Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White Interview
“They say love will never die, just like a flower, and I believe it too.”
– Bukka White, from the interview below
“‘I just reach up and pull them out of the sky – call them sky songs- they just come to me.’ That’s how Bukka White described his music making. His performances were not polished, finished, slick tin pan alley songs but marvelous, on the spot creations – images and recollections as they come to the artist’s mind. He was a man with one of the most vivid imaginations I ever had the pleasure of recording. When I first met Bukka here in Berkeley, CA., I was immediately impressed by his overpowering personality. He was intense and full of life – it had to come out of him – and slowly I found out what Bukka was like.”
– Chris Strachwitz, from the liner notes for Bukka White’s album Sky Songs, Arhoolie CD-323
This is an interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission. firstname.lastname@example.org
See below photo gallery for transcripts of the interviews
Bukka White Interview Transcripts:
Chris Strachwitz: Okay, you were born in 1906?
Bukka White: Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: What’s your birth date?
Bukka White: Well, my birthday is the 12th of November. This last past November.
Chris Strachwitz: Where- were you born out on a farm near..?
Bukka White: Yeah, born out on a farm. Right in the middle of the farm in a log house. I’ll never forget, as I got big enough, the house was sitting right on the tundra, a log house, which is on my grandfather’s farm.
Chris Strachwitz: Was that just a couple of miles from Houston, do you remember?
Bukka White: That’s five miles south of Houston, a place you called Horse Nation. That’s the county. It was named Horse Nation.
Chris Strachwitz: I don’t know whether you remember way back there, but did you folks have their little plot of land or did they work for some other farmer?
Bukka White: They had their own land there. My grandfather, he had his own land.
Chris Strachwitz: What did they raise there? Do you know?
Bukka White: Well was he raised there?
Chris Strachwitz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bukka White: Well, I don’t know if my grandfather … He came from back out east there, somewhere but it was back on the mill on the Alabama line, somewhere along in Alabama. That was his home back in there. I used to hear him talk about Alabama back in there. Him and a white fellow came and their name, Old Man Willy Henderson. They was two good friend there, and they had land right there on one another. That’s a good friend, that’s two brothers. My grandfather passed and Old Man Willy, he passed. And so that left it to the younger [00:01:40]. My daddy, he used to work with him a while out there … When he would leave off the railroad, he was an engineer on the railroad, and on his days that he was off he would come around and help us chop and go to fishing, had a nice time and he the one started me off to playing music. At an… time, now, many days at noon time, they’d be out the field. Old people, we sit on the porch and he learned how to tune the guitar.
On and on, I began to come to fall in love with music. That’s why I like to tell the people about where the rest of the Blues started from, which I didn’t want to be the one to make no magazine though. I wanted to tell somebody, well they can make and add more to it. People want to know about they … No I still don’t believe in nobody will ever get any close, and they wanted to find the roots of the Blues. There ain’t but two where you ever going to find it out. I don’t care how you go at it, the roots of the blues, it ain’t nothing but, if a man got a girlfriend and she quit him, he can make a nice blues song about it because his mind is always on her. It’s always nice to do something to consolation his mind. And if he got a good girlfriend he love, and he at home or away from home, he still have a better consolation to play music because he know when he get back, everything’s all right. There’s two sides to anything.
But now just coming out of the fact, you’ll actually play the blues better when your girlfriend and ya’ll done have a falling out and you hope but you think you won’t ever get her back. You’ll be out like that and somebody asks you to play the Blues, well you glad because you got something to feed your mind on. You’re not satisfied and you’re trying to get consolation.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah. You mean, if you’re kind of feeling good, you don’t really feel like singing the Blues.
Bukka White: That’s what I’m talking about, if you don’t feel good, you ain’t but as long as you have something to contain your mind, as I said on each side. I’m going to keep up with the books and I’m going to keep up with the paper and when anybody ever get any closer, and the roots of the Blues and that. That’s the only thing that will make a man sing the Blues. Down the line he going to have a woman, if it don’t be in the fifth verse, it’s going to be in the first verse. It’s going to be somewhere down the line, something’s going to be contained in mind to make him play the blues. Now you take an old cat like me, old as I am, that’s what makes me do it. I get to thinking about my girlfriend and people think I’m doing it just cause I had the feeling. Well in a way I do, but I’m have the feeling towards the one I want to see, quite natural I can play it.
