Beale Street Saturday Night
REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/24/2015
James Luther Dickinson (1941-2009) was a producer and band leader (The Dixie Flyers and Mud Boy & The Neutrons) who was deeply immersed in the music of the South. During the course of his career, he issued close to a dozen albums and produced an eclectic group of artists. It was in 1976, however, that he embarked on the most unique and heartfelt project of his career.
Beale Street in Memphis had been the home of the blues for decades but had fallen on difficult times. In order to save and renovate the historic Orpheum Theatre, Dickinson produced an album by local musicians with the proceeds being donated to the renovation project. Beale Street Saturday Night, originally released in 1978, has now come to CD.
It is a basically an album of raw and primitive blues recorded in the studio, in some of the artists homes, and at the theatre itself. Today, the music is a history lesson of Southern blues before it went through a smoothing out process and fusion with other musical formats.
Thomas Pinkston was the last surviving member of W.C. Handy’s 1920’s orchestra. Recorded in his home, “Mr. Handy Told Me 50 Years Ago” and “Ben Griffin Was Killed In Monarch” have a simple old time carnival feel. “Big Fat Mama/Liquor Store” by Sleepy John Estes is another simple house recording.
Furry Lewis was in his ‘70s when he recorded “Furry’s Blues” and “Chicken Ain’t Nothin’ But A Bird” at the Orpheum Theatre. It was cold, he was drinking, sucking on a cigarette, and his guitar was out of tune. It remains a glimpse into the world of the Southern Delta blues. Finally, there is primitive and then there is Grandma Dixie Davis. Accompanied by only a piano, she warbles through “Beale Street Blues” and “Roll On Mississippi.”
The music contained on Beale Street Saturday Night was recorded for a good cause. Today, the music will only appeal for aficionados of blues history.P.S. – The Orpheum Theatre survived and remains a Memphis landmark.