Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Best little music fest in state

Leader editor

Saturday’s Jacksonville Wing Ding Festival at Dupree Park could be the best little music festival in the state.

Headliners will include blues artists Willie Cobbs of Smale (Monroe County), Robert Bilbo Walker of Clarksdale, Miss., and Maurice John Vaughn of Chicago. Vaughn and his group have played at the festival for the last couple of years.

Several more musical acts will perform on the city’s new portable stage sponsored by Arkansas Federal Credit Union.

Starting off the music will be Contemporary Christian bands Altering Aphelion of North Little Rock and Latitude 31 from Benton. They will be followed by Luster, a rock-and-roll band, and the pop group Pricecrew, both from Jacksonville.

Kiddos, a husband-and-wife group from Siloam Springs, will present children’s music.

Cobbs is a harmonica wizard and soul-blues singer who was born in Smale and is a gentleman farmer there. He told us in a telephone interview, “I’m looking forward to playing so close to home.”

He wrote “You Don’t Love Me,” a blues standard that was recorded by the Allman Brothers, Albert King, Booker T. and the MGs, Grateful Dead, Sonny and Cher, Otis Rush, John Mayall and others.

The reggae star Dawn Penn recorded it as “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No),” helping Cobbs build up his royalty checks.

He says modestly that he has made “several hundred thousand dollars” letting other people record his song.

Cobbs, who is still going strong at 76, spent several years in Chicago, where he played with many of the blues greats before moving back to Arkansas to take care of his ailing mother.

He says he likes to compose his songs in his back yard, finding inspiration in his rural surroundings.

He leases out 500 acres of farm land in Monroe County and grows his own vegetables, including collard greens, sweet corn, potatoes, okra, peas. and more.

Cobbs was heading out into his garden when we called him. He says he grows enough vegetables to share them with people in the area if they get hungry in these hard times.

His CDs include “Pay or Do 11 Months and 29 Days” (Wilco), “Down to Earth” (Rooster Blues) and “Jukin’” (Bullseye). He’ll have several of his CDs for sale at the festival.

Appearing with Cobbs will be Maurice Jon Vaughan, a multi-instrumentalist who has recorded with several veteran Chicago blues musicians, including Eddie Boyd.

The festival will also feature the flamboyant Bilbo Walker, who will probably be decked out in his trademark white suit, looking much like a performer in Las Vegas or a flashy country star.

There is a touch of country in his music, but mostly it’s down-home blues with a serving of rock and soul and a powerful guitar.

He’s a lot like Chuck Berry: They both do the duckwalk, but Bilbo can walk forward and back.

“Chuck Berry can’t walk backward,” Walker told us.

He’ll have his CD “Rompin’ and Stompin’” (Fedora) for sale.

Joining Walker and the band will be his daughter, Estelle Taylor, who sings better than he does, said her proud dad. “She puts on such a beautiful show,” Walker said.