Archive for October, 2021

Joe Callicott’s “France chance”

It’s difficult to accept that a great bluesman like Joe Callicott lived his entire life in almost total obscurity. His date of birth is unknown, as was his age when he died in 1969. He was born and lived his whole life in the small town of Nesbit, Mississippi. Most likely illiterate, he gave no known interviews in his lifetime, wrote no letters or postcards. He married a woman and stayed with her for 52 years, until his death. He worked at the same workplace for 38 years.

Joe Callicott met up with Garfield Akers (circa 1902-1959), of whom even less is known, in the 1920’s and they became lifelong friends and partners, taking turns to play lead and second guitar as they sang at house parties, fish fries and various social events. In 1929, Callicott first appeared on four 78 rpm discs, playing second guitar to Akers. The pair were taken to Memphis by Jim Jackson (1876-1933), already a recording star and a Hernando resident and neighbour of Callicott. In 1930, Callicott also recorded two tracks with Jim Jackson.

Garfield Akers also toured with Frank Stokes on the Doc Watts Medicine Show and was active on the south Memphis circuit throughout the 1930s. No photographs of Akers are known to exist. He lived in Hernando, Mississippi, the community which also gave us several great bluesmen like Jim Jackson, George “Mojo” Buford, Frank Stokes and Robert Wilkins. For more about Frank Stokes and his music, click here. For more about Robert Wilkins and his music, click here.

Joe Calicott worked for PEMCO Aviation, a firm that specialized in passenger and freight services, for 38 years. He was an uneducated man and his work was likely handling freight, possibly in a custodial or janitorial capacity. His wages were certainly slight as Joe and his wife Sue Parrish Callicott (no data available) lived in abject poverty in a shack that a dog would think twice before entering. They had one son, Jeff.

Callicott almost completely gave up the guitar in 1959, the year Garfield Akers died, but picked it up again in the mid-1960s for his own personal enjoyment. In 1967, blues documentarian George Mitchell sought out Callicott and recorded eleven tracks with the then slowed down but still magnificent musician. These tracks would later surface in the 2003 album “Ain’t A Gonna Lie To You” Just before he died, in 1969, Callicott mentored Kenny Brown (b. 1953), a then 12-year-old white boy who skipped school to learn guitar from this unassuming master who lived just down the street. Kenny Brown went on to have a successful recording career, both as a guitarist and an artist.

Joe Callicott is buried in the Mount Olive Baptist Church Cemetery in Nesbit, Mississippi. On April 29, 1995, a memorial headstone was placed on his grave by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, an organization that memorializes the contributions of numerous musicians from the Mississippi Delta interred in rural cemeteries without grave markers. This final tribute to Joe Callicott was supported by Kenny Brown and financed by Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records and John Fogerty, of the Creedence Clearwater Revival rock band. Callicott’s original marker, an ordinary paving stone which simply read “JOE”, was subsequently donated by his family to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At the ceremony the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund presented Callicott’s wife Sue with a check from Arhoolie Records for the royalties earned from a CD reissue of Callicott’s recorded works.

I have chosen to play Callicott’s “France Chance”, a raunchy blues that’s odd in many ways. The title comes from a rhyming scheme used in the lyrics. The structure is also odd since Callicott starts singing on the IV chord, while the singing for almost every blues song ever written starts on the I chord. Some of the lyrics can be cryptic. “Fair brown” is a term of endearment, i.e. fair brown-skinned woman. “Brand new stream” refers to an Airstream trailer, a high-end stainless steel marvel that looks like a bullet! The best blues lyrics are those that are equally plain and profound, perfectly evoked by Callicott’s brilliant :

I kmow my doggie when I hear him bark
I know my baby when I feel in the dark

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, persussion

France Chance

posted by R.A.Seguin in Non classé and have No Comments

“The Heart of Saturday Night” by Tom Waits

For all the compasses in the world, there’s only one direction, and time is its only measure. 

Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In 1974, at the start of his long and very successful career, Tom Waits released a sentimental and nostalgic song called “The Heart of Saturday Night.” It enclosed the early 1970s in a time capsule and immortalized that era when I became a young man, living in a small eastern Ontario rural francophone village.

Back then, my time was measured in weeks. Not hours or days, months or years, just a seemingly endless succession of weeks. I worked five days a week, more than 70% of my allotted time on this earth, trying to acquire the legal tender that would allow me to function in our capitalist society. It took a lot out of you, driving to and from Ottawa, fighting traffic, rushing through meals and trying to catch enough sleep to get you to the weekend, where time was finally your own.

