Film | August 2016
The smells of raccoon barbecue combine with the sounds of three-chord, 12-bar blues in a large yard party in Como, MS. Labeled as Hill Country blues by aficionados, the sound is reminiscent of a simpler time, as the audience of mostly family members and children dance to the music with wide smiles on their faces. The guests in attendance are Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel, who previously teamed up on the award-winning blues documentaries M for Mississippi: A Road Trip Through the Birthplace of the Blues(2008) and We Juke Up in Here: Mississippi’s Juke Joint Culture at the Crossroads (2012).
This particular party is included in the first episode of the filmmakers’ new series entitled Moonshine & Mojo Hands: The Mississippi Blues Series. Aptly dubbed “Alligator Women & Raccoon Barbecue,” the episode is one of ten that are now streaming free online exclusively at moonshineandmojohands.com.
“Co-creator Jeff Konkel and I knew from the get-go that we wanted to showcase both the past and the future of blues in Mississippi,” says Stolle. “Our earlier film projects, mainly featured older bluesmen since, frankly, they weren’t getting any younger. With the new series, we still wanted to capture some of the older musicians, but we also wanted to balance it with some of the up-and-comers from the younger generation. Just as importantly, we wanted to document as much of the landscape and tradition surrounding the blues as possible.”
The series involves the pair’s travels through the Delta and Hill Country of Mississippi. Stolle points out that Moonshine & Mojo Hands isn’t about blues “the genre.” It’s about blues “the culture.” “We filmed the series two or three days at a time over a 6-month time period at around 40 locations,” says Stolle. “Each episode represents one day of shooting, and every day was interesting, fun and stressful at some point. The crazy owner of Graceland Too certainly stands out as memorable! We’ll also never forget chopping cotton or eating barbecue raccoon. Musically, we spent time with such unique and talented players spanning multiple generations, so there were many high points.”
Blues artists featured in the series include James “Super Chikan” Johnson, Jimbo Mathus, R.L. Boyce, Leo Bud Welch, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Mark “Muleman” Massey, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Lucious Spiller, Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood, and many more. “Having a personal concert with a guy like Jimbo Mathus, Eddie Cusic, Watermelon Slim or Leo ‘Bud’ Welch is every blues fan’s dream,” says Stolle. “My buddy Jeff and I are both in the music business, specializing in blues. I have my Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store in Clarksdale, and he has his Broke & Hungry Records label in St. Louis. We’re both long-time fans of blues music and Mississippi culture... I also book the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, so between all of that, we have a lot of contacts within the blues community here.”
Since the filmmakers wanted the series to be about the characters and culture behind the blues and not just about blues music, per se, they felt it was important to have a title without blues in it. “As for moonshine’s role in Delta blues,” says Stolle, “let’s be honest about it. For most of the first century in blues, that was the drink of juke joints and house parties. Now, if you see it pop up occasionally, it is more of a novelty, but during Mississippi’s prolonged prohibition, which lasted till 1966, that was the go-to drink for a lot of blues fans. Folks couldn’t buy it from a store back then, so they or their neighbors simply made it — with varying results, I’m sure. It’ll definitely wake you up or knock you out.”
If Moonshine & Mojo Hands fans run out ofnew episodes, the good news is the filmmakersare shopping it around to cable outlets in search of a wider audience and potential funding for a Season 2. In the meantime, those interested might want to check out the pair’s other projects at cathead.biz and brokeandhungryrecords.com.
“From cotton fields to juke joints, from moonshine to mojo bags, from folk art to Parchman prison, we’re trying to indoctrinate fans into the whole scene,” says Stolle. “To us, you can’t separate the art form from theinspiration.”
Hill Country Live
Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel’s new blues music reality
series, Moonshine & Mojo Hands, documents the living blues
Story by Tonya Thompson | Photos by Lou Bopp