Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Uncle Ben Perry

If you happened to be on Beale Street, in Memphis, TN, at any time in the last quarter of the 20th century, odds are that you heard Uncle Ben play. If you were a budding musician, you may have 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 lily-green amateurs who didn't know a thing about the blues.

Playing the blues, year after year, for the motley assortment of folks who 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. It includes both his wonderful cassette releases from Bart Pate's Alley Way Records. Much respect and gratitude to Bart for giving us these priceless documents of Ben. It sounds like Bart, like many who have navigated the music business, wound up encountering too much of the darker side of human nature. But I'm sure glad he persisted with these projects before he got out of the business.

I have also included 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.

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 them out there for whoever might appreciate it.

Uncle Ben Perry - Memphis Blues (1990)

1. Intro
2. Mama Look At Sis
3. Mean Woman Blues
4. Big City Living
5. Live It Down
6. I'm So Happy
7. Hey B.B.
8. Lies
9. When The Saints Go Marching In
10. Outro

Uncle Ben Perry – guitar, vocals
Clarence Govington – guitar, vocals

Gloria Sitz – bass

Uncle Ben Perry - Boogie Woogie (1992)

1. Boogie Woogie
2. Every Night
3. Shake It Baby
4. Just You Wait and See
5. Uncle Ben’s Theme
6. Gonna Rock Tonight
7. Goin’ To Richmond
8. Saturday Night Party
9. Ain’t It Funny

Uncle Ben Perry – guitar, vocals
Ronnie Morris – guitar
David Cunningham – tenor saxophone
Gloria Sitz – bass
David Workman – harmonica
Fred Ryan – percussion
Microwave Dave – slide guitar (4)
Rob Whitson – baritone saxophone (1,3)

Jim McLucky – trumpet (1)

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


  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.

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

  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

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

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

  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?

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

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

  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

  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?

  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.

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