Chris Strachwitz: Let me try to get a little back about, when you- where you were raised at, what’s the first the first thing you remember ever hearing? Can you ever think of anything?
Bukka White: First thing of Blues I ever hear?
Chris Strachwitz: Or any kind of music.
Bukka White: Oh the first any kind of music I ever heard in my whole life that I can remember, because I can remember from three years old up. The first I ever heard in my life, my grandfather, he used to play a violin himself. He used to slip out in the crib and play because grandmother wouldn’t allow him to play it in the house. I was out there with him one day at noon time, and he was feeding the stock, he went into the crib then and got a violin out a croker sack and I asked him what it was. He told me to shut my mouth, that wasn’t my business. All I do is all thank god he let me stand there and listen. So he pulled it out and run the bow across it. I didn’t know what a bow from nothing else. I thought it was cane he was rolling across it, but it was a bow, which you actually play a violin with. I kept that in mind and as I was growing on up my father he began to start to playing then, and I knew what it was but I didn’t say nothing to it. I didn’t say nothing to grandmother about it.
That was the first instrument I ever hear, I can remember. I know I can remember good, a violin, and that will always be in my remember long as the day I live. That sound is so good, I asked my grandfather to let me play it, and he told me, “Go on to the house. I better not say nothing about it.” I went to the house crying, but I was scared to tell it.
Chris Strachwitz: Your father also played violin?
Bukka White: Yeah, he played a violin. He played violin from his heart. He mostly played it for a living when he fell off the railroad. That’s where he made a living, playing the violin. He could actually play it. I seen some in there, down in LA there, the [inaudible 00:06:08] playing. It reminded me of my father so much, when the guy was playing about the Turkey in the Straw. Now that’s the second I heard play the violin, my father. He first number was, the Turkey in the Straw, which that number is about a hundred years old.
Chris Strachwitz: Did your grandparents raise you or did your folks raise you?
Bukka White: My grandfather raised me. I stayed there with him, because my mother and my father, they both were working. I didn’t have them babysitting us I guess, that’s what they call it, babysitting. After we’d be there so many weeks, he’d cast home and stay a week, when he go back to the railroad, my mother go back to her job, then they’d bring us to grandfather and grandmother. I liked to be over there with them because something always going on. Our grandfather played that violin, put often in them days every time they go feed every other day, he would get his violin out that croker sack and play a tune. Our priest, he used to play on that violin. I never forget him, Old Man John Who Shot the Rabbit. I’ve been trying to learn that number, I just can’t get that mind. I do know the first verse of Old Man John Who Shot The Rabbit. He can make that violin just talk just like a natural child.
Chris Strachwitz: Did your grandparents go to church on Sundays or weren’t they much church people, or do remember when you were a little boy, did you go to church a lot on Sundays?
Bukka White: Oh yeah. In them days, we went to church and it didn’t make any difference if I had shoes or no shoes. Since I’ve been in California it made me thought about when I was coming on, I thought them days was over with. Well I see more peoples out here bare feeted and them people I ever seen my life. I’m talking about great big grown boys and girl. They don’t know what I have on my mind. It used to be cool, like on Easter, we’d take hog lard and grease our leg. We would grease them, make them shine and our face, and had lard on our heads and going to shine, and we going to Sunday and think nothing about it. Now after I growed up and began to wear shoes there … [00:08:14], I thought them days was over with, but I see people go bare feet out here. Even more than did when I was coming on and that made me feel great to know that them days ain’t over with yet. Sure, we go to Sunday School, to church, and stomp bare feet as a duck, let me tell you.