L'Église Très-Sainte-Trinité de Rockland

The Très-Sainte-Trinité church in Rockland

Sundays back then were different than they are now. Most businesses were closed and everything was silent and hushed in town. Families spent time together, at church or around a dining room table and a good family meal. The
“quiet revolution” had not completely obliterated our religious values and people had not yet become the bland consumers they are now. You read a book, went for walks, called up a friend, and prepared for the hard week that forever loomed on the horizon.

But there was always Saturday, a day that stood apart from all the other days of the week. If you had a girl, you took her out. If you didn’t, you went to the places where girls congregated, invariably some kind of dance hall. For me, it was the second floor of the Clarence Creek Arena, where a disc jockey played the wonderful R&B music coming out of Stax Records in Memphis, with artists like Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Wilson Pickett, Albert King, The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas and his fabulous daughter Carla Thomas.

La Légion

The Legion

In Rockland, bands from Ottawa occasionally came down to play in the main room of the Legion Hall. Local kids developed their own venues, hangouts like La Chandelle in the basement of the church, which also featured bands from Ottawa.. Across the street from the church, an old building that had served as City Hall, clerk’s office and municipal
La Bastille, avec l'ancien aréna à droite

La Bastille, with the old arena at the right

prison had also been transformed into a youth haven called La Bastille. In the east end of town, La Ste-Famille, a former elementary school building, became a thriving cultural center providing artistic activities for young and old. My fondest memory of this period is seeing the whole town come together to produce my first album – we went to Montreal to record it, had 1,000 vinyl copies printed in Ottawa and the album cover was designed at La Ste-Famille. People cut and silkscreened burlap and the ladies of the town volunteered their evenings to operate sewing machines that produced the burlap bags in which my first album was sold. It was a community project. I was so proud of my town and its wonderful people.
La Ste-Famille

La Ste-Famille

Rockland had character back then and was not the dormitory town for civil servants it has now become. There were small town attractions, like the Cartier theater run by the Béland family. The theatre showed two different films each week, one Monday to Thursday and one on the weekend, in addition to the upcoming attractions, serials and, of course, cartoons. There was also the billiard room run by the St-Jacques family. Like Lafleur’s neighbouring haberdashery, a second-generation store, the pool hall had tall tin ceilings and magnificent hardwood walls and floors, with a fragrance like no other.
Le Castel

Le Castel

When he was a teenager, my father used to go see silent movies that were screened in the back of the main room at St-Jacques, especially when they had a Charlie Chaplin movie, his favourite. On the main street at the height of l’Escale, our secondary school, there was Le Castel restaurant, which was always filled with hungry students. The benches around the walls each had a coin-operated juke box with the latest hits.

I played in a few rock groups, first with my good friends Martin Cunningham, Pierre Lafleur and Roch Tassé – we called ourselves The Ravens. To read more about The Ravens and to hear us play The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” click here. I then played with my brother Bob and my good friend Tom Butterworth in a group called The Trend. Later on, Tom and I joined a group with local singer André “Gus” Gosselin. There was also a popular group called The Elusive Butterflies (in the fashion of the day) which featured local guitarist Denis Bergeron and singer Don Boudria, who later became the Member of Parliament for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell in Jean Chrétien’s government. I also learned a lot just by watching two elite guitarists from Rockland, Denis Tessier and Gaëtan “Pete” Danis. Pete went on to play for the popular country singers Bob and Marie King and Pierre Lafleur and I followed Pete wherever he played, mostly in the hotels of Buckingham (Qc) and Bourget (Ont).

Alrick Huebener

Alrick Huebener

All the places I have mentioned are gone now, although La Ste-Famille still holds on as the Clatrence-Rockland Museum. The town’s population has tripled but there are no more attractions, no more sanctuaries for young people. Now, Tom Waits’ “The Heart of Saturday Night” is indeed elusive, and more than a little nostalgic. I play the piece with Alrick Huebener, a superb bassist from Ottawa who has often helped me out with my recordings. I should also mention the assistance of Gilles Chartrand, the tireless curator of the Clarence-Rockland Museum, for the old pictures of our village.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar
Alrick Huebener – upright bass

The Heart of Saturday Night

Photo of Alrick by Kate Morgan

posted by R.A.Seguin in Non classé and have No Comments