An article from one of the students at Pinetop Perkins Foundation workshop

Will Hemy, one of the students granted this year by the EBU at Pinetop Perkins Foundation workshop in Clarksdale, has sent us a short article about his experience there:

In June 2019 I spent three days in Clarksdale, Mississippi at the Pinetop Perkins Foundation camp. This was made possible by the generosity of the scholarship provided to me by the European Blues Union that subsidized my stay at the Shack Up Inn, the cost of the workshop and contributed towards my travel. Again, I would like to extend my gratitude for this.

Clarksdale is, for any blues fan, an experience itself. There was a surreal element to being in the place I’d heard repeated so many times in so many songs, and in the place where the greats such as Son House and Robert Johnson (to name a few) had cut their teeth. The Shack Up Inn only added to this, although, whilst the times have changed, the same blues-soaked atmosphere still remained.

The first night upon arrival was the first jam session and general ‘get-to-know’. Thus, from the first few hours in the camp it was straight into playing music. This, I thought, aptly set the tone for the rest of the camp. Essentially, total blues immersion; intensive but also a fantastic experience. The camp really was a musical environment where everyone was on the same foot. No-one was trying to compete, people were supportive of all skill levels and everyone was really easy to get along with. This sentiment remained throughout the entire experience and was (and importantly, is) a valuable and central aspect of the Pinetop Perkins Foundation workshop.

The next three/two days consisted of two three hour workshops in the morning and evening, and culminated in a jam session in the commissary every night. The amount I learned in three days was amazing, and it never felt laborious. The tuition really was stellar, and covered a wide array of styles and techniques of blues guitar. Fiona Boyes took us through a vast array of material, from Delta blues and the fingerpicking to the hill country trance style grooves, 8-bar blues through to a rumba. Not only was this what to play, but also different ways the blues could be played – something Fiona really opened my eyes to, and also as an ‘antidote’ to elements in blues that can easily stagnate. A highlight was the slide playing, which was a central focus of our group. Fiona brought out her cigar box guitars, all with different strings and tunings for us to try out some slide stuff on, which really gave me insight into the different approaches to my slide playing.

This was punctuated by lessons and visits from other musicians. Bob Margolin regularly stopped by to impart some cool wisdoms or stories from the upper echelons of blues music. On top of this, his advice on how to play notes and how different approaches to the small things that could easily pass your mind provided more depth to approaching the guitar. Anson Funderburgh stopped in on the last workshop and gave us a Texas blues powerhouse lesson and approaches to soloing, as well as a having a chat about guitars and the music industry. The interns, Jaymes and Radka took the class when Fiona was supervising other group, and added to the teaching. In both cases, they really knew their stuff and continued to uphold the high standards at the camp. To all, I would like to extend my thanks for sitting down and spending time with us and imparting valuable knowledge.

The capstone was the final showcase at Ground Zero Blues Club. This gave everyone a chance to consolidate (in front of a live audience) what they’d learned. Based on what I learned, I went onto the stage feeling confident enough to play lead slide guitar despite never having done it before. It was in this that I realised how much I’d really learned in such a short space of time. Leaving the final showcase, for the most part, everyone said their goodbyes. I came away feeling part of an international blues community and with many new friends that I’d met only three days ago, some of whom I saw again in Memphis and Tulsa.

I hope this article has provided some insight into the Pinetop Perkins Foundation workshop, and the fantastic experience it can provide. Again, I’d like to thank the EBU and all who made this trip a possibility for me