Between Midnight & Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive

Article excerpt

Exhibition: Govinda Gallery, 1227 Thirty Fourth Street NW, Washington, D.C. 7 November - 13 December 2003. Website: www.govindagallery. com. Book: Waterman, Dick. Introduction by Peter Guralnick. Preface by Bonnie Raitt. Between Midnight & Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003. ($29.95 ISBN 1-56025-547-1).

Upon reading in 1996 a history of the blues, then-13 year old David Murray asked his father, Chris Murray, the founder and director of Govinda Gallery in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C., to take a trip to examine the roots of the blues.1 The elder Murray, having grown up during the heyday of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones, featured images of rock-n-roll in his gallery. He also had either authored or edited books on music, and thus could identify with the parental, educational, and entrepreneurial aspects of cultural tourism.2 The father and son traveled to Mississippi, staying at the Riverside hotel in Clarksdale, where Bessy Smith died in 1937. They also visited the cabin where Muddy Waters lived on the Stovall Plantation, and viewed the crossroads where Robert Johnson, according to legend, sold his soul to the Devil.

On a visit to Oxford, Mississippi, Chris Murray noticed in the window of a small frame shop "the most compelling photographs of blues musicians I had ever seen" (8). Although the images were modestly presented, most were from the 1960s, a time when folk music and the blues were experiencing a popular revival and the music was introduced to a new generation of white listeners. After dinner on the town's square with Dick Waterman, the photographer, Murray offered to organize an exhibit and help publish a book of those images. "There is an immediacy to these pictures ... there is no artifice. Seen along with Waterman's stories, the reader has a sense of 'being there'" (9).

Born in Massachusetts, Dick Waterman studied journalism in the 1950s at Boston University. In the 1960s he proceeded to try his hand at sports reporting, writing and editing the Boston-based folk magazine Broadside. He also listened to many types of music before focusing on traditional blues, and then helped to form the Boston Blues Society. Waterman took photographs in the beginning to augment his articles. At the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, he began taking pictures of musicians. In February 1964, Waterman booked his first blues show, bringing 'Mississippi John' Hurt to Boston's Café Yana. Six nights of sold-out performances pointed 'Mr. Dick', as Hurt fondly called him, to promotion and management. The pictures he took would come in handy for publicity photographs and press releases.

In the summer of 1964, Waterman and fellow blues enthusiasts Nick Perls (who later would found Yazoo Records, a label dedicated to music preservation) and Phil Spiro crowded into a Volkswagen and headed to Mississippi to track down Eddie 'Son' House. House had recorded ten sides for Paramount in 1930, and was a major influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.3 '"You come all the way down here just to hear that kind of blues music?' one resident quizzically asked. And I said, 'Yeah.' And they just shook their head. And they said, 'Well there ain't a porch down here ain't got a colored man out there with a guitar'."4 From relatives of Son House, Waterman learned that the bluesman was then living in Rochester, New York. On the very day that Waterman left the Delta, Sunday, 21 June 1964, three civil rights workers - Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney - were released from a jail in Philadelphia, Mississippi, only to be murdered and buried in a coffer dam. It was, as Waterman recalled, a "kind of scary" time.5

Waterman found Son House living beside the railroad tracks in Rochester. Although hard work and the passage of time had taken their toll, House was still one of the most mesmerizing and mysterious of bluesmen. Others had interviewed House in the Delta, then left him to his own devices. …