Lower Mississippi River DIspatch Vol 6 No 10
Quapaw Canoe Company
Clarksdale, Mississippi -- Helena Arkansas -- serving the greater Lower Mississippi Valley from Cairo Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico --
-- This issue dedicated to the family & friends of Dutch Parker Graves --
Yoga Retreat Oct 8-10
One more seat left on the 2010 Yoga Retreat with yogi extraordinaire Conner Burnham and Scotta Brady. Yoga and the Big River: you will return home a changed person. Tomorrow is the cutoff day for reservations! For more info, go to:
King Biscuit celebrates its 25th Anniversary!
Pass the Biscuits, folks! One of the 2 greatest blues festivals in the world is coming to the river this weekend, and Quapaw Canoe Company will be there with canoes, kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs), tours to Buck Island and the St. Francis River. From our Helena outpost 411 Ohio Street -- situated in between several of the stages! Shuttles, rentals and guided tours available. Call 870-228-2266 or 870-338-1540 for more info. For festival info: www.bluesandheritagefest.com/
Barefoot Films recently in Clarksdale completed a beautiful & moving 10 minute documentary about The Mighty Quapaw Apprenticeship Program featuring senior apprentice Popeye “The Canoe Man” Jeremy Hayes! Check it out on vimeo:
The Mighty Quapaw: a film by Natalie Irby & Rachael Johnson
Quapaw Blog Roll -- Some recent writing about Quapaw Canoe Company that has appeared in the blogs:
Leah C. Well’s -- Smart City Memphis
Virginia McClean -- Friends for our Riverfront
Dew on the Kudzu - A Southern Ezine
Eulogy to a dear departed friend:
Tater Foster Wiley “The Sad Streets of Clarksdale Town”
http://www.deltabohemian.com/ click on “Driftwood Johnnie”
A ghost is wandering around the sad streets of Clarksdale, Jimbo Mathis and I felt him when the back door blew open at Woolf Funeral Home early this week during visitation, we looked at each other in amazement and nervously giggled, the manager walked up and quickly shut the door, and Jimbo said loudly “there sure is a draft in here!” but we both knew who’s draft that was and it made us laugh because we know as Tater’s song goes “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down,” not even after death.
The next day at Carol & Gary Vincent’s Music Stage the freight doors kept creaking open & closed as the crowd at his funeral alternately cried and laughed, sang songs and related stories, I couldn’t see what was making these doors creak open & shut from my place on the stage, but it sure didn’t look like anyone was coming & going. I think I can feel him now as I am writing this with Jupiter high in the deep dark sky and only the owls are awake along the Sunflower River, a strange noise outside raised the hairs on my back, something just knocked over a metal bowl, it could have been him, he could be so clumsy sometimes. His songs are resonating in my internal music system. I keep hearing “Flowin on the River” and “Duckie Baby,” “Where the Big Boys Play,” and the “Sad Streets of Clarksdale.”
You can feel his presence lingering at the lonesome bench in front of Cat Head where he used to sit almost every day rain or shine, in the heat and in the cold, and pour out his heart, filling downtown with the scraping sounds of his guitar and high lonesome falsetto flights of his voice from this bench on Delta, every once in a while an appreciative person would stop and listen and leave a tip, usually an out-of-town visitor, he must have played for thousands and thousands of blues tourists from this bench, if you google his name you will find an incredible collection of photos and videos and stories posted from the people he met, he was the guy at the Crossroads, but instead of trying to steal your soul he stole your heart, and filled it with the goodness of his own. But mostly he played to the passing cars and customers and merchants making their runs and carrying on their everyday business routines, everyone accepted his presence as routinely as they did Riverside Grain Elevator towering into the sky at the end of Delta. He was as much a fixture as the old Illinois Central Railroad Tracks rolling forever South towards New Orleans and North towards Chicago behind Ground Zero. Maybe he wasn’t fully understood or appreciated for being the original genius artist that he truly was, but he certainly was not hindered in any fashion either.
You can hear him getting up and closing his guitar case, walking downtown mumbling a song to himself maybe, or grinding his teeth with that squishy rubber sound he sometimes made, stopping at the Care Station for lunch, and then making a deposit at the bank. If anyone was following B.B. King’s advice for artists to be good businessmen it was Tater, he was one of the few musicians who actually owned every piece of equipment in the band, and even though he didn’t have a vehicle to move it from place to place, he got it there by either pushing it down the street in a grocery cart, carrying it by its handle, or strapping it down to his bike. I can see him peddling a bicycle down Issaquena and under the Railroad Tracks and over to Club 2000 where he played every Sunday at 6pm for years, where he celebrated birthdays and family reunions, and made everyone welcome on the stage, his band was the band of misfits, the musicians who didn’t or couldn’t find other outlets, I was one of them, one of the Tater Tots, Tater gave me a place to enjoy the pleasure of playing music, the sheer joy of making music and filling an otherwise mostly empty world with song and dancing and laughter.
