I received some bad news today that Sam Carr died. Sam was a legendary blues drummer – he was also one of the sweetest people that I came to know. I interviewed and photographed Sam in 2001 at his home in Lula, Mississippi – the heart of the Mississippi Delta.
I was working on my first really ambitious documentary after getting into video the year before. It was a personal project that had I tried to get funding for but then 9/11 happened and money dried up over night. But for me this was a story that I needed to tell and now because these musicians were in their 70’s and 80’s. I wanted to tell the story of these musicians apart from their music. I was interested in their cultural stories – about the area they grew up in. the Delta and how that gave birth to their music – the blues.
My first trip to Mississippi was on a shoestring budget with my heart in the right place and open to whatever I may find. My husband, my 14 year old daughter and I hit to road for the Mississippi Delta the summer of 2001. To be honest I didn’t have much in the way of a planned itinerary. I had tried to line up interviews with some of the musicians but the cultural divide between us made it difficult to pin down a schedule. So I was open to letting serendipity happen and it did.
I had spoken with Sam Carr and his wife Doris who had been with Sam since she was 13 years old until she passed away last year. Sam was very cordial and kind and was quite willing to be interviewed. I had pinned him down with a date in a vague sort of way and we all – my husband, my daughter and I – showed up at the proper time. It was a typical August day in the South – hot and humid. So we sat on a bunch of mismatched chairs underneath a big old shade tree. Sam literally talked for hours and I was drawn into his stories about his childhood, his father, Robert Nighthawk a legendary guitarist who didn’t raise Sam, his music, his regrets and his life now during his older years. At times it was difficult to understand him because of his dialect but I listened carefully and his words made permanent marks on my soul. We talked until evening and it will be an afternoon that I will never forget.
Sam’s words became a big part of my film. That first interview also convinced me that these stories needed to be told – and by the musicians themselves. I went on to photograph and interview – Little Milton and Robert Lockwood Jr. – who have also left this earth since my interviews. We still have Pinetop Perkins – 96 years old, Big Jack Johnson, who played with Sam in the band Jelly Roll Kings, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Magic Slim. The outcome of my efforts was a 26 minute film and a still photographic essay about The Delta Blues Musicians that has become a traveling multimedia exhibition. View the trailor.
I heard this sad news from Pinetop’s manager who I’ve become friends with over the years. She told me that Sam died quietly with his family and friends around. She also told me that his family was grateful that I had captured Sam and his stories that day. And she told me that his epitaph may be “I lived a rich man’s life in a poor man’s shoes” – the last thing that Sam told me that glorious August day.