When I began to get a big boy, I was kind of shamed of going bare feeted because I was trying to court when I was twelve years old. Grandmother told me, she said, “Wait til you get big enough, get some shoes before you try to court.” That embarrassed me and I stopped trying to court, and I never forget the first pair of shoes they put on my feet. It wasn’t no shoes, a black pair of tennis with white strings in it. And I thought I was a dressed up boy, walked down the street with my knee pants and my black tennis and my white string, and a soda cap. That’s what I had. After I was twelve then, going on thirteen, my father he got a guitar for me. A kind of small guitar and he tuned it in …[00:09:09] and nobody couldn’t tell me nothing, which I couldn’t play it in the house, but I had a stump out back of the house. I sit on that stump so long til it was just as grease as a snake while it’s going in it’s hole.
Chris Strachwitz: I guess you probably didn’t get a chance to go to much schooling, did you down there?
Bukka White: Oh on, but I don’t do like a lot of kids. I would’ve went but they had me working too much. I had all opportunity in the world to be a preacher, a doctor, anything I want. But the first thing I want to learn to start the courting. When I ended up, I was too old to get too much out of book. No I’m not gonna tell that lie, I had all the privilege and all the opportunity in the world, cause the school was even in our place. I’d play hooky and play some … [00:09:54] going to school, but most the days I would play hooky. When they turn out in the evening, then I’d cut the girls off and we’d fight from there on home if they wouldn’t let me kiss them and play with them. Book never did cross my mind on there, once in a while.
Chris Strachwitz: How old were you when you finally left your grandparents?
Bukka White: When I left my grandparents house, I first left them when I was nine, but I didn’t stay long. I couldn’t hardly call that no going long because they came after I left that store bare feet, which that was no strange thing because I was going barefooted a lot of them days. I left and I went to Houston, was working with a man named old man Ike Hankton there. He was mighty nice to me. We was hauling shaving from the saw mill. It wasn’t long when they found out where I was and came and got me. Then I left there. I followed my uncles in the Delta down there at Summerland. That’s in the Delta down there.
Chris Strachwitz: Sum-land?
Bukka White: Summerland Mississippi, that’s in the Delta. Summerland and way up right together. Probably you and some old have been there around Clarksdale, I’m not too far from Clarksdale. Summerland way up there, he’s the only guy with play name old man Johnson [00:11:03]. He was a big renter down there. Some uncle had a lot of cotton at the fall of the year, and he came home and got a lot of his niece and nephews to go down there and help get the cotton out. They fooled around, let me stay down there too long, and I come as a- from a guitar there, coming as a playing up organ and piano, when I got to the place I thought I could make it and I came back … Then I eased on up to St. Louis. That’s where I started to run around.
Chris Strachwitz: How only do you think you were when you went to St. Louis?
Bukka White: When I went to St. Louis there, I was fourteen years then.
Chris Strachwitz: Fourteen years old.
Bukka White: Yeah I was fourteen then. I was a big boy to my size. I told all the ladies I was twenty one and they believed it because I was just pulled off the knee pants. The same year I pulled my knee pants off, I went there to St. Louis. I was a big boy to my size. I used to take some fire coal and make mustaches and quite natural they thought I was twenty one. They didn’t know any different.
Chris Strachwitz: What sort of work did you do up in St Louis?
Bukka White: I didn’t do anything but just play, the guy allowed me a good break there.
Chris Strachwitz: You were playing there?
Bukka White: Yeah, I was never doing no work, just playing my guitar. I playing that piece about Sic ‘Em Dogs on Me and I knew could play that and one and two more pieces and the guy thought I was good. He’d give me, he boarded me feed me and give me my clothes and twenty dollars a week and I think that was good for somebody who didn’t know no more than I was knowing. I think that’s a great idea for any teenager that they go and started to learn something, learn something to make some money. That’s the way I did.
Chris Strachwitz: Do you remember ever hearing any other guitar players at that time that … Do you remember any of their names of fellows-
Bukka White: If a guy was playing anytime I was? Only somebody that I can … At that time, I had a first cousin named Buster Davis. He was playing but he is dead now. But some boys I know are living now named Bunkie Bradley. Last time I was here, they were somewhere down in [LA 00:12:57]. Another boy was named Frank Wilkins, and somebody said he was in Memphis there. When I lived there, I ain’t never got a chance to see him. Don’t know where he was.
