Leroy Pierson—Delta blues, well done


Some people think of St. Louis as a southern city. I think of it more as a city at the top edge of the South, shaped and informed by it, but not of it. Even more so, it is shaped by the Mississippi River that flows along its eastern edge. Up that river has come some of the finest food the South in general and New Orleans in particular have to offer.

St. Louis is also the northernmost city where one can routinely hear zydeco music, both from traveling acts and local bands, again thanks to the river. Jazz came up that river too. And while it’s not as pervasive there as it once was, St. Louis had a hand in shaping this most American art form. Scott Joplin. Clark Terry. Miles Davis. Oliver Lake. They all called St. Louis home at one time or another.

And then there’s Delta blues. Born in the cotton fields of Mississippi, it too traveled up the river and found a welcome home in St. Louis. Even when it’s electrified, it hangs on to its country roots and takes you back down to the Delta. And when it comes to modern masters of Delta blues, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than St. Louis’ own Leroy Jodie Pierson.

Leroy didn’t pick up his chops from no books or DVDs. He and fellow student Bonnie Raitt [yes, she was an amazing, fiery blueswoman before she finally started to make real money with pop songs like “Something To Talk About”] studied and traveled with Delta blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell. In fact, the first time Leroy played in public was at a blues festival in Wisconsin or maybe Iowa. He had taken Fred there to play and was standing in the wings during Fred’s set. Suddenly, Fred walked over to Leroy, pulled him out onto the stage and handed him his guitar.

For years, when Leroy played the Broadway Oyster Bar in St. Louis every Saturday night [and Marion and I were there for more Saturdays than we can count], at some point in the evening, he would strap on a big red hollow-bodied electric guitar that Fred had willed him.

national_style_o_ad.jpgThese days, he mostly plays a couple of National guitars—the Style O or the ResoLectric. And where he plays them every Thursday and Friday night is BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups. Whenever we make a trip to St. Louis, we try to get there for his Friday night performance, 7:00 to 9:30. If we lived in St. Louis, we’d be there every Friday night. Yes, he’s that good.

As BB’s name implies, they also do food there. In addition to burgers and other standard bar fare, they serve up rice and beans, gumbo and other cajun delights almost as authentic as the Delta blues Leroy serves up.

leroy_album.jpgLeroy hasn’t done nearly enough recording. Rusty Nail, his most recent release, came out in the 90s. Its ten tracks are a wonderful, seamless blend of traditional tunes, songs by Fred McDowell and others and a few tracks by Leroy. Last time I checked, there were six copies available on Amazon. He has a new CD ready to go, though. Should be out later this summer. When it comes out, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in St. Louis on a Thursday or Friday night, fill up on some gumbo and amazing music at BB’s. You can thank me later.

Back to Blue Kitchen


2 Responses to “Leroy Pierson—Delta blues, well done”

  1. The Producer Says:

    If you love Leroy’s music, you’ve got to hear his newest work, “Country Blues,” released on the Gravel Road label.

  2. Charleston Slim Says:

    I have seen Leroy play when I knocked about St. Louis in the seventies and eighties. He has played with some good one but he has not played with me!!!

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