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'M for Mississippi' screening hints at Blues Museum offerings

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 25, 2013 - The National Blues Museum is not scheduled to open its doors in downtown St. Louis until late 2014. But the NBM is already working to make an impact with the debut of a five-part film and lecture series at the St. Louis Public Library’s new downtown auditorium.

This Tuesday, Feb. 26, the series debuts with the showing of the documentary, “M For Mississippi,” at 6 p.m. Before the screening, Mississippi blues musician Terry “Harmonica” Bean (one of the Delta blues musicians profiled in the film) will perform a short solo set. Afterward, filmmakers Jeff Konkel and Roger Stolle will host a question-and-answer session.

According to Dawne Massey, project director for the NBM, the series will be a chance to showcase what’s in store for music fans when the 23,000 square foot museum space opens next year.

“Partnering with the St. Louis Public Library System is making it possible for us to start our public programs this year and showcase the types of entertaining and educational events the museum will offer when we open,” says Massey. “Plus the opportunity to hold the events in the beautiful new auditorium at Central Library was just too good to pass up.”

Events in the film/lecture series will include appearances by famed blues promoter, photographer and author Dick Waterman, as well as a talk by Dr. Lauren Onkey, vice president of education and public programs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

“The series will feature a diverse line-up of films and speakers; and the topics covered will range from soul music to harmonica heroes and everything in between,” Massey says. She added that dates for future events in the series would be announced soon.

Tuesday’s screening of “M For Mississippi” and the appearance of Bean will also spotlight St. Louisan Jeff Konkel – founder of the Broke & Hungry Records label – and former St. Louisan Roger Stolle – who now lives in Clarksdale, Miss., where he runs the renowned Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store. Stolle’s own Cathead record label has released three CDs by St. Louis bluesman Big George Brock, as well as a documentary about Brock, “Hard Times.”

Recently the Beacon sat down with Konkel in a South Grand coffee shop to discuss his Broke & Hungry label, as well as his collaboration with Stolle in making “M For Mississippi” and a more recent film, “We Juke Up In Here!”

“Roger and I first met when he was living in St. Louis and working as the director of marketing for May Co.,” recalls Konkel. “But he was a blues fanatic like me, and after a trip to the Delta to hear blues at juke joints, he decided to move to Clarksdale and open Cat Head.

“We had been looking for ways to collaborate for awhile, and I remember we were talking one time about some of the great field recordings that were done in the Mississippi Delta. Roger made the comment that if those field recordings were being done today, they’d also bring along a video camera to tape everything. So that’s what we decided to do.”

Konkel and Stolle decided to base the film around an eight-day journey that would encompass visits to the homes of older blues musicians in the Delta – as well as juke joints in the region.

“We wanted to make it sort of a love letter to the state, and also to communicate the excitement of the journey – getting a tank of a gas and a map and a couple addresses and heading out to explore,” says Konkel. “We wanted to make a movie that showed what that was like.

“We also wanted to do it quickly, because we wanted to get it out so it could hopefully be of benefit to some of the older musicians we were filming. We made it a road trip film, and did it all in a little over one week. We did the shooting in April 2008 with the help of cameraman Damien Blaylock, audio recording by Bill Abel and producer Kari Jones. And by October that year it was released.”

“M For Mississippi” features interviews and musical performances by Bean as well as other Broke & Hungry artists -- Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and Pat Thomas -- plus Robert “Bilbo” Walker and James “T-Model’ Ford and others in homes, on front porches and in such juke joints as Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale and the Do Drop Inn in Shelby.

The film won the 2009 Blues Music Award for DVD of the Year, as well as awards from the Bayou Film Festival and the Tupelo Film Festival.

“We knew we liked it, but we were surprised that we won a number of awards,” adds Konkel. “And the best part was that we were able to get some of the musicians nice festival gigs because of the movie.”

The success of “M For Mississippi” led to Konkel and Stolle filming “We Juke Up In Here!,” which was shot in 2011 and released last year. For that film, the focus was on the juke joint culture in the Delta.

“This film is sort of the flip side of “M For Mississippi” in terms of its focus,” states Konkel. “We really wanted to look at the changing world of juke joints in the 21st century. It’s becoming more and more difficult for these clubs to stay alive, and it’s really a labor of love for some of the people who keep them going.”

“We Juke Up In Here!” will receive its St. Louis premiere March 7 at the Jazz at Holmes series at Holmes Lounge on the campus of Washington University. In addition to the showing of the documentary, Bean and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes will perform a brief set at the event.

For more information about the National Blues Museum, Broke & Hungry Records and Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, visit the following websites:




Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.