25 November 2009


Broke and Hungry Records is celebrating it's fourth birthday. The label is home to the best new true delta blues recordings available. Ten wicked releases and counting. Label head Jeff Konkel reminisces:

(ST. LOUIS) – In October 2005, blues fan Jeff Konkel sat in a juke joint in rural Mississippi, lamenting the fact that so many of the region’s most compelling blues artists were unknown outside of the Delta. Over the course of the evening – and an untold number of beers – an idea began to take root. By the following month the hangover was long gone, but the idea had become a reality: Broke & Hungry Records was born.

The label was established to shine a light on some of the lesser-known rural blues musicians in the Delta. This month the label, which recently celebrated the release of its 10th title, looks back on four years of raw blues, damaged livers and questionable business decisions.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Konkel said. “I feel fortunate to have met and befriended so many great artists, juke owners, deejays, journalists and music lovers over the past four years. I’m also thrilled that the musicians we have worked with are now known and appreciated by blues fans around the globe.”

Below Konkel reflects on each of the seven CDs released by his label along with the three M For Mississippi titles released jointly by Broke & Hungry Records, Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art and Mudpuppy Recordings:

“The CD that started it all. This was cut just days after I formed the label. The bulk of the record was cut at Jimmy’s juke joint, the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, Mississippi. He’s joined on several cuts by harp player Bud Spires, who’s best known for his work with Jimmy’s longtime mentor, the late Jack Owens. Jimmy and Bud had some ‘spirited’ disagreements during the session. Bud wanted more moonshine, while Jimmy preferred a more temperate approach to recording. Eventually a compromise was struck, and we ended up with some great music. A few days later Jimmy met us in Clarksdale for a second session with the great Sam Carr on drums. Sam was one of my musical heroes, so it was a thrill to work with him. This CD earned us a lot of attention and netted three Living Blues Awards. It’s still one of my favorites.”

“Whatever challenges we faced in the recording of Back To Bentonia were child’s play compared to this record. For starters, I decided to record him sight unseen and music unheard. I’d received numerous reports that he was an amazing hill country guitarist who shared much in common with R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. I’d also heard that Odell was as hard to find as an honest politician. Once I tracked him down, I knew I might not have another chance. We hastily arranged a session to be held after hours at a blues club on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. To our great surprise, Odell showed up. That’s when the real troubles began. He was uncomfortable with direction and showed an almost pathological resistance to singing into the microphone. To make matters worse, our relations with the club owner deteriorated rapidly when we “shushed” a few of his friends for talking during the session. The threat of pending violence hung in the air. At several points I considered shutting the session down and trying again later, but I knew later might never come. We persevered and eventually it all came together. We ended up with a rollicking, raucous record that is much loved by the handful of folks who have heard it. To no one’s great surprise, Odell once again dropped off the map after we cut the CD. We’re still searching for him.”

“This pairing was Roger Stolle’s idea. Although I had seen Big T and Wesley perform many times, both separately and together, I had never seen them play in the stripped down duo format found here. Roger – of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art fame – had seen them as a duo and recommended I capture it. The acoustic stuff on the CD was recorded at Jimbo Mathus’ now-defunct studio in Clarksdale. The electric cuts, which found the duo expanded to a trio with drummer Lee Williams – was cut on a Sunday evening at Red’s Lounge, the favored juke of Big T and Wesley. Both artists acquit themselves beautifully on this disc, but my favorite cuts – “The Wolves Are Howling” and the title track – both belong to Wesley. They show him to be one of them most captivating songwriters in recent Delta blues history. The record definitely increased the profiles of both artists and it earned them a coveted slot at the 2007 Chicago Blues Festival. Within months of that triumph, Wesley was diagnosed with lung cancer. Sadly, he succumbed to the disease this summer. I’m proud to have captured some of his artistry during his lifetime.”

“A couple of tracks on this CD were recorded at the November 2005 sessions for Back To Bentonia. The bulk, however, stem from a session held the following summer at the Blue Front. These recordings find Jimmy playing and singing with greater confidence, buoyed by the critical response to his debut. It rained like hell during that second session, and we had to stop several times because the microphones were picking up the sound of the rain slamming against the corrugated metal roofing. Lightnin’ Malcolm, better known as the guitarist in his duo with Cedric Burnside, joins Jimmy on drums for several cuts, giving the proceedings a slightly hill country feel. Mostly though, it’s just straight up Bentonia blues. This CD was another critical success and was nominated for a Blues Music Award for Acoustic CD of the Year.”