Chris Strachwitz: Were these all guitar players?
Bukka White: He was a guitar player too. He’s from … [00:13:14] LA, about ten miles out from where Summerland is all. There was another boy named Bunkie Bradley, all them boys, another boy named Jack Brad. They tell me he’s in St. Louis, Jack older than of all us. He could actually play guitar damned as good as guitar could. Nah, he really could. He tell me he was in St Louis. Well, you take Bunkie and them other boys, they tell me they in the delta and I don’t know whether they’re still playing. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them. We all started out, some of them I know are professionals now because they play the piano and guitar … I know Bunkie, he’s my first cousin, the one died. They pulled around Jack because they were learning might fast. Really, they was going, they was playing all Mount Bound and in St Louis and everywhere they started out. I don’t know what happened to them.
Chris Strachwitz: How long did you stay around St Louis?
Bukka White: Well I lived around St. Louis about two years. I left then, I came back to see mother. Left that and I went to Chicago, from Chicago to Cleveland all around. That’s all around til I come to get a grown man. I came back south to see my sister and brother, and my mother helped me down about a year or two. That’s as long as she could hold me. I done got hip then. I went back. From then on, this on and on and on til I end up right here in Berkeley, California like I am now. I tell it so fast I honestly can’t keep up with the numbers of years then. I wasn’t paying the time no attention. I was just trying to get furthers in the time. That’s all I was doing then.
Chris Strachwitz: Do you play guitar most of the time or did you with some other kind of work?
Bukka White: Most of my time I didn’t have any job. You can’t find where my name is on no kind of job book no more than my guitar, and piano. I thought when I went to St Louis and that guy allowed me that break, twenty dollars a week and board and my clothes. I said if I can make it in St Louis, I can make it New York. I wasn’t looking for no job. All I was looking for, this job with my guitar, which in them days you could get it more so than you could now because a teenage youngster like I was, older heads was glad take me in because they figured I could come. They’d be the top like Count Basie and all them other famous performers. I was hitting at them, you know what I mean. I never did starve, didn’t get hungry. My main job was looking for pretty girls, which I found them all the way down the line. I just had a nice time. That was my heart was pretty good. I didn’t have anything to worry about.
Chris Strachwitz: How did you happen to run into the guy who made you a first record?
Bukka White: How I run into him when I made my first record, he heard it by me. A guy from my first record is a guy from Itta Bena, it was Ralph Lembo.
Chris Strachwitz: What was his name?
Bukka White: Ralph Lembo.
Chris Strachwitz: Ralph Lembo.
Bukka White: He run a big furniture store in Itta Bena, Mississippi.
Chris Strachwitz: Itta Bena?
Bukka White: Itta Bena. Itta Bena. I imagine the guy was to go down there about this time of the year. He could get so many musicians, I don’t know if he’d a truck to haul them. Of course they hang out around the store there. I was going by there, that was in ’30, yeah that was in ’30. I was going by there because there because my brother. My brother was living in Berclair, that was one mile from Itta Bena, a little place called Berclair. Right on the dog, I forget what railroad that was going into Moorhead, they seen me walking the highway with my guitar. I never had cut a record, I just go out there with my brother and do a lot of playing around weekend, make me some …
Chris Strachwitz: With who? With your brother?
Bukka White: Yeah, my brother.
Chris Strachwitz: What would he play?
Bukka White: Oh, my brother doesn’t play a thing. He’s jack like preacher, he don’t play music. He play one piece since I known him.
Chris Strachwitz: Did he preach?
Bukka White: Yes, he’s a preacher, my brother. He preaches.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you ever accompany him on the …
Bukka White: No, he never wants accompaniment, he never-
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, I thought when you went together-
Bukka White: No, we never did. I never did want to … I figured he’s good enough to preach, I reckon I never did tell him but I … He doing right in them churches. Making a little speech like he making but kind of be a professional preacher like that, I didn’t figure … What I mean is it’s not the matter about the voice and the way it is. He never did have the voice to me he should have to get on the air or on the record or nothing, so I never did encourage him to do it. I told him, he doing the best- he doing the right thing, just stay out on them little church and thing.
