The eighth installment of the Sharecropper series is about Scott Dunbar, who was a blues player from the area who I got to see play on his front porch on many occasions. Scott was the son of an ex-slave and worked as a fishing guide on Lake Mary, an oxbow lake (originally part of the Mississippi River) that shows up on maps as Old River Bend.
The accompanying photo was pulled offline and is exactly how I remember seeing him on his porch so many times.
Dunbar, who never went more than 100 miles from home, actually recorded an album – From Lake Mary. Curiously absent was the song he was most noted for – Baby Please Don’t Go – which I have sung the chorus of very poorly on this song. He had a unique voice in that he could sing very high or very low, and his picking was both unorthodox and amazing.
This song is about one of these impromptu performances he was noted for. If passersby saw him on his porch with his guitar, inevitably they would stop to listen and soon a crowd was gathered. He loved playing before people and would stomp his boot heal so hard it nearly sounded like a bass drum.
Below is a link to a short biography on him at Fatpossum Records. His album, which I have a pristine copy of in vinyl, is still available on Amazon.
This is a series of several musical poems chronicling the sharecropper era. Fernando approached me with the idea of a series of little stories that tell a larger one, all put to music. I loved the idea. I had these little poems about the sharecropper era and he thought he could make them work. I think you will agree he did a brilliant job.
I spent all my summers in a little country town in very rural Mississippi called Fort Adams. When I say small, I am talking two streets – Front Street and Back Street. Wembley Stadium is larger. There were no more than 50 people in town, others lived out in the country – farmers and fisherman. A little one-room school house still exists where the sharecropper children went to school, when they were not working in the field.
My Uncle Cy ran a dry goods store and fishhouse there. He had everything from canned goods, to Nehi soft drinks, feed and seed, to work clothes and boots, and to sewing implements. The fish house processed the fish and chickens that were traded to him. He was a furrier, bought baby turtles to sell to pet shops, anything to turn a buck.
So, as child growing up in the 60s (born in 1956) I got to witness the last vestiges of this sharecropper era. While there are still farmers who work on a share, I am not sure any suffer as these people did. They lived in little one-room shantys that lacked electricity and water. The only heat came from a woodstove that filled the shanty with a woodsmoke odor.The children seldom owned shoes and a second set of clothes was rare.
We would enter town down what was called The Mile Hill Road…a winding road with deep ravines on either side. At one point it travels straight down for a mile in a steep grade. At the bottom of the hill was a row ofshantys pressed hard into the hillside. None had glass in the windows, or doors. The people who lived there sharecropped and lived hard-scrabble lives.
Hopefully these songs tell their story.
John Eagle (@marshmaster-1johneagle)
THEM DUSTY, DUSTY ROADS
Lyrics & voice: John Eagle
Voice & guitar: Fernando Gonzalo
The roads were dusty, dusty roads.
I heard Scott Dunbar’s guitar late last night,
Could feel his boot heel stomp the earth.
I saw his face, dark as the pines,
His eyes were Leadbelly’s own.
It was dusty and dry that day.
The late sun was on the backs of our necks,
We raised chins and closed our eyes
And heard a voice low, and deep
It came from the swamp
And on to his porch
Baby please don’t go
Baby please don’t go
Down to New Orleans
You know I loves ya so
His words were like thunder
His guitar like wind through the pines
The dust swirling in the draft of his song
And the sun would shine forever
The porch creaked below his weight
And the pines of Lake Mary sang behind us
Their cold, cold rush
High above them dusty, dusty roads.
© 2014 John Eagle, Fernando Gonzalo