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