Live From The Mississippi Delta
by Panny Flautt Mayfield
University Press of Mississippi
For blues fans, there are many favorite spots – the South Side of Chicago and the electric blues of Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf and more, or the West coast blues of T-Bone Walker, among others. But the true hallowed ground is in the Mississippi delta, where it all began. For Tutwiler, Mississippi resident and journalist, Panny Flautt Mayfield, it’s her life’s work. Her captivating black and white photography documents the living history of the Delta, capturing a time and a place that is we are rapidly losing to development, lack of economic opportunity and the ravages of age.
From juke joints to neighborhood fish frys, to locals such as The Jelly Roll Kings (drummer Sam Carr and guitarist Big Jack Johnson) to international stars such as ZZ Top, Mayfield has become a sort of ambassador for the area, welcoming all to the humid home of the blues and the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. Her account of Robert Plant’s visit to donate signage for the museum is fascinating, and the pictures of the day, with the long-haired British rock star addressing a group of senior citizens under a tree – who had no idea who he was at all – are fabulous.
The Delta gave us Charley Patton, Muddy Waters and scores more, from the plantations to the dive bars, they created America’s gift to the world, blues music. The sharecropping days may have passed (or at least been renamed), but the area is still a vital hub of tradition and history. Mayfield’s images of artists from Bobby Rush to Billy Gibbons, or Jessie May Hemphill before her death in 2006 are both a document of a way of life that has continued for decades beyond the mainstream, and compelling examples of the artistic vision of Panny Flautt Mayfield, and her genius behind the lens.