Blues Legends of Duncan

Blues Legends of Duncan - Duncan

Duncan has earned its place in blues history as the birthplace or former residence of performers who achieved notoriety locally and around the world. The legendary Jimmy Reed lived on the nearby McMurchy plantation in his youth. Others with roots in the Duncan area include Chicago bluesman Eddie C. Campbell, pianists Willie Love and Ernest Lane, singer Willie “Rip” Butler, and guitarist Anthony “Big A” Sherrod. Charley Patton’s daughter Rosetta Brown was also a longtime resident here.

Duncan can lay claim to a noteworthy share of the Highway 61 blues legacy. Local performers have played the blues in juke joints and on plantations here, and several followed career paths that led them to greater acclaim in other parts of the country. Willie Love (1906-1953), born in Duncan, was a prominent blues figure in the Delta, broadcasting on several stations (including KFFA in Helena, where he worked with Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2) and recording for the Trumpet label in Jackson from 1951 to 1953. Another Duncan-born pianist, Ernest Lane (1931-2012), grew up in Clarksdale alongside Ike Turner and was hailed for his work with Turner’s Kings of Rhythm as well as his own recordings in the U.S. and Europe. Lane, who relocated to Los Angeles, also recorded with Robert Nighthawk, the Monkees, Canned Heat and Eddie C. Campbell.

Campbell, born in Duncan in 1939, lived in Clarksdale for a few years before moving to Chicago, where he joined a legendary circle of musicians, including fellow Mississippi transplants Otis Rush and Magic Sam, who created the famed West Side sound. Campbell, who toured and recorded widely, lived in Europe in the 1980s and appeared in a German production of William Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun.” In Chicago Campbell sometimes worked as bandleader for the best-known performer with Duncan connections, blues star Jimmy Reed (1925-1976). Reed worked on the McMurchy plantation before he left Mississippi and later recalled Lynn McMurchy as “Mr. Mac . . . a nice old man.” Robert “Bilbo” Walker, a familiar figure in the juke joints around Clarksdale, Bobo, Alligator and Duncan, also knew Campbell in Chicago in the 1960s.

Others from Duncan include local favorite Willie Lee “Rip” Butler (1948-2014), a key member of the Wesley Jefferson Band who also worked with Robert Walker; Percell Perkins (1917-2003), who sang with the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and other gospel groups; Menard Rogers (1929-2006), a saxophonist and label owner in Chicago; and Clarksdale bluesman Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, whose birth in 1984, as he has told it, took place on a Greyhound bus traveling through Duncan. Some historians have suggested that Willie Brown, a close associate of Delta blues icons Charley Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson, was the Will Brown who was enumerated in the Duncan area in the 1920 U.S. census.

Longtime Duncan resident Rosetta Patton Brown (1917-2014), although not a performer, was known to many visitors and aficionados as the daughter of Charley Patton. When she worked for the Malvezzi family in Clarksdale, she would babysit a young Jimbo Mathus when he came to town to visit his uncle, Guy Malvezzi. When Mathus later learned of her blues lineage, he recorded a tribute CD in Clarksdale, “Jas. Mathus and His Knock-Down Society Play Songs for Rosetta.”

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