Friday, June 24, 2011

One Of Those Days

I recently had one of those days that makes me thrilled to be involved in this great music. My last blog was on the Pinetop Perkins Foundation and all they do, and posting it prompted a call from PPF Board Member, Bob Margolin. He wanted to fill me in on the Masterclasses he’d just finished teaching. He was driving back to North Carolina from Clarksdale, so he had some time to chat.

The workshop kicked off last Tuesday night with a meet and greet between the students, their families, and the teachers. Bob was teaching the guitar, with Erwin Helfer filling in on piano for the recuperating Ann Rabson. Here’s the schedule:

Youth Workshop Series Schedule 
  • Tues., June 14    5:00 PM               Meet and Greet 
  • Wed., June 15    9:30 AM-4:00 PM  Masterclass Workshops 
  • Thurs., June 16   9:30 AM-4:00 PM  Masterclass Workshops 
  • Fri., June 17        9:30 Am - Noon    Masterclass Workshops 
  • Fri., June 17        8 pm - 1:00 a.m.   Performance Jam - Ground Zero Blues Club 

    That’s a full few days! This was the second year of the program, and by Bob’s account, a tremendous success. There were fourteen kids attending, ten on guitar, and four on piano. The event took place at the Shack Up Inn and Hopson’s Commissary.

    A little history: anyone with any Blues knowledge whatsoever knows about Hopson’s Plantation and the many Blues legends who, at one time or another, picked cotton there. I was less certain about the Commissary, so I decided to do a little research. That was a few hours ago. I got steeped and lost in history. Here are a couple of wonderful excerpts regarding both the present use and historical use of the Commissary starting with a couple of paragraphs from Gary W. Miller © 2001, Gary W. Miller,, (Appeared in Nov, 7 2001 issue of

    I had a strange enlightening when I first entered the Delta, just south of Memphis, where the strip malls, pig-ear joints and rug bazaars sort of fade back into the North and the Delta raises its cotton nappy face to you. As far as you can see, if the gambling joints don’t get in the way, is the stark realization that, at one time, these hundreds of thousands of acres of Blues jeans and tee-shirts had to be picked by hand. That means PEOPLE had to do that. It’s the first thing that makes one aware that life just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If that doesn’t give you the Blues, try picking this stuff! 

    People did that, for sure! South of Clarksdale, MS is the Plantation of the Hopson’s. This place was, the day after the King Biscuit Blues Festival, the place to be. They were having a little thing for Pinetop Perkins, with Rusty Zinn on guitar. You see, the Commissary, which the main building is called, is now a roadhouse, with all of the memorabilia of a hundred years on the walls, and some of the best musicians from the Delta on the main stage. Complete with its safe, wherein all the money used to be stashed, the Commissary was the place where everybody who worked the land bought their foodstuffs and, maybe, bought a little tobacco and coffee. The Commissary wasn’t a place where people who worked the land went to party. It was the place where they paid off.

    Now for a historical account.

    Hopson Plantation History 

    The main commissary was divided into four main sections then. The back fourth was the bookkeeping office with a small PRIVATE office behind it that was Mr. Hopson's. Also in the corner of the building closest to the shop there was a small efficiency apartment. It was occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Patterson, who I think lived there for free. There was a partition from the front, back to the office area. Looking from the office, the left side was used for storage of many supplies needed to run a farm. The other side was divided from side to side with the front part used as a small retail grocery store run by Mr. Hudson. The back part in front of the office, was the commissary where we issued groceries. The large side doors were always kept open in the summer time to insure a breeze throughout the building....

    The concrete porch at the front of the store was a cool place to sit and visit a minute, sitting on the long green bench. This was where I learned to skate. The artesian well out front overflowed into a large trough, one half of a big steam boiler where the mules were watered as they pulled the cotton laden wagons to the gin. There was a large 1-1/2" pipe with a valve where anyone could get a wonderful drink of good cool water. There was also a large overhead type pipe where you could fill up barrels of water that were hauled there on a wagon. Many of the tenants used this as their source of water for many years.

    The above is but a small sampling of what I’ve been reading, and my imagination is reeling. Not just about the remote history, but also about recent history. Like last week. I’ve seen some of the photographs on the PPF website, so I have a visual context, but I also know two of the kids who participated, Austin Young and Jack Gaffney, so I’m picturing them playing, laughing, and befriending. Bob also told me about an amazing twelve-year-old Mississippi guitarist, Kingfish. There’s a photo of him there too, so we can have a face to a name.

    Next year, the foundation is hoping to add harmonica to the Masterclasses, and I’ve already informed Nic “Conttonseed” Clark that he’ll be in that inaugural class.

    Since their return, I’ve spoken with Austin and received an email from Jack. I know they had a memorable time and have now been informed by history through the Spirit of Place. Having spoken with one of the instructors, I know all of the kids had a great time. However, as great a time as they had, I think Professor Margolin had the best time of all.

    Please visit the PPF site and see how you can become involved.

    ~Honey Bee Sepeda~

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