I went on to see him, and they stopped me. I thought they was going to catch me and keep me there, make me plow or do some work because when I was coming on, they used to do that in the Delta. A stranger going down, they really would stop him and keep him for two or three weeks and make him work there. They’d turn him loose. Ralph told the boys to call me and tell me the next day he wanted to see me. Well, I didn’t know no nothing about no Ralph. If I had some wood to take when they first call me, I was going to take the wood. But it was so old in mind, I didn’t have anywhere to run, I’d run in five or ten miles. So I stood there and they seen I was kind of skittish so he told the boys just tell me that nobody going to bother me. He just wanted to get up some boys and bring to Memphis, cut some records.
Well, that give me a kind of little encouraging. I goes on by there and he carried me back there in the store. He had a wonderful, beautiful, big store. They poured me a half of glass of … [00:18:38] whiskey, which I remember about the second drink of … [00:18:41] I ever had because I didn’t drink any kind of whiskey. It tasted so good it give me such an uplift until I just got ready for anything was going on. He told me get my guitar and play him a number. Let him hear how I could play and if I played good enough, he would bring me to Memphis. I got my guitar and play a few number, he said, “You the guy I’m looking for.” He said, “Have you ever cut a record?” I said, “I have never had no dream of it.” He said, “If you do like I tell you, I’ll cut you, I’ll make some records and I’ll pay you.”
I played three number. I never forget. After I played them numbers, he give me another shot of whiskey and he told me that was all right to meet him at Swan Lake on the 14 of May. Which I did that, I met him on Swan Lake, the 14 of May at the railroad there. On the dog there, the railroad you call a dog. We came to Memphis, he had a contract for eight songs. $100 song which was $800. I made every one of them records … I cut six and a half them records, and you know how much that left. I left one and a half, by myself.
Chris Strachwitz: This was in May of 1930?
Bukka White: Yeah, ’30. May of 1930.
Chris Strachwitz: May 26, is that … Was there somebody else with you there?
Bukka White: Yeah. It was some other guy named [Poya 00:20:03].
Chris Strachwitz: What was it?
Bukka White: Poya.
Chris Strachwitz: You don’t remember his last name?
Bukka White: I don’t know a last name and a preacher …
Chris Strachwitz: Do you think it was [Hurston 00:20:13] –
Bukka White: He could have been there. Another guy was with us, he was named [name 00:20:18] Mathis or something. He’s a preacher. His take was about the Beaver on the Line, that was his take about the Beaver on the Line. He got so high drinking apple cider and brandy or something. They had put him off on the first one.
Chris Strachwitz: How much did they pay you for that session you did there? The first one?
Bukka White: Talk about for Ralph Lembo?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, this one in May of 1930.
Bukka White: Well, all he’d give me out of that contract with the guitar and all, there was $240.
Chris Strachwitz: This shows here in this book that you cut 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 numbers except they only put out about 4 of them I guess.
Bukka White: He had a contract for 8 cause I … I’ve seen that one. That’s $800. I put out six and a half. I don’t know how he probably put something else in there. You never know how peoples run thing. But I do know this. He told me in the beginning I had a contract for $800. I know I had I sung six song and a half. It was supposed to been eight songs. I put six and a half because [00:21:30] went half on one.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, you only sang six?
Bukka White: Huh? Yeah, I only sang six and a half. That’s supposed to be six and a half because I went one half and Poya went the other half. I played the Panama Limited and he was playing the Freight Train. His song was a Panama Limited, but by me could beat him playing it, they named mine Panama Limited and gave him the Freight Train. They taken his Panama Limited from him and gave it to me.
Chris Strachwitz: They list a bunch of others that you made that same day but they never put them out. One of them they called the Doctor Blues, they got one called Mississippi Milk Blues.
Bukka White: That’s right. They got a lot there they didn’t … You know what I mean. That’s why I can’t- so much I put out and I came and somebody played it to me, it sounded funny to me because I was studying pretty hard then. You know in my first to get on.
Chris Strachwitz: Where did you go from there? Did you go back to …
Bukka White: I went back to Swan Lake.
