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October 5, 1999

Roots, Rock, Reggae

Last Sunday night I was finally able to experience my second live blues show by a Fat Possum recording artist when T-Model Ford played in a downtown bar in Tuscaloosa. The seventy-five year old Mississippi bluesman played his guitar for over three hours with his only accompaniment being a simple drum set played so hard that by night’s end, the drummer’s hands were bleeding. Though T-Model may be up in years, he can still play such raw and savage guitar licks that even the indie-rock crowd would be impressed. On such songs as “Been a Long time” and “To the Left to the Right” he played with such intensity that even the usually conservative fraternity crowd took notice, as some of the brethren began stomp-dancing to the music. T-Model’s sound is like that of other Mississippi juke-joint performers like R.L. Burnside or Hezekiah Early in that it’s ringing blues guitar being blared through a Peavey amp while a drummer pounds away in the background. It’s definitely not radio friendly, like Robert Cray or Buddy Guy, and it’s never relaxed, like a Mississippi John Hurt or other Delta bluesmen. While he played through the night, T-Model’s expression rarely changed from the scowl of a pissed-off old man, and even the titles of his two records (“Pee Wee Get My Gun” and “You Better Keep Still”) seem to reflect the anger in his music.

According to his biography, in the three-quarters of a century he has been alive, T-Model has plowed behind a mule, worked in a sawmill as a teen and even spent time in jail for murder. He supposedly didn’t start playing guitar until he was in his late thirties and, though he’s been playing blues in juke joints around Greenville, Mississippi, for years, he never recorded an album or toured out of state until the mid-nineties. Thanks to the people at Fat Possum Records, T- Model and the other blues artists are touring around the world bringing their unique Mississippi juke-joint sound to people in Europe and Japan. Look for T-Model Ford to play at Southside sometime in November.

Fat Possum’s most famous bluesman, R.L. Burnside, had to cancel shows this month in New Orleans and Mobile because of heart trouble. The sixty-eight year old performer had to have an angioplasty on September 1 but is recovering well enough that he may be back on tour before the end of the year. Rolling Stone magazine recently rated another Fat Possum recording artist, Junior Kimbrough, with the number one blues album of the nineties for his album “All Night Long.”

-- Chuck Cox

The Harbinger