Frankieleeee's Blog

Whatever boils over over here!

Opening Day at The Biscuit

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So, there I was waiting for Wal-Mart’s pharmacy staff (West Helena, Arkansas) to come back from lunch, hoping they’d be able to see straight enough to find my prescription when I struck up a conversation with a fellow sittin in a chair over there.

Jimmy Evans, rockabilly base player for the likes of Conway Twitty

Damned if it was a guy who’d been playing music professionally since he was a kid. Jimmy Evans, rockabilly recording artist in his own right, a longtime session musician and band member for Conway Twitty, Ronnie Hawkins and others! What tales he had to tell during the ten or fifteen minutes we had. Got his phone number and permission to call and chat. Will try to get some of his music. The bad news is he’s being treated for cancer. Learned that Conway (Harold Jenkins) graduated from high school here and lived in West Helena until 1968. Later picked up Jimmy’s autobiography from the Delta Cultural Center’s bookstore where I ran into a guy who seems to know as much about rockabilly as the blues. You never know when you open a door, do you?

Irony! The icon upon whose image the King Biscuit Blues Festival, now the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival, has been built over the past 25 years was a usurper! Sonny Boy Williamson the Second, while an excellent harp player in his own right, used the reputation of Sonny Boy the First on which to build his reputation, and, in the doing, pretty much relegated Sonny Boy the First to 2nd class citizen.

Still, Don and I have been here 15 or so times and still get the tingle when we hit the Helena city limits. So what if, after paying homage to Sonny Boy the First we also feel a tinge of guilt, as though we’re doubly betraying him. By coming AND enjoying ourselves, albeit not as much as when our soulfood friend (Bullocks Cafe) Cora Bullocks was alive to greet us with a grin and a plateful of sheer joy.

Steraling Billingsley, performer, head of the Sonny Boy Society, and in charge of hiring all the acts this year

Who’s one of the first acts I see on the main stage over there by the levee (Mississippi River)? Why Sterling Billingsley, sure as hell, up there on stage with his band playing and singing to an already-crowded field of fans. More irony. Last time I saw Sterling two or three years ago, he’d been frozen out of performing here. He was, as a matter of fact, operating audio for a secondary stage. Since then, Sterling has become head of the Sonny Boy (Two) Society which pretty much ramrods stuff around here and IS IN CHARGE of hiring acts for the festival! I waited around offstage just to congratulate him on his rebound.

Festival used to be free. Now its $25 per person for the three days. Looks to me like they’ve spent all that money on building fences, very strong fences to keep the freeloaders away.

So what happens now when a performer jumps off the stage and wades through the crowd whacking on the on guitbox? Bump his nose on the new fence?

Blues fans in the flesh, if behind bars

Actually three days is not nearly long enough to savor it all in Helena which, by the way, will become another poverty-stricken ghost town by Sunday noon when we’ve all packed up and moved on to the next festival (Clarksdale, MS for us). Street musicians already abound and the snakeoil salespeople started practicing their spiel to sell the one cure cures all wonder medicine – step right up, ladies and gents!

Damn, I coulda saved myself beaucoup bucks, if I'd only known!

Talk about traveling light!

Actually their catfish sandwich is divine with a little hot sauce and coleslaw! Don's resting (right) as they cook our fish while we wait.

Downtown Helena, Arkansas.

Don & CB in front of merchandise store operated by Radio Station KFFA which has been broadcasting a daily blues program forever and which has sole rights to use the words "King Biscuit" because outsiders own the rights to "King Biscuit Blues Festival."

Thence home to the Best Western, pausing outside of Cora’s restaurant which has been closed for a year now, with its broken window, watching her son Hoss serve up ribs and pulled pork sandwiches on the sidewalk in what will almost certainly be his last year dishing out food (although that’s also what he told us last year).

Cora's building. Sold now. Empty now. Busy only on the front sidewalk where son Hoss serves all who come. You can actually buy food for cash from Hoss; most vendors are restricted to taking blues coupons so their keepers know to the penny how much their percentage is.

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Written by frankieleeee

October 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm

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