A fine blues festival film documentary has been making the rounds since this summer, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.
It’s called “Memphis ’69: The Memphis Country Blues Festival,” filmed over three days in June, 1969, in the final year of its four-year run to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the city of Memphis.
Gene Rosenthal, head of the independent blues label Adelphi, filmed about 17 hours of performances, but after processing the film, had no budget left for further production, according to Rolling Stone.
Years later, Rosenthal mentioned the footage to Bruce Watson and Matthew Johnson, founders of blues record label Fat Possum, who were then instrumental in getting the forgotten footage turned into this sparkling documentary. It was directed by Joe LaMattina, assembling it from Rosenthal’s old film.
This is an excellent film, featuring legendary country blues artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Son Thomas, Sleepy John Estes and more, plus a host of others, some more well-known than others.
The full list of performers:
Rufus Thomas with The Bar-Kays, Bukka White, Nathan Beauregard, Sleepy John Estes & Yank Rachell, Jo Ann Kelly & “Backwards” Sam Firk, Son Thomas, Lum Guffin, Rev. Robert Wilkins & Family, John Fahey, Sid Selvidge with Moloch, John D. Loudermilk, Furry Lewis, Piano Red, Jefferson Street Jug Band with John Fahey and Robert Palmer, Insect Trust, Johnny Winter, The Salem Harmonizers, and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
The footage of those old masters is great to watch, and if anything, you wish for a little more of their performances. There’s a lot of atmospheric footage of the crowd (the camera people show a lot of interest in attractive young women), and some of the film cuts are a little awkward. But those are quibbles when given the chance to see some of these magnificent old bluesmen in their final years. And a young Johhny Winter. And the prolific blues and music writer Robert Palmer playing clarinet in a jug band. And so on….
The film is available on Fat Possum’s YouTube channel, and I’m adding that link here. Enjoy: