FW: [AlabamaFolklife] Alabama suffers loss of Blues Legend Big Bo McGee
- fyi..aj wright // ajwright@...
From: alablues@... [mailto:alablues@...]
Sent: Sunday, March 03, 2002 6:02 PM
Subject: [AlabamaFolklife] Alabama suffers loss of Blues Legend Big Bo
Sunday, March 3, 2001
For immediate release:
At 2 pm today the Alabama Blues Project received the tragic news of the
of Alabama blues musician Big Bo McGee. Bo was found dead Sunday morning at
his home in Eutaw, Alabama. His death is a tragic loss that will be felt by
his friends, fellow musicians and fans around the world. Big Bo will also be
missed by the many children whose lived he touched through his work with the
Alabama Blues Project blues education programs.
Big Bo was born October 9th, 1928, in Emmelle, Alabama. He liked to joke
he was born in Alabama and Mississippi since his family's log house lay
across the state line. He said he used to sleep in Mississippi and eat
breakfast in Alabama.
Big Bo learned to play harmonica from his grandmother Emma Williams who was
locally well-known juke joint harp player and singer. Big Bo said that he
never heard anyone who could play better than she could. She bought him his
first harmonica for 25 cents when he was just five years old. Bo liked to
practice for hours sitting in the pantry where he said the "sound wouldn't
get away from me." At first Bo said he really did a lot of "squeaking and
squawking...but after a while Grandma straightened me out. She always said,
'I want you to have your own style, you go out there and play what you feel.
When you put your feeling into it then it got a meaning.'" Eventually, Emma
Williams took Bo, age 10, to a local juke joint, sat him up on the piano and
launched a blues career that spanned sixty years.
In his early years he continued to play local juke joints, house parties,
suppers, and family reunions. Blind Lemon Jefferson and Washboard Sam were
the first blues musicians he remembered hearing on records. He also listened
a lot to "those hillbillies like Eddie Arnold and Jimmy Rogers." Big Bo
always cited Little Walter as his biggest influence after his grandmother.
In the early 1950s Big Bo joined forces with guitar player and singer Little
Whitt Wells and called their band the House Rockers. Big Bo worked various
day jobs including what he called a "suicide jockey," transporting hazardous
chemicals and explosives. It was not until he was retired at 65 that he hit
the road full-time and toured Europe with Little Whitt Wells.
His list of accomplishments includes two tours of Europe, playing
blues in Ireland, Scotland, England, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Holland,
and Belgium. His CD, Moody Swamp Blues, recorded with Little Whitt Wells,
picked as CD of the Year in 1995 by Scott Duncan, editor of Britain's
Blueprint Magazine. He has performed on many radio and television programs
including one on the BBC in England and one on the popular public radio
program, "Whad'Ya Know?" hosted by Michael Feldman. He has always been a
wonderful musical ambassador from our state. Bo McGee has performed at some
of the major blues festivals in the world including the most prestigious
the Chicago Blues Festival. He received the Alabama Blues Project's Alabama
Blues Ambassador Award in 2000. In 2001 he was the recipient of the
prestigious State of Alabama Folk Heritage Award.
The Alabama Blues Project together with the Alabama Blues Society have
set up a Bo McGee Burial Fund to assist the family with funeral expenses.
Tax deductible donations can be sent to:
The Alabama Blues Project
Bo McGee Funeral Fund
2620 2nd Street E
Tuscaloosa, AL 35404
The Alabama Blues Society has been planning their 10th anniversary blues
which was to celebrate Johnny Shines' life and benefit the ABS Benevolent
Fund. Microwave Dave and the Nukes, Kent Duchane, Candy Shines, Debbie Bond,
and Tommy Gardner were scheduled to play. In the light of this tragic news,
all proceeds will go to benefit Bo McGee's funeral fund, and the lineup will
no doubt increase as more musicians volunteer to help raise funds. The
benefit will be held at the Cotton Club in downtown Tuscaloosa, April 20th.
For more information phone 205-339-6547.
Asked to describe his music Bo replied, " I play the real Alabama blues, the
heart of the blues, the core, the real thing from the real people raised and
born into the blues. It's an everyday thing with me since childhood.
The blues tells a story. You know everybody got the blues. Old and young,
black and white. Every livin' thing got the blues. The blues is everyday
livin'. This music is a mind-pleaser and medicine for the soul. Music is
of like a telegraph. When you get something heavy on your mind, your music
there to kind of calm you down. It is all about communication. When I play
song it's like I am reaching out to someone to communicate from my heart -
not my head - its the heart that really counts. "
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