T-Model Knows Better: an advice column by life coach/musician T-Model Ford (Arthur, November 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 7 (Nov. 2003)

T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! The Taildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi!“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, an Arthur staffer calls T-Model and asks him about certain topics of the day. T-Model gives his answers over the phone, then we transcribe the conversation, with some help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum, the Oxford, Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s amazing albums. If you have any non-math questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email them to editorial@arthurmag.com

Public school or private school? What about home schooling? Are the schools good enough for the kids these days?

Well, regular schools is good enough for ‘em. I wouldn’t put ’em in no private school. Nuh unh. It cause a whole lot of problems. But just regular school, that’d be the best, cuz it give ‘em a whole chance to meet one another and get trained with one another, get used to one another. You put ‘em in a private school, then when they get up a little higher, they don’t wanna act right. 

You take me, I never been to school a day in my life. I ain’t never been to school. I had a mean daddy, he didn’t let me go to school. He started me to plowin’ a mule when I got to six years old. And I worked all of my life since then up until say somewhere about 10 years ago. I fell and hurt myself, knocked my hip out of place on a job I was workin’ for Greenville Head & Block… I didn’t tell nobody and I just kept on workin’. Finally though it overtook me. 

You wanted to go to school?

He wouldn’t let me go to school. I had to do what he said to do or else get a beating. After he was so tough and mean to me, I just forgot about going to school. I didn’t think I’d ever learn anything, not in school. But he did learn me how to work and provide for myself. He learnt me that! But as far as readin’ and writin’, I can’t do it. 

You’ve done pretty good for someone who didn’t go to school, don’t you think?

I don’t know. I can’t tell that cuz I never had a chance to read or be in nothin’ in the schools, or be around children going to school, so… I don’t know what I lost. But I lost something. So far, as far as I done, as old as I done got, I know a heap but I just can’t read and write. 

Why wouldn’t you put a child in a private school?

Well when you get where you wouldn’t be around to carry them to private school, or for them to be in school…? I just think, really, the public school—he can go with anybody. He can visit anybody. With that private school, he can’t be with everybody cuz he don’t know if his parents are gonna have a ride for him to go, or if he’ll be where he can catch the bus to go. And he gon’ miss some. And he ain’t gonna get all what he needs to get. 

What about these people who want to teach reading and writing themselves? Teach their kids at home?

Welllllll… I was at home but I didn’t have anybody teach me nothin’! So, it’s pretty hard for me to say about that, cuz’n I don’t know.

Okay. Here’s the other question. A lot of our readers are pretty unhappy with living in the United States. They don’t like the politics. The economy is bad. It’s hard to find a job. Some of them are thinking about leaving. Where should they go? If you had to live somewhere besides the United States, where would you live?

Well, I would like Switzerland. And I would like France. Over there it look like the people are more friendly to one another than they do here. They’re not friendly [here]. It’s done got really rough. Peoples live here, they’re not friendly with one another. I don’t know what’s the causin’ of it, but they really ain’t friendly. All they know is go to somebody’s house and talk about somebody, low-rate somebody, mis-use people’s who try to help you. You don’t want that! They wanna do’s it… You helping them, they wanna be against you, do you wrong and all like that. You’ve got to have a heart to stand up to all to that kind of mess. Now I’ve got a heart to stand up and…. They do me like they wanna! And I still try to help ‘em. I’m in a situation right now, I help the woman I’ve been with six years, and it’s the other way now. They’s stealing from one another… It’s rough. 

But it seems different in Switzerland and France, they treat each other different?

There, everybody’s happy. As far as I can see, they friendly, they stick together. But here they don’t. Yeah, if I was gonna go somewhere to stay as long as I live, I’d go to either one of them places…or I would go to Sweden. 