His ghost continues down Issaquena, around Ooh So Pretty corner, down MLK and past his old house on Ashton where he lived for decades, outliving his old room-mate John Henry who used to cook for Mr. Fair, on down MLK to Sunflower where he enters Red’s Place and patiently waits for the band to take take a break so he can jump into one of his songs and give his high karate chop with an irrepressible smile. Or maybe the band laughs at him and won’t let him do anything, so he walks on out the door down Sunflower, over the tracks and steps into Ground Zero where some women grab him out of the swirling crowd and he graces the dance floor with elegant moves, he can deftly dance the “soft shoe” and spin the gals with ease, sometimes punctuated with his famous karate kick. For a while he was busboy here as recorded in “Bye Bye ‘Zero” and “Going Down to ‘Zero for the Last Time.” He was always wanting to help. If anyone needed something he had, or needed help, Tater was there. The first time I remember him Big Jack Johnson was performing for the Sunflower Festival in the early 1990s and broke or lost his thumb pick. Tater was on stage doing his air guitar thing he used to do, I guess this was before he really started playing & singing. He crossed the stage and gave Big Jack his guitar pick. He always had the right equipment. Tater helped me carve several dugout canoes, the Water Ram Dugout that made the Missouri River Expedition, and the Double Eagle Dugout that now sits in the children’s room of the Carnegie Public Library, both have Tater’s adze marks.
Like all ghosts he haunts the people & places he knew. He is a hot summer breeze blowing in off the fields. Clarksdale breathes with his presence. And yet unlike most ghosts his spirit brings only good memories and proud history. I can only smile when I feel him, or look over his many photos & videos online, or hear his amazing volume of songs from the many recordings he left behind. The “Sad Streets of Clarksdale” never brought him the “Million Dollar Blues” he was always looking for, nor the “Black Cadillac,” nor the “Tour Bus,” and he was sometimes “Put Out In The Wintertime” wondering “What Can A Poor Man Do? But those same streets allowed him to make a living and brought him converts from all over the world. He broke all of the rules of the music, but then he put them back together in his own good natured way and made the songs resonate with meaning and purity. He always found that stage, or recording studio, or juke joint “Where The Big Boys Play.” Even though a "Good Man Is Hard To Find" he did find a true friend in the “Riverman,” and many others who were charmed by the twinkle in his eye and the sincerity of his being & music. He did enjoy his “Sweet Tater Pie” as well as taking a “Walk In The Park” and “Flowing on the River.” He did “Check It Out Check It In” to find his “Duckie Baby,” even though she might have become a “Crack Headed Woman,” and then he decided to “Get Off That Cat!” His sentiments reached out all the way to the soldiers in Iraq with “Bring The Boys Back Home,” which is just as appropriate today to those in Afghanistan. The only person I ever saw him cuss out was “That Lowdown George Bush.” Then again any musician who slighted him was immortalized in one of his songs like “Lying Super Chikan” and “Lying Michael James!” You could probably sum up his sensibilities as an artist & businessman with the song “That Bullshit’s Got To Go!”
The former director of the Memphis Opera Michael Ching told me that he heard the universe in Tater’s music, in the way it modulated in and out of minors & majors, and freely skipped timing and explored the edge of the musical ether. Now Tater’s spirit has joined his music, in that place where the soul never dies, in the breezes sweeping through the Sad Streets of Clarksdale -- where the crickets chirp and the cicadas thrum, where the trash trucks bang and the sirens ring, where the people party and the children play, Tater’s spirit is now forever inseparable from the very air we breathe and its heard as a never-ending echo in the land and time of the eternal music. Wherever there is music at one of the jukes or clubs in Clarksdale, Tater will be on stage. Wherever there is a camera crew Tater will be on the scene. Wherever someone needs a helping hand, Tater’s hand will be there. Whenever someone does the karate chop on the dance floor Tater will be there. Whenever you hear a guitar making a hypnotic chop on a monochord structure that is Tater. If you think he is gone, find one of his CDs and play it loud, you will find that he is very much present, and even if you can’t see him, you can sure feel him. Just listen to “Duckie Baby,” my personal favorite, a song he cradles with the same tenderness Robin Rushing saw him cradling a guitar that he had accidentally upset, and that I saw in his eyes when he watched over my daughter in the first few years of her life.
*Note: All titles in quotes are literally titles of Tater's original Songs. You can find Tater’s last recorded CD production in a special remix by Will Dawson produced 2010 by the Music Maker Foundation: The Best of Mr. Tater: The Greatest Music Maker Alive, available at the Delta Blues Museum or Cat Head Music & Arts, proceeds go to Tater’s surviving brothers Joseph & Joshua and their families.
Be sure to visit the Delta Bohemian, the coolest thing on the web concerning all things Delta! http://www.deltabohemian.com/ click on “Driftwood Johnnie” for the Tater Eulogy.