Chris Strachwitz: To Swan Lake.
Bukka White: I was farming there.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that in Mississippi?
Bukka White: That’s in Mississippi. That’s Swan Lake, right down from Clarksdale. Clarksdale to Swan Lake about ten to fifteen miles.
Chris Strachwitz: Who’d you work for then?
Bukka White: I was working for man named Tom Gene, the biggest man down there. A land owner, having out at them towns, about the biggest man at them days was down there.
Chris Strachwitz: What was his last name?
Bukka White: Tom Gene, used to run a big cotton farm when I was a babe I reckon. That’s how they cleared up a lot of the land. They get them prisoners to clean up land. When I got there, all that was over with. Everything was normal.
Chris Strachwitz: What do you raise, mostly cotton there?
Bukka White: Oh yeah, mostly cotton. They didn’t fool with no corn, period. That about fooled you in, that’s seven plantations. Seven planations, that’s the place I want to get on. You see, the man told me, I could ride with his son in law was named old man Gary. He was a lawyer just about your height. Nice guy. I had walked around so much and played my guitar, I was on my way from Swan Lake home, I was living on Rabbit Ridge. I seen him, I knew who he was. I didn’t know whether they know me or not, he had so many people staying with him. I was wanting to take the ditch because I done walked and walked and is tired. I’m ready to go to work but then nobody never tell me to go work.
So he stopped me. He called me and told me, “Don’t be scared. Go all you wants. I got tractors to break up all the land. You want have to do nothing to start putting out sewed in, planting cotton then you take over. Just have your fun with your guitar.” I thanked him and that made me feel more like thanking him on my guitar. They were some nice people.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you drive a tractor there?
Bukka White: No, I didn’t never. I told him I couldn’t drive. I could, I told him I couldn’t drive no tractor.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you had to pick?
Bukka White: I did, I put the soda down and when that cotton came up then I plowed my cotton. I know how to do that. Well the tractor, I never did like a tractor.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you have a chance to play on weekends at all?
Bukka White: Oh I just played at Glendora. I played there every weekend that the good lord said, at Glendora and Charleston … I just had all the work to get around til a guy named Eddie Smith, … [00:24:53] played across the Bayou in Glendora. That’s where I played. Me and George Bullet Williams, he was blowing the harp for me then. Me and him just taking over the Delta down there. Guys would threaten to kill us, really it was. We just take it and we just take it the whole thing over out there on this beautiful place. We played there, a man got killed one night. He came out there and hear us play one night. He got there before we did and started up some kind of argument about who could be playing us and Nathan, so one said, “We could beat … [00:25:22] Nathan Scott can beat … [00:25:26].” So this little dark guy, he had about twelve kids too … They weren’t shooting at the guy who got killed. The guys were shooting at, well not even one of them get shot. But they shot the man who was crossing, going into the the room. They killed him.
We just start taking over down there.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you stay down there quite a while? I guess I’m not …
Bukka White: Well, the Panic hit ’30. That’s when that the Panic. When the Panic hit in the ’30, I wasn’t making no money on my guitar and I see I wasn’t going to make no money no where else, cause you take then. I had nine … [00:26:07]. I had to sell them a dollar a piece to get rid of it. I had chickens. I just left the chicken on the yard and the man told us, he was just getting plenty of food and clothes but forget about the money. I had never heard that kind of word before. So we just left our furnace and everything. I left the things as like I brought them down there. I didn’t worry about that, I left that and I came to Memphis then. Fooled down there a long time and left that and went on back South, this way I can make a dollar or two.
Chris Strachwitz: Back in those days it was pretty hard.
Bukka White: Yeah, it was hard, it was hard. Well, this must mean I know I must’ve been born lucky. Hardest time was then. The people’s didn’t have no money to give me too much to play my guitar. They were going to smokehouse and give me a big ham, a … [00:26:55], which you know you had to take money to buy that if you didn’t have it. And I still say I’m a lucky cause that ham, I really loved the ham. That ham weighed 10-15 pounds. I think I was lucky to get that.
