Thursday, October 22, 2015

Labor South Roundup: Pols on the stump at an old-time political rally in rural Mississippi; Punk artist Tav Falco returns to Memphis: Guitarist Jimmie Vaughan makes every lick count at the "King Biscuit" blues festival in Helena, Ark.

(To the left, at Johnny Morgan's "Good Ole Boys and Gals" political rally in rural Mississippi)

A cultural excursion into the Deep South – Pols on the hustings at an old-time political rally in rural Mississippi; punk rocker-photographer-poet-filmmaker Tav Falco returns to Memphis; and Jimmie Vaughan channels Jimmy Reed at the Helena, Ark., “King Biscuit” blues festival

At the “Good Ole Boys and Gals” political rally in rural Lafayette County, Miss.

A couple hundred state and local courthouse pols gathered to give and hear stump speeches, sip bourbon and munch on barbecue chicken at Lafayette County Supervisor Johnny Morgan’s “Good Ole Boys and Gals” political rally near Oxford, Miss., Wednesday night.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, up for re-election this year, told everyone how good he’d been for the Magnolia state over the past four years. Incumbents and challengers took turns bashing President Obama while the occasional brave soul called for an expansion of Medicaid and more spending on public education.

Morgan, a veteran politician and former state legislator, is chief organizer of the event, which takes place several times a year and always draws a large crowd. Peanuts, hoop cheese, delicious barbecue chicken, and a generous bar add to the festivities.

 Tav Falco returns to Memphis

(To the right, Tav Falco and Panther Burns performing in Memphis)

Tav Falco, a controversial, sometimes polarizing multi-media artist who burst onto the Memphis music and art scene with his band Panther Burns in the late 1970s, returned to his old stomping grounds last week with a performance with his band at Lafayette’s Music Room in the city’s Overton Square district.

Falco has been living in Europe—earlier Paris and now Vienna—for many years, and he included songs in French, a tango, as well as cuts from his new CD “Tav Falco Command Performance” for the crowd.

The CD is a paean to Memphis in some ways with renditions of rockabilly master Charlie Feathers’ “Jungle Fever”, Big Star leader Alex Chilton’s “Bangkok”, blues meister Memphis Minnie’s “Me and My Chauffeur Blues”. Also included is Falco’s own sharply political “Whistle Blower” with its warning against growing American-style fascism.

Falco also has a newly published book of his photography, An Iconography of Chance: 99 Photographs of the Evanescent South, that is getting attention here and in Europe. In a telephone interview this week, Falco said the book is the first of three that will include his photography. It features photographs he took of the South decades ago.

“There is a landscape that draws people, photographers, a social fabric,” Falco said about the South. “This is the area I grew up in, pictures of my formation, my aesthetic. An artist works with what is at hand. I think it is important where an artist works and lives.”

The next book in the series will “reflect a more international view,” he said.

Falco’s art—whether photographs, music, books or film--today reflects a continuing commitment to his own aesthetic, as described in his strange, fascinating, monumental 2011 book, Ghosts Behind The Sun: Splendor, Enigma & Death, volume one in a two-part series called Mondo Memphis:

“The image of the artist or musician as alchemist is utterly fascinating. Music—an unseen force—magic, the occult, and alchemy all seem to be interconnected. … The first thing I do when I go onstage is to cast a spell.”

Jimmie Vaughan at the Helena, Ark., “King Biscuit” blues festival

(Jimmie Vaughan in Helena, Ark.)

Veteran guitarist Jimmie Vaughan may offer a less complicated “aesthetic” to his music, but he is no less compelling. Brother of the late guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan is a master of simplicity with his playing. Each note says something, each lick lean and mean, never showing off, just what’s needed to send a message. In jazz terms, Jimmie is Miles Davis to his brother’s Charlie Parker.

Performing with long-term sidekick vocalist Lou Ann Barton, Vaughan offered a wide range of his music over the past several decades, tipping his hat to his late brother in his classic homage to dead-and-gone blues singers, “Six Strings Down”. He also played songs by greats such as Jimmy Reed, another preacher of the gospel of “simplicity” in music. “Who doesn’t love Jimmy Reed?” he asked the crowd. They shouted back an affirmation.

(To the right, a bluesman on Helena's Cherry Street during the "King Biscuit" blues festival)

Vaughan was the headliner of this month's blues festival, located in the heart of downtown Helena, Ark., where Sonny Payne’s famous “King Biscuit” radio show featured Sonny Boy Williamson and other blues great as far back as the 1940s.

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