Jimbo Mathis Is Not Afraid

In the Old Airport Grocery in Cleveland, Mississippi,

where my granddaddy used to buy illegal liquor bootlegged from Louisiana

the light bulbs buzz, shock, and shake as Jimbo Mathis begins to play.

 

Jimbo Mathis, genius with the slide guitar,

has a gold-toothed devil’s grin,

and is thin like a crystal meth line with

Einstein hair and dangerous hillbilly eyes,

 

He could have stepped out of a Walker Evans photo

from busted-flat red clay Alabama in 1936.

 

But Jimbo

he’s a living, righteous Mississippi brother,  

he’s sold millions of albums for the New York swells and the Los Angeles hep cats,

but gave it all up to come home.  

 

Home to the ever-loving, enfolding arms of the Mississippi Delta,

a home that throbs with the ghost holler cadence of a million dead field hands,

that echoes with the far gone whistle on that last train up North,

that whines and keens with the pain of broken forty-acre promises,

that rattles like the mule-and-man chain of the long line at Parchman. 

 

Jimbo Mathis is not afraid to stir the spirits,

to guitar conjure the dark blues of the Delta night,

crying out to the resurrected Delta dead,

the haunted legion of razor-sliced sidemen and gut-shot frontmen 

that bled out in the sawdust of every juke between Memphis and New Orleans.

 

Jimbo is calling you with his guitar, howling at you

with the chunk, chank and spring of thrummed electricity,

wattage through what could be a dozen diddley bow cotton bale wires,

 

But in the hands of Jimbo, they are wide-eyed sparks and snaps of flame,

bright-arcing like a musical blowtorch. 

 

Don’t look directly at his blue fire, or it will blind you. 

Don Allan Mitchell is Associate Professor of English at Delta State University & is co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues with his wife, the former (& current) Shelley Collins. They have one son, Eddie, who wanted you to know that. Mitchell is a former host of Highway 61 on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. He teaches literature, history, & culture of the Blues classes at DSU. He has an MFA from the University of Mississippi, a BA from the University of Virginia.

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