Thursday, January 9, 2014

Uncle Ben Perry - Memphis Blues & Boogie Woogie

If you were on Beale Street, in Memphis, TN, any time in the last quarter of the 20th century, odds are that you heard Uncle Ben play. If you were a budding musician, chances are you sat in with him for a few tunes, and if he liked the way you played, you may even have become one of his many "nephews."
It would be impossible to keep track of the scores of kids who sat in with Uncle Ben under those trees in Handy Park (before they gutted it, put a fence around it and started calling it the "Pepsi Pavillion"). He graciously allowed pretty much anyone to play a tune with him, whether they were seasoned professionals passing through or lilly-green amateurs who didn't know a thing about the blues.
Playing the blues, year after year, for the motley assortment of tourists, winos and derelicts that congregated in Handy Park, Uncle Ben had learned a thing or two about how to deal with crowds. For those that came under his tutelage, it was an advanced course, not only in how to handle yourself on the street, but also about how to really make blues your life. Uncle Ben had been down there, banging away on that cheap guitar and hollering those same songs as long as anyone could remember. He was the real deal.
This post collects what is - as far as I know - Uncle Ben's complete recorded output, minus the bit of him that you can see in Robert Palmer's "Deep Blues" film. The first eight tracks are from a demo that he recorded sometime in the 1980s, I believe. I know it was already a few years old when I got it from Ben in 1992. This was a cassette-only release by some little local outfit called "Alley Way Records." Clarence Covington joins him on 2nd guitar, and also handles the vocals for a couple of tunes. There are also two cuts (recorded live on Beale Street) from the High Water "Deep South Blues" record, and one other song that I found on one of Brad Webb's records.
This music is probably not for everyone. It's badly recorded and mixed, the guitars are out of tune, and it's basically raggedy as hell. But I heard Ben play these songs hundreds of times, and I'm really glad to have this musical memento of those days. I figured there might be others out there who feel the same way. Amazingly, for a guy who made such a mark on the Memphis music scene, this small handful of tunes is all we have to remember Uncle Ben by. So, I wanted to put it out there for whoever might appreciate it.
The above piece has been taken from the defunct blog Glad Rags. It is the only item I could find that has some bearing on the tapes provided by HM.

Boogie Woogie:
Memphis Blues:


Bob Mac said...

These are great recordings - real true-blue dirty gritty raw rough blues. So many blues releases these days are slick and polished and recorded with enhancements and sophisticated techniques, or have over-bearing club-you-to-death guitar. But these tracks here are the real deal.

Mr_Crass said...

Great post! I would love to hear the missing Uncle Ben songs from the other comps.

Xyros said...

@ Mr_Crass, which missing tracks do you mean?

Mr_Crass said...

The live tracks from Deep South Blues and the track from Brad Webb's compilation -- Vol. 1 I believe.

Anonymous said...

"Mama , Look at Sis" and "Mean Woman Blues" are different takes on the Deep South Blues Cd .
They were recorded "Live" in 1984 (High Water) , The Alley Way Sessions are from the early 90's .
I can post the 2 tracks from the Deep South Blues Cd here if you want . and HAPPY BIRTHDAY !!!!

Xyros said...

@Marc(fr), that would be great. Is it possible to rip the whole cd and send a link?

Anonymous said...

Yes Xyros , i just finished uploading the cd , here's the result :
Deep South Blues


Xyros said...

Thank you Marc(fr) for u/l the CD. I'm sure Mr_Crass will also appreciate it.

Mr_Crass said...

Thank you Marc(fr) and Xyros. Uncle Ben's Deep South Blues tracks would've fit nicely on Fat Possum. Maybe other readers would have his tracks from Brad Webb & Friends Vol. 1 & 2.

Mark Dead said...

I performed and recorded with Uncle Ben in 1988. He lived in that old people apts up from Beale and we recorded an Xmas album in his apt. At the time I was living in an abandoned car at the defunct greyhound station. We also had a harp player named Tom Knight. I played guitar...I miss those days. it was nice to find a photo of him.

Cheers and God bless the Blues

Xyros said...

@ Mark Dead, thank you your recollections of playing with Uncle Ben. Don't know about living in abandoned car but I'm sure they were great times. Was the Xmas album ever released?