When I was young I lived in a small town in the deep south. Occasionally my father would walk me down the long, winding path to a back-woods shack that served as the area’s juke joint. As I watched my father dance and drink his troubles away with his friends, it must have presented a funny picture to anyone that cared to look – a four-year-old white boy sitting in the corner watching his dad and a room full of black men & women dancing to a blues band. This may not exactly be Norman Rockwell’s picture of the early 1950’s, but it was my picture.
The reality of this is that I remember very little of it. Although my mother filled in the details many years later, my memories of those occasions were of the music itself.
Even to a four-year old the blues was as seductive as it was sad. In spite of its sad name this predictable and stylized American music form remains for me a source of optimism. I think this is its seduction. Its only purpose is to make people feel good by creating courage from helplessness.
In 1976 – more than twenty years after my juke joint experiences – I revisited the blues as I photographed Muddy Waters at one of his last concerts. He, Pinetop Perkins – currently the oldest performing bluesman at 96 – and their band at the time held a concert in a small park in Water’s hometown of Westmont, Illinois.
Although “The Mojo Man” needed the help of fans and friends to get off the stage after the concert, his voice was strong and clear as he sang most of the songs that made him an inspiration to not only several generations of rock & roll performers, but to a young photographer.