Chris Strachwitz: Damn. Well people in the cities I guess –
Bukka White: Get a big ham a lot of time it’s $3, nobody couldn’t tell me nothing that Sunday morning cause you could smell that ham for five miles where the peoples cooking them home made biscuits. So I was living as a king.
Chris Strachwitz: Then we head to Memphis. When did you run into the next man that made records? Was it in Pine Bluff Arkansas –
Bukka White: Well yeah the Pine Bluff, Arkansas, that was for Lester Marrow. I met Lester Marrow in Chicago.
Chris Strachwitz: How did you happen to run into him…
Bukka White: I just happen to run into him. He had heard about me and he had some friends down south there, Big Bill, his home was in Arkansas. Somewhere, Big Bill got- writ to me where I was, and I got his letter and I writ to Lester in Chicago. He asked me if I would come up there and make some numbers. I told him I would talk with him and see what kind of agreement me and him could make. He sent me a ticket. He said if I want to make them, I could make them. If I didn’t, I didn’t have to if I didn’t like the contract. After I got there, we made a contract and so I went on and made stuff for him. I did good. Really, tell the truth. I did better by Marrow than I did anybody I ever recorded for. Which a lot of people may not get him, but he did a wonder a thing. I thought this guy was Ralph did a nice part but Lester Marrow, he’s over all of them. He did nice.
Chris Strachwitz: When you did then number, Shake ‘em On Down in Pine Bluff, do you remember who was the other guitar player with you?
Bukka White: Washboard Sam was with me on that. There weren’t nobody never been guitar player with me. Nobody but Washboard Sam, he was the guy that was with me. Yeah, Washboard Sam.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you just do the two numbers for them then?
Bukka White: I did more than that for man, I don’t know how many we didn’t do. I put down, at that time, I had the Good Gin Blues.
Chris Strachwitz: No. They said that came later.
Bukka White: Huh?
Chris Strachwitz: This shows that came much later.
Bukka White: Well, it could have. It’s been so long.
Chris Strachwitz: That was after you went back to Mississippi.
Bukka White: Yeah, it might’ve been. I suspect it was then, because I record some, made something twice for him. Yeah twice for Lester. That could’ve been in there. I was interested in money so I wasn’t keeping up with time. It could’ve been there, but I know I never had nobody doing or going but Washboard Sam in some of the numbers.
Chris Strachwitz: Then, did you go back to Mississippi after you-
Bukka White: Yeah, I went back. I stay up there for a while. I went back, I had something to go back for, you know. If you ain’t where you want to be, you’re never satisfied. Chicago was all right but it wasn’t like where I want to be, so. I went back and stayed a good while around there.
Chris Strachwitz: I guess you wound up in Parchman Farm there for a while …
Bukka White: Yeah, for a while. That’s where I went to high school out there. That’s where I wound up at. Things got so good, people … [00:30:09] … And that’s why they land me there, I lived down there for a while. That’s right.
Chris Strachwitz: I remember you once you told me that you actually had pretty good there. Do you want to tell me, I mean [00:30:16] … A lot of people think that it’s pretty terrible down in parts where-
Bukka White: Where anywhere you go, they might treat you like you treat yourself. If you don’t care nothing about yourself, they don’t care nothing about you. So I went down there with the right thing and so … They’ve taken care of me. I seen in ten years too, I seen better days down there than I did at home because I didn’t have nothing to worry about. No food, no clothes, no nothing else. All I had to worry about how to play that music. I really studied hard down there because they was so nice to me and I didn’t want to flunk out on them. When they called my name, when they called Barrel House, I went on. That was my name down there.
Chris Strachwitz: Did they call you Barrel House?
Bukka White: Barrel House was my name. I was Barrel House until you believe that or not.
Chris Strachwitz: What do they mean by that term?
Bukka White: Barrel House means you was a good time guy there. You knows how to barrel house, you know what it takes to make good music, to make barrel house. It’s like a bigger barrel house out in the country, used to call them, “Going to the barrel house.” Now that’s where people ball at. That’s why they call me Barrel House. Cause where the people from [inaudible 00:31:21] would come down on a Sunday, people thought they was going to sing, cause they just coming down here to hear me play.