Transcript with notes by William Ferris


20 minutes, Color, 16mm [2] [3] [4] [5]

Interview with William Ferris, Director, 2006

Interview and additional notes by folklorist Ali Colleen Neff

[Joe "Poppa Rock" Louis seated at the turntables of a radio station] [6]

Joe "Poppa Rock" Louis: [Into mic] The man say, "Why I sing the blues is because I lived it." [Intersperses speech with snippets of BB King record] [7]

I know how it feels, [Music]

When you're hurt. [M]

Someone must understand, [M]

How you feel. [M]

The only way to do it is to say it loud and clear. [M]

Make sure that everyone will hear. [M]

It's the truth the way it is. [M]

That's why I sing the blues. [M]

This is B. B. King, [M]

Making a statement. [M]

And a natural fact. [M]

All you got to do is sit back, [M]

And dig where it's coming from, [M]

Listen, [M]

Not only with your ear, but with your heart. [M]

Everybody want to know, [M]

Why I sing the blues. [8]

[Shot of B. B. King playing guitar, seated] [Music: guitar playing] [9] [10]

B. B. King: [V/O] Everything lead me back to the feeling of the blues or the feeling I get from playing or singing the blues or hearing others singing it. In fact I think life itself is the blues. The earliest sounds [On camera] of the blues that I can remember was in the fields while people would be picking cotton, chopping cotton or something.[Strums guitar] Usually one guy would be plowing by himself, [Strum guitar] or maybe one guy would take his hoe and chop way out in front of everybody else. And usually you would hear this guy sing. [11]

[Shot of B. B.'s hand strumming guitar with pick] [Music] [Blues] [Guitar and singing]

[Shot of face zooms out to include guitar]

B. B. King: [Singing] Oh I wake up in the morning,

'bout the break of day?

[Dissolve to shot of B. B. King playing in an auditorium] [Close-up of B. B. King's face as he plays guitar] [Music] [Blues] [Guitar] [12]

[Close up of hand forming chords] [13] [14]

[Wide shot of King's back as he faces the audience] [15] [16]

[Traveling shot of yellow lines of Highway 61] [Title, white letters: GIVE MY POOR HEART EASE: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen] [17]

[Traveling shots of houses and fields along Highway 61] [18] [19] [20]

James "Son" Thomas: [V/O] I walked 61 Highway 'til I give down in my knees.

[Shots of Highway 61 sign] I walked 61 Highway 'til I give down in my knees.

[Shot of bridge and water to the side of bridge] You know I ain't found nobody, give my poor heart ease. [21]

[Shot of a small barbershop with barber Wade Walton playing guitar to a customer in a chair. A reflection of the shop and its inhabitants is seen in the barber's mirror] [22] [23]

Customer: [To Walton] Oh baby. You must know Robert Nighthawk and B. B. King. I want to know how much he going to charge me for this haircut after all this serenading.

Wade Walton: [Plays guitar behind his head] they used to do it like this here: I want you to rock me mama, rock me all night long. [Laughter]

I want you to rock me baby, rock me all night long.

I want you to rock me like my back ain't got no bone. [24]

Customer: [Wade Walton dances while sharpening razor] Right on! I could have used you in Vietnam!

Wade Walton: [O/C] [Music] [Walton plays guitar while holding it behind his back] Want you top roll me baby, like a new fly on your door.

Want you to roll me baby like a new fly on your door. I want you to roll me 'til I don't want to roll no more. [25]

Customer: [Clapping] That was right on. [Laughs] [26]

[Shots of prisoners marching down a road toward camera] [27]

B. B. King: [V/O] The blues did have its roots and still does in the prison. To me I think this is how the blues actually started. [28] [29]

Ben Gooch: [30] [Close shot of Gooch's face] When I first came here it was 1934, November the 5th. Parchman. Parchman. It was pretty tough then. You had to go ahead. Whatever he had you doing you had to run with it. [Gooch sits with belongings on table beside him] I was rode so hard, when it came time to go eat dinner I couldn't eat with a spoon or nothing. The food would just shake off, been so nervous you know.

[Close shot of Gooch's face] [V/O] But I made it. I made it through all right. Far as I know they doing okay, all but my wife. Me and her are not together now. When I got in trouble she went on up the country. Where she at I don't know. I try to keep her from rolling across my mind. [Visuals of Gooch's thumb rubbing his ankle, close up of face and a shoeshine box in his cell] I just go off to myself and try to forget it. Sometime I get my old shoeshine box here. Shine somebody's shoes and make me thirty or forty cents, and I'm all right in the world. I'll get back up on my feet. [Sitting in chair] Get me a little cigarettes and things. So I'm making it pretty good. Yes sir, ain't got no kicks coming.

[Line of prisoners chopping wood] [Zoom out and travel down line] [31]

Work Gang: [Singing while chopping] One of these days and [chop]

Won't be long. [chop]

One of these days and [chop]

Won't be long. [chop]

Call for me and [chop]

I'll be gone. [chop]

One of these mornings daddy [chop]

Oh won't be long. [chop]

Call for me and [chop]

I'll be gone. [chop]

James "Blood" Shelley: [V/O] [Shots of prisoners]

Well when you're working and you're singing, it makes you get your mind off everything else and get it on your work. {Close upshot of Blood's face] Older fellas was here before I got here. And I heard them singing so I just start helping then sing.

