Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Uncle Ben Perry


If you were on Beale Street, in Memphis, TN, any time in the last quarter of the 20th century, odds are that you heard Uncle Ben play. If you were a budding musician, chances are you sat in with him for a few tunes, and if he liked the way you played, you may even have become one of his many "nephews."

It would be impossible to keep track of the scores of kids who sat in with Uncle Ben under those trees in Handy Park (before they gutted it, put a fence around it and started calling it the "Pepsi Pavillion"). He graciously allowed pretty much anyone to play a tune with him, whether they were seasoned professionals passing through or lilly-green amateurs who didn't know a thing about the blues.

Playing the blues, year after year, for the motley assortment of tourists, winos and derelicts that congregated in Handy Park, Uncle Ben had learned a thing or two about how to deal with crowds. For those that came under his tutelage, it was an advanced course, not only in how to handle yourself on the street, but also about how to really make blues your life. Uncle Ben had been down there, banging away on that cheap guitar and hollering those same songs as long as anyone could remember. He was the real deal.

This post collects what is - as far as I know - Uncle Ben's complete recorded output, minus the bit of him that you can see in Robert Palmer's "Deep Blues" film. The first eight tracks are from a demo that he recorded sometime in the 1980s, I believe. I know it was already a few years old when I got it from Ben in 1992. This was a cassette-only release by some little local outfit called "Alley Way Records." Clarence Covington joins him on 2nd guitar, and also handles the vocals for a couple of tunes. There are also two cuts (recorded live on Beale Street) from the High Water "Deep South Blues" record, and one other song that I found on one of Brad Webb's records.

This music is probably not for everyone. It's badly recorded and mixed, the guitars are out of tune, and it's basically raggedy as hell. But I heard Ben play these songs hundreds of times, and I'm really glad to have this musical memento of those days. I figured there might be others out there who feel the same way. Amazingly, for a guy who made such a mark on the Memphis music scene, this small handful of tunes is all we have to remember Uncle Ben by. So, I wanted to put it out there for whoever might appreciate it.

1. Mama Look At Sis
2. Mean Woman Blues
3. Big City Living
4. Live It Down
5. I'm So Happy
6. Hey B.B.
7. Lies
8. When The Saints Go Marching In
9. Mama Look At Sis (Live on Beale Street)
10. Mean Woman Blues (Live on Beale Street)
11. Going Down South

http://rapidshare.com/files/382405639/UncleBenPerry.zip

-------------Mark Carrig & Uncle Ben Perry, Memphis, 1986

38 comments:

  1. Uncle Ben was really my uncle (my Mothers Brother).She is the reference in Mama look at Sis. He was born and raised in Amelia, Va. and was the youngest of 11 children. He was always a character, but he was also a survivor and playing music on Beale was his survival. I have a few of his momentos including an old guitar. Would love to hear from folks who knew him. cwarcher@comcast.net

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    1. My buddy David Workman played harp on a song he did,David lives here in Anniston Al,Thanks, Mike

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  2. Hi there ! I was very briefly one of those young musicians who he let up on stage with him, way back in July 1990. I was 20yrs old at the time, on a 2 week holiday with my eldest brother,to the US, from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. We had 4 days in Memphis. The day we arrived, we headed straight for Beale Street and found Uncle Ben playing with a white guy with long hair (looks like he was a regular as he seemed very familiar with his style). My brother spoke to him on during his break, telling him that I played blues and had a guitar and harmonica with me (well, at the hotel). Uncle Ben asked me to bring my stuff along the next day. True to his word, he let me sit in with him the whole day and asked me back the next two days. I mainly played harmonica as my guitar was only acoustic and we couldn't get it loud enough to the the two electric guitars. I have a few photos somewhere. He was a real gent. Now I can say I have played on Beale Street with real blues musicians ! I was still relatively a beginner then so it was a big boost for me and I'll always be greatful for the chance. He gave me a copy of his tape (the one mentioned in this site). Richard Snakehips O'Donnell
    snakehips81@googlemail.com

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  3. Richard Snakehips O'DonnellOctober 18, 2009 at 3:06 AM

    Hi again ! Whoops, it was July 1991 I was there - not 1990

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  4. To whom it may concern, If someone has been allowed to make negative remarks about another person's business,why won't this gladrags page allow the second person to respond?

