Moss Point Blues
The African American community of Moss Point has produced an abundance of talented musicians, including many who entertained along the Gulf Coast as well as some who traveled across the country and overseas as members of prominent bands and musical troupes. Charles Fairley, who played in the bands of Otis Redding, Guitar Slim and numerous others, heads the list, while others include Charles Polk, Clyde Needham, Carlton Reese, Henry Dees, Otis Carter, and the Nelson brothers (Romie, Lamar and Elijah).
Moss Point was a center of African American music even before the city was incorporated in 1901. The Biloxi Weekly Herald published reports on local bands as early as 1898, and praised the city’s Earl band in 1903. Several early Moss Point musicians became nationally recognized minstrel show performers. Saxophonist O.J. “Boss” Tatum (1887-1943) toured with the Huntington Minstrels and led the Blue Melody Boys band before returning to Moss Point to open a grocery store, while brothers Lamar (“Buck”), Elijah (“Prof") and Romie Nelson traveled with the Florida Blossoms and other troupes and also entertained at dances in Mississippi. Lamar (1886-1942), who played tuba, and trombonist Elijah (b. 1888) featured a number called “Triple Tongue Blues” in their act. Romie (1895-1962), a cornetist, worked with the famous Silas Green From New Orleans show, playing cornet and offering “wench impersonations,” according to a 1925 report in the Chicago Defender. He later worked as a barber and led the Blue Skies of Rhythm band in Laurel, where Elijah also directed a band and taught music.
Saxophonist Charles Fairley (b. 1932) was one of many musicians who started out in the Magnolia High School Monarchs band. Fairley joined the band when he was still in elementary school. He began playing local clubs with Henry Dees and Willie Jenkins and later worked with many bands in New Orleans and Mississippi, toured with Otis Redding, and recorded with Joe Tex, Eddie Bo, Wayne Sharp, Sea Level and others. On the coast the Pat Murphy Band, Charlie V and the Personalities, the Nite Riders, and the Band of Gold have featured the hearty sounds of Fairley’s saxophone.
Another well-traveled Magnolia graduate, Charles Polk, played drums in Bobby “Blue” Bland’s orchestra in the 1970s and recorded with country star Tompall Glaser and his Outlaw Band. Saxophonist Carlton Reese served as band director and football coach, mentoring future NFL All-Pro Verlon Biggs. The Kickoff Club in Moss Point was owned by Biggs and operated by Reese. Other former Monarchs include Clyde Needham of the Double-O Soul Band and Reuben Betts. Otis Carter played trumpet on the local scene and directed the band at Moss Point High School after Magnolia closed in 1970. A Mobile native who was raised in Moss Point, J.B. Davis, was a Bourbon Street regular at one time and recorded a CD, Walking to New Orleans, in 1999. Among the older Moss Point blues musicians recalled by Charles Fairley are guitarists Peter Perry and Papa John Sellers.
Black fraternal organizations have provided venues for many of the top blues, jazz and R&B shows in Moss Point. The Knights of Pythias park hosted many big-name touring acts, as did the Magnolia Elks in later years. Other local venues have included Club 15, Solomon’s Place, My Place, Kickoff Club, various nightspots on Frederick Street, the Miss-Ala Club on the state line, and events such as RiverFest, Rockin’ the Riverfront and Blues on the River.
content © Mississippi Blues Commission
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