the Blues,” that was unveiled in February of 2009 on campus next to the Center For the Study of Southern Culture. Topics addressed there include the work of blues scholar and Center founder Dr. William Ferris, Living Blues magazine, which was acquired by the Center in 1983, and The Blues Archive at The University Library, which was founded in 1984.
The marker is located on the median strip in front of Rooster’s Blues House, less than fifty feet from the location of the shoe repair shop that was run for many years by Herbert Wiley, leader of The Checkmates. Throughout the 60s The Checkmates played both on campus and at juke joints on Old Sardis Road. Wiley retired from playing in the early 70s, and reformed The Checkmates in the early 2000s.
One of the images on the backside of the marker is an early 60s photo taken by Martin Dain in the early 60s of the B&B Cafe, an African American establishment that was located behind Wiley’s shoe shop. Wiley recalls that the cafe featured a jukebox filled with blues and soul records, and that blues musicians sometimes played at the considerably rougher Low End Café, aka the “bucket of blood,” which was located east of the square near where Newk’s now sits.
Attendees at the ceremony included Herbert Wiley, Checkmates members J.D. Mark and Mattie Crockett, Kenny Brown, who played for many years with R.L. Burnside and recorded his own CD for Fat Possum, and Bill “Howl-n-Madd” Perry, Sr., who played blues, gospel, and soul for many years in Chicago and Los Angeles before returning to Lafayette County in the 1980s. He was accompanied by his daughter Sharo, aka “Shy” and son Bill, Jr, aka “Mysteryo,” who both play in their father’s band. In addition to his performances in clubs, Perry, Sr. also works as an instructor in the blues education program at Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum.
The first markers were unveiled on the Mississippi Blues Trail in late 2006, and an additional fifty or so are planned. The markers are paid for by a combination of grants and local contributions, while the Trail is administered by the Division of Tourism of the Mississippi Development Authority.