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    1. because this gladrags page is probably Bart Pates bitter fruitcake wife's doing.....calling herself "Chris"...to avoid being sued for releasing copyrighted material to the public.

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  5. Not sure what you're referring to, Anon - you sure you're in the right place?

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  6. Chris, Since I recorded 'MEMPHIS BLUES' by Uncle Ben Perry and Clarence Covington myself and also the fact that I lived and worked in Memphis for two years, I KNOW I was in the right place.Since the song sequence you gave out was incorrect,unfortunatly, you must have a bootleg copy.I have to be careful what I say so they won't mistake it as advertising but take a look at the logo at the bottom of Ben's promo shot shown on this page.That lets you know where it came from.I am also proud to say that just as a result of that one little project,Uncle Ben got himself a tour of Europe,made some descent money,became somewhat better known,etc.That, my friend, is something that not too many street-singers get to do.So what if our project sounded a little rough.DIG, the blues IS rough when you live 'em opposed to just playin' the stuff. THANKS for your time. Guess I will remain anonymous,don't want any of you good people to think I am 'advancing my great big celebrity. Mr.Invisable

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  7. Mr. Invisible: I'm not sure who "they" is, that you're convinced is trying to censor you, but I assure you, I am the only one running this blog, & I haven't deleted any comments so far. You can feel free to identify yourself.

    If indeed you were involved with this recording, I think it would be cool if you wanted to share some details about it.

    I'll stand by my assessment of the recording quality, but I agree: blues doesn't necessarily require "high-fidelity". I love this music, & I'm very grateful it exists at all. I intended my comment as more of a disclaimer for people who might have been seeking something more "polished."

    What say you lose the hostility and paranoia and share some Uncle Ben stories with us?

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  8. I was one of Uncle Ben's "Nephews" back in the day.

    From Nov 1986 to about 1989 Scott Dodge and i were the twin guitarists in Ben's band.

    Many great players came thru, Little Jimmy King, Dan Charette, and last but certainly NOT least, Brad Webb, who did wonderful things for Ben.

    Tradition was I would spend Christmans eve with Ben at the Carl Q. Vinson center on Beale, and I truely looked foward to this every year.

    Over the years i moved onto the Blind Mississippi Morris Band, then to outer pursuits.

    Unfortuantly I had lost track with Ben over the years and when I tried to find where he was I recieved the bad news he had passed on.

    So many good times w/ Ben, and some "Difficult" ones as well, but one of the best Bluesmen to ever have as your teacher.

    Anyone of you that had the pleasure of being around Ben remember his joke about Little Red Riding Hood and the bog bad wolf ?

    I can't repeat it here, but thinking about it makes me laugh so hard !

    God Bless you Bluesman.

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  9. Thanks for the memories, Mark - good to hear from a "nephew." And yes, Ben had some hilariously filthy jokes...:)

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  10. Chris, I've got a pic of Ben I'ld like to share with you, if you'll tell me where to send.

    All the best.

    Mark.

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  11. Post updated with new photo from Mark - thanks Mark!

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  12. Yep, good times back then.

    J.J's Lounge off of Crump and Mississippi, the historic Club Paradise, The Days Inn across from the Peabody Hotel (Where we got canned because Ben loved telling his jokes regardless of the clientel. This had me in tears each night, I KNEW it was not a good thing, but it was hystericaly funny, so..)

    And of course Beale.

    Just to eliminate any confusion, Clarence Covington is Ben's guitarist on the songs performed above.

