Singing the Brookhaven blues
Published 9:46 pm Saturday, August 15, 2015
While you won’t hear harmonica tunes wafting from every porch in town, the Brookhaven/Lincoln County area has had its share of notable blues musicians.
Shaw Furlow, executive director of the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, has his finger on the pulse of Mississippi music, especially Lincoln County. With a railroad vein running through Brookhaven and its proximity to Natchez, one might expect the Mississippi-born “blues” genre of music to be more popular here. Furlow said though some of his musician friends disagree, the blues just isn’t very prevalent in this particular area anymore.
“The blues isn’t real popular in this part of the state, you just don’t see that [much] down here,” Furlow said. “It’s more southern rock, country rock. You just don’t see a lot of blues-playing in this area.”
A historic marker by the Amtrak station tells of Little Brother Montgomery, citing him as a popular blues musician of the area. While he was quite popular, he is not the first name that comes to mind when “Brookhaven” and “the blues” are mentioned.
“From Wesson, there’s a guy, Houston Stackhouse,” Furlow said. “Not one of the upper-tier blues legends, but he was very influential in his teaching of a lot of blues players.”
Stackhouse was a pivotal figure on the Southern blues scene from the 1930s through the 1960s. Born in Wesson, Stackhouse is more well-known as a coach than a player in the blues game, being best known for his association and work with well-known blues musician Robert Nighthawk. He was a constant presence in Mississippi and Arkansas blues circles and highly respected among fellow musicians, according to msbluestrail.org.
Stackhouse was also associated with Robert Johnson and Tommy Johnson, two of the most recognized names in blues from this part of the state. Tommy Johnson grew up in the Crystal Springs area, and was a pioneer in Mississippi blues whose songs and distinct falsetto moan were adopted by many of his contemporaries and followers, according to msbluestrail.org. Robert Johnson was born on the outskirts of Hazlehurst, where a museum stands as part of the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame and also includes Tommy Johnson.
“There aren’t any real venues for blues, there’s not a Poor Monkey’s or a place like that,” Furlow said. “Jackson on some nights like Mondays at Hal and Mal’s during blues night — you hear it sporadically.”
While Brookhaven and Lincoln County may not have been steeped in the blues historically, there are a few throughout the area who make sure the blues lives on. Furlow said on Wednesday nights at Magnolia Blues during open mic night, slide guitar can sometimes be heard from Greg Nettles. Furlow said Nettles and fellow musicians come together on these nights with fervor.
Last but not least, Furlow spoke most highly of one Virgil Brawley.
“In my opinion you can’t talk about Brookhaven and the blues without mentioning Virgil Brawley. From Brookhaven, he has made his living or at least part of his living playing the blues in different clubs and with different bands. I read a magazine article […] — said he may be the best blues writer in the business today.”