T-Model Knows Better: an advice column by life coach/musician T-Model Ford (Arthur, March 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 9 (March, 2004)

T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! TheTaildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi.“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model and asks him for some advice. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum, the Oxford, Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s shit-hot, original bad-ass records (more info on ‘em at fatpossum.com). We love T-Model round here: his last album, the Jim Dickinson-produced Bad Man, is still on the office Arthur turntable, 16 months after its release. But whatever. If you’ve got some non-math questions for T-Model, and we know that you do, email ‘em to editor@arthurmag.com and we’ll pass ‘em along. If they’re any good.

Arthur: What if you find out that an old friend of yours has been saying bad stuff about you around town. Telling people that you do business with, that you’re no good.  What should you do?

T-Model: Just let him talk, don’t have nothing to do with him. They’ll find out! That’s the way I do. They talk about me, I just let ‘em talk. But when they need something, they gotta come to ME. 

But what if you were a younger man? You know how younger men get upset: they wanna settle it with a fight. Is that a bad way to go?

Well, you got to study that yourself. Just don’t associate with ‘em, that’s the way I do. They talk about me, I don’t associate with ‘em. Then when they come running, want to talk, I say: “Well when you had a chance, you didn’t take it, so forget about it.” That’s the way I do. 

Have you always been that way? Or did you handle stuff differently when you were younger? 

No, I’ve been that way all my life. I go friendly with people if they friendly with me. If they ain’t friendly with me, I go my way and they go theirs. You take me, when I go to go somewhere around here, I get in my car by myself. I don’t be ridin’ with nobody. Can’t be nobody speaks… If they TELL somethin’, it won’t be me, it’ll be them, making up somethin’, to try to get up somethin’. That’s the way it do here. 

You ever seen a fight in a bar?

Yeah, I have seen a fight in a bar. And I have fought in a bar. 

You have? But you sound like a peaceful man.

Well, the man was pickin’ at ME! He about six foot tall, went snatching my cigarette — at that time I was smokin’ — snatched that cigarette out of my mouth, and come back to start it to me, and I met him. And I said, “Man, what you trying to do? Are you trying to start somethin’ with me?” He made a pistol break. That’s all he remember. 

You didn’t walk away.


You stood up for yourself.

I thought he gonna get up but he couldn’t. It take a good-hearted person to stand up what I be standing up under, a good one. Yes indeed.

When two men don’t get along, do you think they should go to court to settle their differences then? Or should they just let it go. 

I just let it go. Go on about my business, and tell ‘em, don’t follow me. 

NEW MUSIC: Bishop Manning and the Manning Family

Download: “I Wanna Thank You Jesus”—Bishop Manning and the Manning Family (mp3)

Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/18-I-Wanna-Thank-You-Jesus-B.L.M.-41393.mp3%5D

Here’s some proper Sunday morning message music from North Carolina’s Bishop Manning and The Manning Family, sourced off the recently released “Converted Mind – The Early Recordings,” a fantastic new collection of their recordings. “Converted Mind” features 28 cuts, recorded mostly from the 1970s, with extensive liner notes by Alan Young, vintage photos and 7-inch label shots. Highly recommended for believers and non-believers alike. Available on CD for $13 direct from the Fat Possum Records affiliate, Big Legal Mess Records of Oxford, Mississippi.

PEEKING INTO HEAVEN: A conversation with Jason Spaceman (Arthur, 2008)

Peeking Into Heaven

How a brush with death, a haunted guitar and filmmaker Harmony Korine helped Spiritualized’s Jason Spaceman wrestle a new album of narcotic gospel music into being.

Text: Jay Babcock
Photography: Stacy Kranitz

Art direction: Yasmin Khan and Michael Worthington

Originally published in Arthur No. 30 (July 2008)

There are some humans who seem specially equipped to not just interact with consciousness-altering drugs, but to thrive from their persistent use. For two decades, English musician Jason Pierce, aka J. Spaceman, seemed to be one of these special specimens. His first band, the succinctly named Spacemen 3, was a triumph of drugs, sound and stubborness—”Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to,” “Fucked up inside,” and “For all the fucked up children of the world,” were bandied-about slogans/mottos; Playing With Fire and The Perfect Prescription were album titles; and a serious, incandescent reconciliation of drone, blues, rock n roll, junkie metaphor and primitive psychedelic sound effects was what they achieved. Formed in 1982 with Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom, with whom, astonishingly, Jason shared a birthdate and birthplace hospital, Spacemen 3 burned both ends brightly (if distantly—they never made it to America, and relatively few people saw them in England) before disintegrating in 1991 after a series of truly despicable actions by Kember.

