Joe CallicotJoe Callicott was one of the original Delta Blues singers who played his guitar and sang at dances, parties and juke-joints back in the early 20s, but unlike some of his better known peers, Joe made only one record at the time. He was ‘rediscovered’ in the 60s to enjoy a short revival of his career, and his original material has been adopted by many modern Blues players.

In 1899, Joe was born in Nesbit MS, in De Soto County, just south of Memphis, and grew up in a time when Blues was just the local folk music people played for amusement in the days before movies, radio or records. Frank Stokes was a local musician who was very influential on young Joe, who had taken up guitar at the age of 15, and tried to copy everything he heard. Joe also teamed up with Garfield Akers, who was to be his friend and playing partner for the rest of his life. Jim Jackson and the field unit of the Brunswick/Vocalion company took both men to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis in September 1929 to cut ‘Cottonfield Blues’ which Garfield sang and Joe played ‘second’ guitar. Six months later, he returned and cut Joe’s only record, ‘Fare Thee Well Blues’c/w’Traveling Mama Blues’. The Wall St. Crash and the ‘depression’ slashed record sales and Joe’s recording career seemed over.

Joe’s ‘Fare Thee Well Blues’ from 1930;


Live music is cheap entertainment, so even though there were very few new Blues record made, good musicians could still earn a dollar. Joe and Garfield joined Frank Stokes and his partner Dan Sane on the Medicine Show circuit, where a pair would take turns in singing and playing guitar ‘turnarounds’ while his partner would ‘second’ by playing the chords, as was the local style. Apart from selling ‘snake-oil’, Joe and Garfield continued to play together in their local area for decades until Garfield passed away in 1959. Joe pretty much retired at that point, but he was ‘rediscovered’ in September 1967, when Blues researcher George Mitchell was in Nesbit, and was directed to a hunched old figure on the street. The recordings they made were released on ‘Mississippi Delta Blues Vol.2’ on Arhoolie, with RL Burnside on the flip side. Further tracks from these session appeared on the Revival and Fat Possum labels, including Joe’s song ‘France Chance’ which was later covered by Ry Cooder.

Joe played at a Blues Festival in Memphis in July 1968, alongside Furry Lewis and Bukka White, and two of ‘Mississippi Joe’s songs were on the resulting live album. The very next day, Mike Vernon of Blue Horizon Records took Joe into the studio to cut another album, with Bukka White and Bill Barth backing him, which was re-issued in 2007 with eight extra tracks. Sadly it was Joe’s swan-song, as he passed away in his home town a few months later. He is memorialised by a fine headstone provided through the Mount Zion Fund, and by marker #103 on The Mississippi Blues Trail.