    Clarence is a very fine musician and yet another great Memphis talent.

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  13. NOTE: Post and link updated to included another song: "Going Down South."

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  14. Actually, Uncle Ben Had TWO cassettes. The song listing above has parts of both of them listed together

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  15. The tape refered to as a "demo" wasnt really a demo at all. It was recorded for the sole purpose of Uncle Ben having "product" to sell to the tourists he played for on the street. It was recorded in Gadsden Alabama at "Allyway studios" which was in reality Bart Pate's (the owner of AllyWay) bedroom. Bart was obsessed with the blues, but was also somewhat of a paranoid nut who believed in voodoo, and thought that everyone was out to get him. He got out of the blues buisness because he was scared of being involved with all of the demonic forces he believed surrounded everyone who played the blues. Absolutely a true story.

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    1. My Bluesman Dave Workman who played the song goin to richmond with Ben,Told me about Bart being paranoid,Dave has A few cassettes for sale,Mike

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    2. yes Bart was a little crazy...but his wife and step-son were probably the reason for alot of it...and btw Johnny Shines was the one that believed in Voodoo ...something about a crow feather and some pennys in his mailbox...recalled talking to Bart about this during one of his so called flip outs...Bart was a little on the physic side and people were actually really screwing him over mainly over royalties of a song he recorded....Dont know what happened to Bart....but i betcha his bitter crazy exwife or idiot stepson posted the negative remarks about Bart. Bart was an amazing blues guitarist and knew some blues riffs I bet no one else knew.

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    3. I, Bart Pate insist that is the most stupid lie and crock of B.S. that has been told about me in years.Uncle Ben Perry,while not the most well known artist that I worked with over years, WAS the very best business partner and friend I had in Memphis..Above that,he was also one of the greatest people I have ever known. Because he was up in years I saw he deserved some recognition. When I heard him playing on Beale Street one sunny day I invited him down and recorded,produced ,mixed and paid to have all the truly legitimate copies of the TWO separate recording projects Uncle Ben did as well as published ALL original material.Pulltight Publishing BMI.Alabama. The second project was titled BOOGIE WOOGIE and featured Ronnie Morris from Memphis on lead guitar as well as some local people that I thought were friends of mine.David Workman was a good harp player but if yo ask me,HE was pretty damned strange himself. NOW, last but not least, I love AND have always loved the BLUES.I have NEVER considered this great art form evil or even negative.I still play the blues every time I pick up a guitar or harp.Finally,the REAL reason I got out of the music business is because I never made a lousy dime.Except for MEMPHIS BLUES , I never got out of the hole,much less broke even. ,I got burned every time by city slickers,fat cats and dirty liars. The players were not responsible in most cases.However,there HAVE been exceptions.And that my friends IS the absolute TRUTH.By the way anonymous on October 4 must know something because that is pretty close.The BLUES is about life man.May it live on forever.Voodoo is a religion and I respect it as such. I will also go on to insist that it had NOTHING to do with any of my problems.I really dig Dr.John by the way. There is a lot more to my story than meets the eye. A story that needs to be told. You can get the original copies of both UNCLE BEN PERRY cassettes through me.Send emails to alleywayrecords@charter.net. I Remain Yours in the BLUES. Bart Pate

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  16. Hmm...I think we have a clue as to the identity of "Mr. Invisible" above...:)

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  17. I love this tape. It's become one of my favourite blues recordings in my collection. Mum brought it back from a business trip to Memphis, knowing that I had just started listening to blues at age 14. I wore the tape out so much that it can't be listened to anymore, but I managed to find a second one after a decade of searching! I've been playing my own version of "Mama look at Sis" for 25 years now and spreading Uncle Ben's gospel to all who would listen here in Canada. Would love to hear it all and have it digitally for the playlist. I have yet to visit Beale St myself but when I do I'll be asking everyone to tell me more about him. Great to see the pictures too!

