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Greenville

Blues singing not a lucrative gig

By ELEANOR BARKHORN

Delta Democrat Times

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - In his six decades in the Delta, Alex

"Lil' Bill" Wallace helped countless musicians become successful

blues artists.

He taught Greenville artist Eden Brent to play the organ. Her

latest album, "Mississippi Number One" currently sits on top of

the state's roots music chart.

And Wallace is credited with convincing B.B. King he should stop

playing gospel music and start singing the blues - a switch that

brought King fortune and international fame.

Despite the success he nurtured in others, Wallace did not make

much money of his own. After Wallace died earlier this month at the

age of 83, local blues artists and fans sponsored a benefit concert

to help his family pay funeral expenses.

According to Albert Folk, president and CEO of Greenville label

G-Town Records, Wallace's financial woes are typical of the Delta's

blues artists.

"We have to do (a benefit concert) for each and every local

artist who either gets sick or passes away," Folk said recently.

"I could sit here and talk all day about the blues artists who die

and die broke."

He cited legendary musicians Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson as

examples of other bluesmen who died penniless.

Folk placed part of the blame for blues musicians' money

troubles on greedy managers who don't have their clients' best

interests at heart. He said music executives take advantage of some

blues artists' poor reading and writing skills and force them to

sign contracts they don't understand.

"Blues is a multi-billion dollar industry," Folk said.

"Unfortunately, the artists don't see none of that money."

Folk said Delta festival organizers are also at fault for

refusing to showcase local artists at blues and heritage festivals

and choosing instead to hire expensive, out-of-town acts.

He said the event most guilty of this sin of omission is

Greenville's own Mississippi Delta Blues & Heritage Festival.

"People come here from different parts of the country and the

world to experience our culture," Folk said."For some reason,

over the years, this festival has changed from a cultural event to

a concert."

None of the six acts slated to appear at this year's Delta Blues

& Heritage Festival in September comes from the Mississippi Delta.

Only two acts - Jackson's Bobby Rush and Tupelo's Homemade Jamz -

are based in Mississippi.

Billy Johnson, founder of the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland,

said blues musicians face challenges beyond dishonest executives

and unsympathetic festival organizers.

"Blues is just a minute part of record sales today," he said.

He added that youths are more interested in listening to the

music that blues influenced - like hip-hop and pop - than the blues

itself.

He also said that piracy and illegal downloading cut into music

sales, which hurts all musicians.

"The pirating issue is a major problem in modern music today,"

Johnson said.

Though Folk and Johnson may disagree on the source of Delta

blues artists' financial troubles, they agree on one thing: People

are willing to travel from far and wide to hear the blues performed

in the land where it was born.

"So many people live in cities," Johnson said. "They live

lives so far away from the realness that the blues represents."

Johnson said that tourists visit the Delta to reconnect with the

authenticity lost in urban life.

"People across the country are crazy about our culture here,"

said Folk.

This national fascination with the Delta blues is just another

reason why local blues festivals should feature local artists,

according to Folk.

"If you focus on the culture, people will support you," he

said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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