Leader Blues

Friday, March 19, 2010

TOP STORY >> Marker recalls fire at Twist


A marker on the site of a burned-out nightclub in Twist recalls an appearance by B.B. King in the mid-1950s.

B.B. King still plays his Lucille.

By GARRICK FELDMAN

Leader executive editor

There’s finally a marker honoring B.B. King in Twist in Cross County, Arkansas, where the great blues singer escaped from a fire at a nightclub with his guitar and named it Lucille.

You’ve probably heard the story: Back in the 1950s, a couple of fellows fought over a woman and knocked over a barrel filled with kerosene used to heat the club.

Everybody fled, but King realized he’d left his guitar inside the burning club. Risking his life, he retrieved the guitar. He found out the woman the men had fought over was named Lucille, so he’s named all his Gibson guitars after her.

King lived in nearby Parkin for a while and is said to have family there. Howlin’ Wolf farmed near a bend in the St. Francis River and also lived in Parkin for a time. He was inducted into the Army at Camp Robinson during the Second World War. He, too, deserves a marker.

Arkansas is just catching up with Mississippi when it comes to celebrating our musical heritage. Mississippi has put up dozens of markers honoring such great bluesmen as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Son House and others.

The King marker is among the first of several more planned around Arkansas. A marker in downtown Helena honors the King Biscuit Time radio show, which is still on KFFA. Almost 70 years ago, Sonny Boy Williamson was promoting Sonny Boy Corn Meal on the program.

A marker in downtown Helena honors the historic radio show and the blues musicians who played on the show. The old Brinkley railroad depot pays tribute to rhythm-and-blues pioneer Louis Jordan, whose music evolved into rock-and-roll.

Other Arkansas musicians who should get their own markers are Albert King, Charlie Rich, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Junior Lockwood, Levon Helm, Al Green, Johnnie Taylor, William Warfield and Junior Parker.

Rockabilly Roadhouse on Hwy. 67 from Newport to the Missouri border honors the rockabilly stars of the 1950s, including Arkansans Johnny Cash, Billy Lee Riley and Sonny Burgess.

Amazingly, Burgess is still going strong at the age of 80 and will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Jacksonville Senior Center, 100 Victory Circle. Don’t miss it.

The current issue of Living Blues celebrates the magazine’s 40th anniversary.

Who says music in the 1970s wasn’t any good?

A list of the decade’s best blues records compiled by Jim DeKoster, a longtime contributor to the magazine, includes several Arkansas-born musicians: Luther Allison (“Luther’s Blues”), Buster Benton (“Spider in My Stew”), Frank Frost (self-titled), Robert Lockwood (“Steady Rollin’ Man”), Jimmy McCracklin (“Yesterday Is Gone’), Son Seals (“The Son Seals Blues Band”) and Junior Wells, who is listed twice: His “Southside Jam” with Buddy Guy and “Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Play the Blues.”

Other musicians with Arkansas connections include Albert King’s “I’ll Play the Blues for You” (he grew up in Osceola); Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” (he lived and worked in Little Rock for a time); Geater Davis’ “Sweet Woman’s Love” (he also lived for a while in Little Rock, where a couple songs were recorded), and the great Howlin’ Wolf’s “The Back Door Wolf.”

Omitted from DeKoster’s list is the best solo acoustic record of the 1970s: Johnny Shines’ “Crossroads Blues.” It’s a stunning CD, beautifully recorded by the blues scholar Pete Welding.

In the 1930s, Shines used to travel through Arkansas with Robert Johnson, whose music Shines performs with enormous power and emotion. It’s as if both artists were still alive, playing at the crossroads and waiting for the Greyhound bus to catch a ride.