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Turner's Drug Store

Turner's Drug Store - Belzoni

The names of Turner’s Drug Store (located on this corner) and the Easy Pay Store across the street are etched into blues history as sponsors of some of the first radio programs in Mississippi to feature Delta blues. In 1947-48 stations in Yazoo City and Greenville began broadcasting live performances by Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 and Elmore James from Belzoni via remote transmission. Williamson, James, and other musicians often performed outside the stores, and inside the Easy Pay as well.

Sonny Boy Williamson, also known as “Rice” Miller, was already an established blues radio icon famed for his “King Biscuit Time” program in Helena, Arkansas, when he began broadcasting over Yazoo City station WAZF on programs sponsored by the Easy Pay Store and Tallyho, an alcohol-laced vitamin and mineral tonic produced at Turner’s Drug Store. The Easy Pay was wired for Williamson to set up inside the store for the weekday 3:30 p.m. broadcasts while crowds of onlookers watched through the front window. Elmore James often played guitar with Williamson and also sang numbers of his own, including his signature tune, “Dust My Broom.” WAZF laid a direct telephone line to Belzoni and built a local studio to commence an enhanced schedule of remote broadcasts beginning on June 1, 1948, although the station had already been featuring Williamson for several months. WJPR in Greenville also carried the Easy Pay/Tallyho shows at one point, further boosting the profiles of Williamson and James a few years before they launched their legendary recording careers at Trumpet Records in Jackson.

Williamson’s Tallyho theme song began: “Tallyho, it sure is good, you can buy it anywhere in the neighborhood.” Drug store co-owner O. J. Turner, Jr., and Easy Pay proprietor George Gordon were partners in Tallyho, which was produced under a formula licensed from Louisiana senator Dudley LeBlanc, creator of a popular potion called Hadacol, after Gordon happened to meet LeBlanc at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. Turner’s son, O. J.“Bubba” III, mixed batches of Tallyho with a paddle in a No. 2 washtub at the drug store, and as the demand spread, Turner, Jr., began delivering Tallyho to drug stores around the Delta from the trunk of his car. The Easy Pay also advertised easy-credit purchase plans for furniture, appliances, and household goods. When Williamson and James weren’t on the radio, they were liable to be found playing on the streets, in front of Turner’s, and at various juke joints and cafes, including Jake Thomas’ and Jack Anderson’s. James once lived on the Turner Brothers’ plantation with his family and his adopted “play brother,” Robert Earl Holston, who often joined him on guitar. Both James and Williamson lived in the Belzoni area at various times in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and both married Belzoni women, but neither man ever settled in one place for long. Williamson began broadcasting for Hadacol in West Memphis in late 1948, sometimes joined by guests including a young B. B. King, who went on to host a blues show sponsored by yet another tonic, Pep-Ti-Kon, in Memphis. B. B.’s jingle: “Pep-Ti-Kon sure is good, you can get it anywhere in the neighborhood.”

content © Mississippi Blues Commission

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