As Spacemen 3 fell to earth, Pierce launched Spiritualized, releasing a series of studio albums in the ’90s combining an ever-broadening musical palate with an audiophile’s attention to detail and a continuing lyrical preoccupation with the idea of Need—need for companionship, for drugs, for hope, for relief from suffering. 1997’s woozy Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, a breakup/lament album of epic musical scope incorporating gospel, noise and sublime bliss-outs, caught the public’s attention unlike any other album Pierce has made before or since, but it should be understood that ALL OF THEM ARE GREAT. Pierce has stuck to his themes, to his minimalist-maximalist vision, and each album—from the coldstar beauty of 1995’s Pure Phase to the orchestral grandeur of 2001’s Let It Come Down to the raw, stoic ache of 2003’s Amazing Grace—offers a variation on that single approach, or to use his metaphor, a single mainline. Live, Spiritualized tend toward the overwhelming; I’ve seen people black out, weep openly, mount each other in joy at shows through the years—if that isn’t evidence of being in the presence of transcendence, I don’t know what is.

When word leaked out in July 2005 that Pierce was in hospital nearing death, most of us assumed that the OD catastrophe (to quote an early Spacemen 3 song) had finally happened. The truth was in some ways scarier—Pierce was down to 110 pounds and taking half-second breaths, with his wife undergoing grief counseling in preparation for the seeming imminent departure—because he had contracted double pneumonia, and a doctor had somehow failed to detect it in an earlier visit.

Almost three years later, on the eve of the release of the new Spiritualized album (punningly titled Songs in A & E—“A & E” is British shorthand for the “Accidents & Emergency” department of a hospital), Arthur meets up with Jason in Williamsburg. Wearing white pants, a white Roky Erickson t-shirt and silver sneakers, Pierce is in good spirits, and with the sunglasses and hair, he seems ageless: it could be 1988, 1998 or 2008. It’s all the same, and yet things have changed. It’s not yet dusk, so Jason insists on Coca-Cola rather than something harder. As we head through the bar to the backyard pebble garden, we pass a large medical poster displaying two human lungs. I gasp. Jason laughs. He’s lived to play with fire another day.

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NEW MUSIC: Reverend John Wilkins

Download: “You Can’t Hurry God” — Rev. John Wilkins (mp3)

Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/01-You-Cant-Hurry-God.mp3|titles=”You Can’t Hurry God” – Rev. John Wilkins]

Gorgeous title track off Reverend John Wilkins’ debut album You Can’t Hurry God—which is otherwise pretty foot-stompin’ and hand-clappin’—just out on CD for 13 bucks from Mississippi’s Big Legal Mess Records, a label all music fans should be keeping an eye on. Big Legal Mess is an offshoot of Fat Possum Records, more in line with their ’90s/early ’00s commitment to releasing new albums by underheard local blues musicians like Junior Kimbrough, RL Burnside, Cedell Davis, T-Model Ford, and many others, that were free of the studio polish and cheesy showboating of most American blues recordings from the last three decades. This treasure of an album, produced by Amos Harvey and recorded by Fat Possum vet Bruce Watson, is very much in that ’90s Fat Possum vein.

