Black People Rocking the Fuck Out.
Beverly Guitar Watkins and the King Bees
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins plays the New River Blues Festival at Grassy Creek, North Carolina, September 4, 2011. Toward the end of the song, Watkins walks off the stage and plays guitar behind her neck. She is backed up by The King Bees.
Some 62 years ago, Beverly Watkins received her first guitar. She called it Stella, and she would play it Friday nights when she accompanied her grandfather to the community barn dances near their home south of Commerce, Ga.
In the six following decades, Beverly Watkins never gave up on the guitar. From her first public performance — she played Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” at a school talent show — Watkins hasn’t slowed down much. Her professional career began while she was still a teenager, completing her schoolwork by correspondence as her band Piano Red and the Meter-tones began touring regionally, then nationally.
The band kept changing its name. It’s been known as Piano Red & the Interns, Dr. Feelgood & the Interns, Dr. Feelgood, and the Interns & the Nurse. Piano Red’s band carried on in some form, with Watkins on rhythm guitar, touring internationally into the ’70s.
"I was around good musicians back in those days," she says, "and that’s how I really learned to play, you know, correctly."
Those skills became even more important when the band finally did break up, sometime between 1976 and 1978, by Watkins’ recollection. For a time, her career slowed, and she took jobs to cover expenses.
"I worked at car washes, I worked at office buildings, I cleaned people’s houses," Watkins recalls. But, "I never did let my music go. I always found somewhere that I could go out and play."
She played for some time with Leroy Redding (cousin to Otis Redding), then found gigs in the ’80s with Eddie Tigner and Mudcat (both of whom are Watkins’ labelmates on the N.C.-based Music Maker Relief Foundation).
Watkins, who celebrated her 70th birthday this April, hasn’t stopped.
In 1999, Music Maker released Watkins’ W.C. Handy award-winning debut, Back in Business, a 12-track showcase of Watkins’ adept blend of roadhouse blues, rockabilly, and boogie — a sound Watkins has famously referred to as “hard classic blues, hard stompin’ blues, you know … railroad smokin’ blues.”
The Feelings of Beverly “Guitar” Watkins followed in 2005, and 2007 saw the release of Don’t Mess with Miss Watkins. She currently has a gospel record in the works.MORE
Watch this woman tear up the place nuh?
Jessie Mae Hemphill (October 18, 1923 – July 22, 2006) was a pioneering electric guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist specializing in the primal, northern Mississippi country blues traditions of her family and regional heritage. She was born near Como and Senatobia, Mississippi, in northern Mississippi just east of the Mississippi Delta.
She began playing the guitar at the age of seven and also played drums in various local Mississippi fife and drum bands.
The first field recordings of her work were made by blues researcher George Mitchell in 1967 andethnomusicologist Dr. David Evans in 1973 when she was known as Jessie Mae Brooks, using the surname from a brief early marriage, but the recordings were not released. In 1978, Dr. Evans came to Memphis to teach at Memphis State University (now University of Memphis). The school founded the High Water label in 1979 to promote interest in the indigenous music ofThe South. Evans made the first high-quality field recordings of Hemphill in that year and soon after produced her first sessions for the High Water label.
She was unique in country blues as a female defying tradition by singing her own original material while accompanying herself on electric guitar and playing tambourine with her foot. She employs a folk-blues open tuning style with a hypnotic drone in her guitar playing instead of relying on standard, 12-bar blues styles. She occasionally was accompanied on a second guitar by producer Evans.MORE
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