Forgotten series: Various artists – Coahoma the Blues (1990)

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NICK DERISO: A trip through the Mississippi Delta this week had me thinking about the old Rooster Blues Records label.

Located from 1988-98 inside the Delta Record Mart on Sunflower Avenue in Clarksdale, Rooser Blues releases can still be found in a riverboat-shaped downtown building called Dela’s Stackhouse.

“Coahoma the Blues” (named after the county where Clarksdale is located) was proprietor Jim O’Neal’s signature effort from that time. A cassette-only joy featuring 13 local upstart blues dudes, it was recorded with an ear for the live, jooky feel.

Things begin as they should, with clackety, on-the-corner acoustic sides by Wade Walton and those underappreciated geniuses Sam Carr and Frank Frost.

As with most non-electric blues, they offer up their treasures in an offhanded, deceptively thread-bare fashion. Repeated listens, however, reveal not just the depth of emotion, but a steady prowess in tunes that move from country to cutting edge.

Things don’t sit still for long. “Gonna Make You Cry,” Willie “Rip” Butler’s rollicking R&B number, has a pleasant Stax-Volt feel. His encore song, “Lonely (Lonesome) for a Dime,” is made just that much better with the addition of some honking background horns.

It’s remarkable to me now that Butler — who so accurately stirs in the old and the new, updating and underscoring what came before — never became widely known. His vocal delivery, from full-throated yowl to the sweet croon, remains a wonder.

Then you have Wesley “Mississippi Junebug” Jefferson, a dark and powerful artist more inclined to heavy strums and heavier phrasing. It’s like Jimmy Reed with a frog in his throat.

Big Jack Johnson’s serrated solos on “Baby, Please Don’t Go” balance the cat-gut plucking convulations of Walton’s take on “Leaving 4th Street” — which then offset James “Super Chikan” Johnson’s lazy, loping “Big Bad Jimmy.” (And yes, that’s the way James spells ‘chicken.’)

“Coahoma the Blues” is, then, both groovy and challenging. The music dodges and moves, sniffs out a trail then slip-knots on a verse. Along the way, O’Neal clearly illustrates that new blues voices — even in the Delta, the left ventricle of blues mythology — still exist.

(This cassette was a fundraiser for the then-new Delta Blues Museum, still located at 411 Delta Ave., Clarksdale, Miss., 38614. Go to www.deltabluesmuseum.org. O’Neal, a founding editor of Living Blues Magazine, now runs Stackhouse Records — whose first release was “Keep It to Yourself: Arkansas Blues, Vol. I: Solo Performances,” originally issued on Rooster Blues in 1983.)

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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