Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 10/12/2009 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) This week we travel south down Highway 61 and then turn west onto highway 49, crossing the Mississippi River to arrive in Helena, Arkansas, home of the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival, formerly known as the King Biscuit. It was dubbed the King Biscuit after the famous radio program on Helena's KFFA radio which was sponsored by King Biscuit flour. It was called King Biscuit Time and featured the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, Robert Jr. Lockwoood and Little Walter Jacobs. The radio program was hosted by my friend, Helena celebrity Sunshine "Sonny" Payne, and was heard for many miles.

Author and Sunshine Sonny Payne at the festival

On Thursday night I accompanied blues man John Primer (who played for years with Muddy Waters and also with Magic Slim and the Teardrops). John had his lovely wife and beautiful child with him and we started our show on the main stage at about 8 pm, following a great performance by Sterling Billingsley and his excellent band.

World class blues drummer Doug McMinn plays for John Primer

I would like to wish a speedy recovery to my dear friend and band mate, Doug McMinn, who is entering the hospital today for some tests. Doug was scheduled to play with Harmonica Shaw and with his father, Papa Don McMinn, but was put on the bench by his doctor for a few days. Get well, Dougie. We have lots of gigs to play and we miss your spirit and questionable jokes ( e.g., "bring me my brown pants").

John Primer's band was comprised of Josh Roberts on bass (Josh also plays guitar with the Reba Russell Band), Doug McMinn on drums, yours truly on Hammond organ, piano and harp and Hein "Little Boogie Boy" Meijer on guitar.

Hein Meijer rolls a cig before we start playing

veteran of Muddy Waters' band, John Primer

John's wife and sweet little girl watch from stage side

Hein, Josh and John get tuned up

John Primer played an authentic set of straight up old school blues tunes, true to his roots. The band was tight and particularly notable was the affable and very talented Hein Meijer who laid down some solid Jimmy Reed-style rhythm guitar and some burning solos. They don't call him Little Boogie Boy for nothing. I had heard good things about Hein from my musical friends in Belgium but this was the first time I had heard him in person and it was truly a pleasure to share the stage with him and the rest of these guys.

John Primer plays some slide guitar

John Primer on the main stage

John introduces his daughter to a cheering crowd after the last song

Josh Roberts, Hein Meijer

John Primer and Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Reba Russell and the late Sam Carr

This year's festival was dedicated to blues drummer and legend, Sam Carr, who died a few weeks ago. Sam was not only a superb talent but also a genuine, kind soul who was never heard to say anything bad about anyone. He was a class act who will be missed by musicians and fans alike.

Next week, we take another look at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival. Join me here at the American Blues News.

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©2009, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms


American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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