The Day the Blue Front Opened Early

DATELINE:  April 12, 2001
Betonia, Mississippi

Jimmy Holmes, owner of the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, Mississippi was getting ready to unload a small freezer from the back of his pickup that afternoon when we met him.  We explained that we were looking for a spot to record, Skip James' Cypress Grove.

Eddie helped Jimmy unload the freezer, and I made appropriate gestures to signify that I too would help if I could manage to find someplace to grab hold that wouldn't throw the whole procedure out of balance.  It takes years of practice to look as uncoordinated as I did.  The cafe wasn't open, but Jimmy graciously allowed us to use his room to get in out of the wind and sun to record.  Our original plan was to record on the banks of the Big Black River near where Skip James lived, but the river was up and flooded due to spring rains.  That was fortunate because the world famous Blue Front Cafe was more interesting and fun by far.  As we setup, Jimmy asked Eddie if he could play one of Eddie's boxes.  Eddie said sure.  Jimmy took Eddie's old National Steel out and played a little.  That Bentonia style just jumped right out at us.  Jimmy said he'd learned to play from Jack Owens, right there on the front porch of the cafe.  The famous, now deceased, Jack Owens whose poster overlooks the performance area was a contemporary of Skip James.

Recording inside the Blue Front, one of the Delta's truly original Juke Joints

Our recording went well with the sound of the overhead fan  dinging along in the background.  After we finished, we asked Jimmy if we could record a little of his playing too.  He agreed.  That day the Blue Front opened early.  As soon as Jimmy with his strong hands and voice sat down to play, the joint came alive.  His sister, who was visiting from Marks, Mississippi asked if we could continue our stay long enough for her to gather in a few friends.  Before we left, Jimmy's sister, thanked us for getting Jimmy to play.  "It was like old times," She said.  "When we were younger."

Copyright 2001 Thomasfilms, Inc.