There’s a lot to say about John Wilkins, and where this music comes from—go to the Big Legal Mess website (address below) for the full scoop—but real quick: Wilkins played guitar with O.V. Wright in the ’60s, as well as performing in local churches, parties and clubs, very much in the North Mississippi Hill Country country-blues style of his father Reverend Robert Wilkins, whose 1930s version of “That’s No Way To Get Along,” entitled “Prodigal Son,” was later covered by the Rolling Stones on Beggars Banquet. Since the early ’80s, Reverend John Wilkins has been pastor at Hunter’s Chapel Church in Tate County, Mississippi. Past members of this congregation include Fred McDowell and his wife Annie Mae, Other Turner and Napolian Strickland. Its singers recorded the album Amazing Grace: Mississippi Delta Spirituals By The Hunter’s Chapel Singers Of Como, Miss. for Testament Records in 1966.

You Can’t Hurry God sports a full bass-drums-guitar-Hammond lineup, with Reverend Wilkins’ daughters on backing vocals. Wonderful and hallelujah!

Tons more biographical, recording and ordering info: http://biglegalmessrecords.com/revwilkins.htm

Vintage small press gospel soul from Reverend Douglas Bell and the Stage Cruisers


Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Bitter-and-The-Sweet.mp3%5D

Download: “Bitter and The Sweet” — Reverend Douglas Bell and the Stage Cruisers (mp3)

Between 1968 and 1978, a Memphis, Tennessee-based label called Designer Records label issued 400-500 singles and a few albums. One of them was Nuclear Blast, an album of electric gospel soul by Reverend Douglas Bell and the Stage Cruisers. Long out of print, with no surviving masters, Nuclear Blast is available again, on vinyl, God’s own format, thanks to the efforts of Oxford, Mississippi’s Big Legal Mess Records, who recently acquired the entire Designer catalog; Nuclear Blast is the third album they’ve reissued thus far.

More info on Designer, as well as how to acquire these limited edition reissues on vinyl here:

Subscribe to Arthur’s iTunes Podcast and receive music automatically: click here

Vinyl of the year: Fat Possum's "George Mitchell Collection" seven-inch series

Each$5 7-inch in this series has two vintage recordings by one artist, culled from the George Mitchell collection.

Vol. 1 – Cecil Barfield
Vol. 2 – Buddy Moss
Vol. 3 – Leon Pinson
Vol. 4 – Houston Stackhouse
Vol. 5 – Big Joe Williams
Vol. 6 – John Lee Ziegler
Vol. 7 – Othar Turner
Vol. 8 – Lonzie Thomas
Vol. 9 – Sleepy John Estes
Vol. 10 – Teddy Williams
Vol. 11 – Green Paschal
Vol. 12 – William “Do-Boy” Diamond
Vol. 13 – Dewey Corley & Walter Miller
Vol. 15 – Bud White
Vol. 16 – George Henry Bussey
Vol. 17 – Jim Bunkley

‘George Mitchell doesn’t just get the blues, he has to go out and find them. Thanks to his efforts, fans of authentic country blues have been able to hear the real deal without making the kind of road trips required of a dedicated producer, editor, musicologist, and folklorist. The listener who knows the real cosmic purpose of a bottleneck, knife blade, or small metal tube should drool over an account of Mitchell’s exploits in the Deep South: “That night Mitchell returned to Burnside’s place with a case of beer and some whiskey. Ten months later, Burnside had his first release.” “George Mitchell was out roaming the South, scouting for stylistically eccentric blues musicians during the late ’60s and ’70s,” summarizes another report. The previously mentioned performer was R.L. Burnside, a bluesman of particular delight in an era when death’s scythe seemed to be severely limiting the ranks of such unique senior statesmen. Mississippi Joe Callicott and Jimmy Lee Williams are other artists who Mitchell brought to light in a big way as a result of his research trips; he is considered a specialist on the subject of Callicott. Credits for Mitchell can also be found on recordings of more famous performers in this genre, including Furry Lewis and Skip James, his involvement ranging from recording new material to, in the latter case, fine-tuning a reissue. Mitchell, who worked quite regularly with the Fat Possum label, presented an annual folk festival in Columbus, MS. He also published a book, Blow My Blues Away, which has been difficult to track down since its early-’70s release. – Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide

Go here for ordering info.