Steeped in the rhythm and blues offerings of Atlanta radio station WAOK from the seventh grade through high school, I was hungry for its roots. The catalyst that was Sam Charters’ The Country Blues book and album led to possession of “Introducing Memphis Willie B.”, whose liner notes sent George Mitchell and me to Memphis in search of Will Shade of Memphis Jug Band fame in 1961. Priceless hours with him, Charlie Burse, Furry Lewis, Gus Cannon, Willie Borum, and Sleepy John Estes ensued. Back home in Atlanta, we spent the better part of a week with John Lee Hooker, and as college sophomores we rediscovered and recorded Peg Leg Howell.
As luck would have it, I began my career as a German professor at Hiram College not far from Kent State and shortly after the massacre. That climate and location favored educational innovation, which enabled me to pursue my blues passion professionally. I taught a Blues Colloquium on campus and an interterm course in New Orleans right off the bat, and I was privileged to collaborate with legends Fred Ramsey, author of Been Here and Gone and Jazzmen and Dick Allen, who was the curator of the New Orleans jazz archives at Tulane University. Moreover, if anyone had told me when I was 13 and grooving on early blues legend Robert Johnson’s “adopted son”, Robert Jr. Lockwood’s guitar over the radio that he would record “Little Boy Blue” in my home 15 years later, I would have shipped him straight to the state mental hospital in Milledgeville.
After that aberrational blues-drenched three years I spent the next 18 years on a conventional track in northern New England, doing blues only on the side in Germany and when visiting guitarist Buddy Moss or attending a festival put on by George Mitchell in Atlanta. Then in 1992 I smuggled my revamped and expanded blues course into the curriculum via the Humanities Program of the University of New Hampshire, where it was offered at first occasionally and then regularly until it was the last course I taught in 2009. Thus, I came by the moniker, “Dr. Downhome”, honestly and with pride.