Tracking ‘The Original Tail Dragger’
T Model Ford, a musician who’s traveled the world, is a mainstay of the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival in his hometown of Greenville. Shawn Poynter brings scenes and sounds from the 30th annual fest to the Daily Yonder.
Nobody knows when the blues began, just that they live on — with special conviction and pride in that stretch of the South between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers — the Delta.
The music was all around, but in 1978, the Mississippi Action for Community Education, (MACE) gathered it up in Greenville, staging an annual blues festival. From its beginning on the back of a flatbed truck, the blues fest has swelled to attract 20,000 fans. The 2007 event took place September 17.
One of the festival's most popular performers is local legend James "T Model" Ford, who calls himself "The Original Tail Dragger."
What's that all about? Good guessing — but only that — leads back to a blues song Willie Dixon wrote and the great Chester Burnett (The Howlin Wolf) made famous. Here's how it ends:
A cooter drags
His tail in the sand,
A fish wiggle
His tail in the water.
When the mighty Wolf
Come along waggin' his tail
He done stole
I'm a taildragger
I wipe out my tracks
When I get what I want
Well I don't come sneakin' back.
("Tail Dragger" recorded by Howlin Wolf, Sept. 18, 1962)
Shawn Poynter and Tim Marema of the Center for Rural Strategies caught this year's festival and delivered a tasty slice of it to the Yonder — featuring the Original Tail Dragger himself.