“This is definitely one of the crazier releases in our catalog . . . and that’s saying something. I happened upon this artist in the summer of 2006 playing at a rural Delta juke. I was immediately struck by the power of his voice and the raw sound he wrestled from his guitar. Over the course of the next year, I talked to him several times about recording, but he always demurred. Eventually I discovered that he was a deacon in a conservative black church that frowned on blues. Rather than risk alienation from his community, he turned down my offer to record. Never one to take ‘no’ for answer, I returned with the idea of recording him under a pseudonym and without using his picture. Thus, the Mississippi Marvel was born. The CD features the Marvel doing several solo acoustic numbers, including a powerful version of ‘Laundromat Blues,’ made famous by Albert King. There are also several raucous electric cuts. My favorite cut is a rollicking take on Muddy Waters’ little-known ‘Waterboy, Waterboy’ featuring Bill Abel on second guitar, Lightnin’ Malcolm on drums and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes blowing harp. So was the project worth all of the subterfuge? My accountant would say no, but my answer is a resounding ‘hell yes!’”

“During the first several years of my love affair with blues, I listened almost exclusively to prewar blues, but during the mid-1990s I began listening to the newer rural artists of the Delta. One of my favorites was James “Son” Thomas. Sadly he died before I had a chance to meet him in person. Thankfully, his son Pat Thomas has kept the flame alive, performing many songs he learned at the foot of his father. This record was recorded over the course of two days at Bill Abel’s Big Toe Studio in Duncan, Mississippi. Pat was in great spirits, telling hilarious yarns on the way to and from his modest home in nearby Leland, Mississippi. My favorite of these was his harrowing (to him, at least) tale of his first and last airplane ride. His good humor carried over to the session, and Pat played his father’s songs with confidence and affection. This a sweet record that always makes me smile. Don’t miss the hidden track at the end!”

“Rural blues artists are a rarity these days. Rural blues artists who write new songs prolifically are practically nonexistent. Jimmy is in this latter category. Whenever he’s worked up a new batch, he calls to see about recording them. The songs on his latest CD were recorded during two sessions held a year apart. The first took place in a back room at the Blue Front in Bentonia on the same day we shot Jimmy’s segment for the film M For Mississippi (about which, more below). The second was held at the Big Toe Studio. To my ears, Jimmy has never sounded better. Critics seem to agree. Blues Bytes recently hailed the CD as ‘arguably Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes’ best release yet.’ Stand out tracks include the electric “All Night Long” with Lee Williams on drums and Jimmy’s mournful acoustic version of ‘That’s Alright.’”

– DVD (M4M001)
“This was a harebrained idea that Roger Stolle and I cooked up over the course of a couple of years. We wanted to partner on a project that reflected the wild, unpredictable nature of the Delta blues scene as we – a couple of glorified fans – experienced it. Eventually we settled on the idea of doing a road trip film. We brought in some help in the form of cinematographer Damien Blaylock, audio engineer Bill Abel and co-producer Kari Jones of Mudpuppy Recordings. The film features some of our favorite blues artists: T-Model Ford, Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, Terry ‘Harmonica’ Bean, Robert Belfour, L.C. Ulmer and many more. We shot the film in a week and released it on DVD just six months later. The film has screened at festivals across the globe and netted a bunch of awards including a Blues Music Award for DVD of the Year. It’s as close as we’ve come to a hit.”

“This is the first of two companion CD soundtracks to the film. It features a host of great performances, ranging from the driving title track by Big George Brock to the back porch blues of Cadillac John Nolden and Bill Abel performing ‘Give It All To Me, Baby.’ To my ears, the crown jewel of the set is the amazing ‘Rosalee’ by 80-year-old L.C. Ulmer of Ellisville, Mississippi. It’s an instant classic. This volume is also notable for containing the final recording of Wesley Jefferson, a full-band rendition of ‘The Wolves Are Howling.’ It’s a rousing and fitting epitaph for a great, under-appreciated bluesman.”

“Released earlier this year, this second volume of the soundtrack to the film features another big batch of great blues from some of our favorite artists. These songs were recorded during the filming and most of them ended up in the finished movie. One performances that didn’t make the film is the version of “Walking the Back Streets” included on this volume. It features Wesley Jefferson’s band (minus Wesley) with Miss Gladys Kile on vocals. It’s got a brassy swagger that I love. Other highlights include T-Model Ford’s sweet acoustic take on ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers,’ the Mississippi Marvel’s menacing version of ‘Evil’ and another gem from L.C. Ulmer, ‘When I Was In Trouble.’ This CD and the preceding title give a great overview of the Delta blues today.”

As Broke & Hungry approaches 2010 – and its fifth anniversary – the label has several exciting projects in store. In the meantime, fans of rural blues can check out any of the label’s current titles at http://www.brokeandhungryrecords.com.

For more information on Broke & Hungry Records, contact the label at info@brokeandhungryrecords.com

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