It has been a rough winter in the blues world. Unfortunately, my obituary list has more than 30 entries on it. We’ll get to them all, but it will take some time. Thanks to all my writers from across the country who have stepped up to write them. It is often a difficult task when you had a personal relationship with the artist.
For me, it is Ms. Alberta—Alberta Adams. Ms. Alberta was the oldest living blues performer when she died on December 24. And she was still a performer. She was singing just a few months ago at age 97. She was nearly deaf, so she couldn’t hear the band, but she was still belting it out. They just needed to follow along.
My wife and I drove to Detroit in May 2001 to interview Ms. Alberta for the cover of LB #160. As is always the case, I prefer to interview artists in their own home. I feel like you get a deeper, more personal interview that way, and you also get a chance to see the mementoes of their career that really mean something to them. Often these items spark talk that would have otherwise not happened. Adams lived in an old neighborhood in the heart of Detroit—a neighborhood that had crumbled and wasted away around her. She had purchased the house in 1959, but 43 years later it was one of the few left standing that wasn’t a crack house or a burned-out shell.
I am a country boy. We live in a town in Mississippi that has more cows than people, so my big city experiences are limited. But there is no doubt in my mind that this was one of the roughest neighborhoods I had ever been in. This was before cell phones and GPS navigation, so we had to find the place. When we finally pulled up in front of the old house, a young man came to the car and asked if we were there to see Ms. Alberta. It wasn’t too hard to determine that was who we were. Not a lot of minivans with white couples drive down that street. I got my stuff together, and we followed the young man up a back stairway through locked gate, after locked door, after locked door, until we finally entered Adams’ little home on the second floor. The young man left, and she said, “Don’t worry, someone will be watching your car while you are here. Come on in, and sit down!” We sat and proceeded to have a nearly two-hour discussion that covered her lengthy career and the world she had lived in. Adams was 85 at the time but had the spunk of a youngster. She was delightful, charming and endearing. Her stories of early theater shows, shake dancers and snake dancers, Chess Records, Hastings Street, Louis Jordan and others were mesmerizing. When we finally wrapped up, Alberta Adams had yet another life-long fan.
One of her sons took us back downstairs, and sure enough, when we stepped outside there was the same young man sitting on the front steps watching our car.
R.J. Spangler, Adams’ longtime friend and drummer had contacted me a few weeks before she died, and we were planning on doing something special to celebrate her 98th birthday. But on Christmas day, he wrote me again to say Ms. Alberta had died during the night. A little piece of my blues world died too.
This issue’s cover story is on McComb, Mississippi–native Vasti Jackson. Jackson is a real blues Renaissance man—skilled at nearly every facet of the music industry. Vasti is a guitarist (electric and acoustic), vocalist, songwriter, actor, educator, front-man, side-man, bandleader, arranger, session musician, label owner and producer. He can focus like a laser and knows how to get the job done no matter what is placed in front of him. Jackson sat down with LB this summer for his first full feature with us.
W.C. Clark is affectionately known as the “Godfather of Austin Blues,” a name he earned through decades of playing and mentoring in the Austin music scene. Clark is perhaps best known for the group of young teenagers and twenty-somethings he worked with back in Austin in the late-1970s. Musicians Lou Ann Barton, Angela Shrehli and brothers Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan all worked with Clark and learned from him. Perhaps his greatest influence was on the young Stevie Ray Vaughan, who asked Clark to join his band in the late 1970s. Our feature includes some never-before-published photos from this time period with the young guitar phenom still cutting his teeth.
Don’t forget the 2015 Living Blues Blues Today Symposium will be held on April 9, 2015, at the University of Mississippi. More information can be found at www.LivingBlues.com.
Brett J. Bonner