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    1. Hi Ed - Thanks for writing - good to hear from a Canadian Uncle Ben fan! I'm working on getting this & some of the other more rare items on Glad Rags back up at some new file-sharing site, so stay tuned...

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    2. HI there, I had the chance to play with Uncle Ben when he was in Holland in 1992.
      It would be great if somebody could relaese all his work on cd, I think he deserves it.
      best Martin

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    3. Hi! I'm an actual nephew of Uncle Ben, just as Chris. I played with my Uncle in Amelia at many family gatherings in living rooms and porches over the years. I'm still playing guitar today. All that I know about playing the blues, I got it straight from Uncle Ben. I miss him and his jokes. Where on this site or any other site can his songs be heard?
      "CC"

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  18. My name's David Moore. I'm the one who posted earlier, (wow..2 1/2 yrs ago) Anonymously... and was talking about the circumstances under which Uncle Ben's two cassette tapes being recorded... and Bart Pate's strange obsessions. During the early 1990's I was in very close contact with Pate for a long while and also Played on Beale w/ Uncle Ben many, many times. I have a LOT of awesome Uncle Ben stories I could share... plus some really strange Bart Pate stories... But the reason I'm posting here at this time is to mention that Uncle Ben's version of "Mama Look at Sis" and also "Laura Ann" are on You Tube now...

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    1. sorry for the insult.unless you are really one of the idiots I blamed for posting it trying to cover your butt and save your measly reputation. Bart was nuts but i am telling you his ex-wife and stepson were probably the reason why...they are a couple of real creeps.

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    2. I don't know why anyone would want to slam Bart Pate. He's a good guy just trying to do something positive in the music business. Anyone trying to do this or has tried to do this knows how hard it is. Another fact is Bart has never married, so check your facts before posting. Anyway, let's use this for a positive place to share info instead of a mud slinging arena.

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  19. Thanks for the heads up, David - I just noticed those tunes on youtube recently & was glad to see someone else keeping this music alive. Cheers - Chris

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  20. I'm on one of the two tapes and have both...The horn tracks were laid down in Barts house, bedroom converted to recording. I hope to get the tapes converted to digital and post for others to enjoy.

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    1. The horn tracks were laid down at Alleyway Records studio by the alley in Anniston ,Alabama.So were the harmonica tracks by the way.It was a small building in the back yard.

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  21. David Workman who played some Harp with Uncle has some new Cassettes and can copy for you

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  22. DEAR DAVID,HOW MUCH EACH? ANON

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  23. I would like to make a correction on my own statement,Regarding publishing on original songs,IMama Look at Sis and Laura Ann were published by another company when Ben made those first recordings for his single.I too am happy to see them posted on utube. As for the second project,I would like to thank everyone involved and dedicate it to the memories of Uncle Ben and Fred Ryan.Two dear friends that I think of often. It is obvious to me that some people have been misinformed about my personal life but this is about Uncle Ben and the recordings we made together.There is so much conflict of opinion,it would be futile to address every issue.As the man from Holland suggested earlier,I hope to get a compilation of Memphis Blues and the Boogie Woogie project out on CD sometime soon.I am now out of the cassettes.Bart Pate

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    1. Hi Bart
      I'm the man from holland, who worked with Uncle Ben in 1992 when he was over here to play a couple of gigs.
      It was a privelage to meet and play with Uncle Ben Perry. Although he maybe was not well known, he actually was the real deal!!!!
      Please inform when the cassette recordings are released on cd. I do have his highwater recordings.
      all the best
      martin van der velde
      Greyhound blues band

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    2. Thanks Martin,
      Hope you dont mind the wait as I have to remix the
      2 projects from the original analog masters.

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  24. I performed with him in 1988 and recorded a cassette on Xmas day at his apt. We also had a guy named Tom Knight on harp. Fun times

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  25. Hey, any chance of a re-up? Would be greatly appreciated! Thanks Kris

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