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The CD “Keep It To Yourself — Arkansas Blues Volume 1: Solo Performances” was released in late 2004. It’s a reissue of a 1983 LP on Rooster Blues Records of Chicago, which came about with the help of Helena’s Delta Cultural Center.
The songs are from 1976 recordings made by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Arkansas Blues Project, funded by a Bicentennial grant. More than nine hours of music were recorded at 17 sessions in different Arkansas towns.
W.C. Clay was recorded May 1976 in Elaine for the project. With six songs, Clay is the best-represented performer on “Keep It To Yourself”; he opens and closes the album with versions of the “King Biscuit Time” theme. Clay died in Philips County in 1979.
Helena-born Herbert Wilson was recorded at the White Swan Cafe in his hometown the same month doing Lightning Hopkins’ “Hello Central.” Wilson later moved from Arkansas, and he died in 1998.
Willie Wright was born 1926 in Macon, Ga., and settled in Little Rock as an adult and performed with harmonica player Sunny Blair. Wright was reportedly a “King Biscuit Time” sideman briefly in the 1950s. He was recorded in Sweet Home in April 1976 doing the standard “John Henry.”
Mack White recorded an old-time march on guitar June 1976 in Winchester. The Louisiana native was born in 1909 just south of Eudora, and was the oldest musician recorded for UAPB’s Arkansas Blues Project. White spent most of his life in Southeast Arkansas, where he died in 1987.
CeDell Davis became the best known of the musicians recorded for the project and album. Davis’ upside-down butter-knife slide guitar playing is well documented, but recordings of Davis playing harmonica, as he does on the “Keep It To Yourself” album, are lesser known. Born in Helena in 1926, Davis later recorded for L&R Records in West Germany. Since the 1990s, Davis has lived in Pine Bluff, and has recorded for Fat Possum of Oxford, Miss., one album produced by late music writer and Little Rock native Robert Palmer. A 2002 Davis album produced by Little Rock native Joe Cripps featured members of Screaming Trees and R.E.M.
Born in 1925 in Clarksdale, Miss., Willie Moore moved with his family to Helena when he was 15. Ten years later, Moore was sentenced to Cummins Prison, where he spent 15 years. Afterward, Moore moved to the Pine Bluff area. He recorded “Willie’s Blues” in April 1976 at Pine Bluff’s Jungle Hutt.
Nelson Carson was born 1917 in Texas and contributed two songs to the album. He moved to Ashdown/Texarkana when he was 21, and recorded as a guitarist in the 1950s. Carson died in Ashdown in 2003.
Pianist Trenton Cooper was born in 1923 in Hope. In the 1950s, Cooper toured with R&B great Jimmy Liggins and his Drops of Joy. Cooper was director of the UAPB Cooperative Education office when his “Fish Tail Theme” was recorded in June 1976 in Pine Bluff. Cooper later recorded an album for Austria’s Wolf label, and died in his native Arkansas in 2001.
Reola Jackson was the only woman, only a capella singer and only Little Rock native on “Keep It To Yourself.” Born in 1949, she also was more than 15 years younger than the next youngest musician on the record — and the only prison inmate. Her haunting version of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I’ll Take Care of You” was recorded at the Women’s Unit of Cummins Prison in March 1976 for the project.
Compact disc releases of Volume 2, consisting of blues band performances, and Volume 3, an unissued CeDell Davis album, are said to be forthcoming.
• “Someday Baby Blues”
• “Fish Tail Rag”
• “Let Me Play With Your Poodle”
• “I’ll Take Care of You”