[Music] [Singing] [Shots of prisoners chopping cotton, taking a water break and being watched by a guard]

Prisoners: [Singing] Peaches I love, don't grow on trees,

Little hard naval just above her knees,

The thing you call her stingaree,

Little before the day she put that thing on me.

Oh Lordy, Berta, Berta, Oh Lord Gal. [32]

Be my woman, Gal, I'll be your man.

Everyday Sunday, dollar in your hand.

Cut your wood, I'll make your fire,

Tote your water from the boggy bayou.

Would do your cooking if I just knowed how.

[Shot of dirt road with homes on either side] [33]

Shelby "Poppa Jazz" Brown: [34] [Overlapping with audio of prisoners singing]: [V/O] Why do you think they play the blues in Mississippi? [Close up of Brown's face] Because of the way they used to plow, folks here chop cotton at daylight and in the morning. They would get out there and work so hard they be even looking at the sun. Saying, "Horry, hurry sundown, let tomorrow shine." They wanted the sun to go down so they could stop working, they worked so hard. They learned the blues from that. And then they learned the blues from the women. You can get the blues about a woman, you go to kissing and hug her, and won't see her for three or four night looking for her. You can get the blues there. Understand me now? You touch one up like that will give you the blues now. And Mississippi got more of it than anywhere. That's why all the blues people come here singin' the blues.

[Scenes of musicians and audience inside a small country store] [James Thomas, seated, plays guitar in front of the meat counter] [35] [36]

[Music][Singing] [James "Son Ford" Thomas sings and plays guitar while Joe Cooper plays bass]

James "Son Ford" Thomas: Well, Mama told Poppa about a little something she heard.

And Poppa told Momma "Don't believe none of that.

The boy's a man now.

Let him go out and have himself some fun."

Hey, and it felt so good.

I wanta ramble.

I wanta ramble.

I wanta ramble.

I wanta ramble.

[Music] [Shot of Son Thomas playing]

Woo, I wanta ramble if it takes me all night long.

I'm gonner tell you something here now.

If I can't get in the bed, let me make a pallet on the floor.

I'll leave so early the next morning your real man never know. [Woman dancing]

I say, if I can't get in the bed let me make a pallet down on the floor.

I'll leave so early the next morning 'til your real man never know.

I got to ramble. [Pan of audience and zoom in to Thomas]

I got to ramble.

I got to ramble.

I got to ramble.

[Close up of James "Son Ford" Thomas] [37]

James "Son Ford" Thomas: Women's what gives you the blues. A woman tell you, say, "I love you," and all that and you go and find out she's loving somebody else. Well you can't have nothin' but the blues. I was working in the, uh, log field until the cotton got big enough to chop and I come in that evening. I had bought her a pack of cigarettes. I never will forget that. And uh a little boy told me, say, "Your wife gone." And I got sick all at once. I said, "She carried all her clothes." I said, "I know it, boy. Get away from here." But that hurts you though.

[Close up of Son Thomas' hands forming chords] [Music] [Guitar] [Blues] [38]

James "Son Ford" Thomas: Rock me baby, rock me all night long.

Rock me baby, rock me all night long.

I want you to rock me,

Don't care how it make me feel.

See me coming, run get your rocking chair.

[Music] [Blues] [Shots of James "Son Ford" Thomas plays guitar as Cleveland "Broom Man" Jones rhythmically scrapes a broom against a wooden floor. Joe Cooper sings. Poppa Jazz is in attendance.] [39]

James Thomas: [Singing]: I walked 61 Highway 'til I give down in my knees.

I walked 61 Highway 'til I give down in my knees.

You know, I ain't found nobody, give my poor heart ease.

Well they tell me 61 Highway is the longest road they know.

They tell me 61 Highway is the longest road they know.

You know it run from Chicago down to the Gulf of Mexico.

[Traveling shot of the shops on Memphis' Beale Street] [40] [41]

[Music] [Singing and guitar] [Muddy Waters recording of "Hoochie Coochie Man"]

Muddy Waters:

The gypsy woman told my mother

Before I was born

You got a boy child coming,

Gonner be a son of a gun.

He gonner make pretty women

Jump and shout

Then the world want to know

What this is all about.

'Cause you know I'm here.

Everybody knows I'm here.

[Close-up of hat salesman Robert Shaw at Lansky's clothing shop on Beale Street] [42] [43]

Robert Shaw:

Everything here is the blues. It goes back to feelings. How you feel today. You know blues has always been something that you don't have to be black to have the blues. You can have blues, wake up in the morning and something is blue on you-you understand what I'm talking about? Around your bed, and you done got blue, you understand?

[Robert Shaw stands before shelves with hats stocked on them] Your old lady just quit you and you're blue. [Laughs] So you understand what I'm talking about? I know you've had the blues. Have you ever had the blues? I'm sure you've had the blues sometime or another in your life. Like when your girlfriend quit you. You thought you was in love and she was in love, and all at once you found out she's gone and you're gone. You say, "Man, I'm sad here, and I'm blue."

[Camera moves between close and wide shots of Shaw talking animatedly]

You understand, that's what it is, uh huh. Everybody gets the blues, huh? It's sho'nuff the blues. If you wake up in the morning and don't have no money in your pocket and you can't get a loaf of bread, ain't you blue? [Laughs] And the baby crying too? [Laughs]

Now I'm going to tell you about the life of the blues. Now this is the blues: [44]

Living ain't easy and times are tough.

Money is scarce, and we all can't get enough.

Now my insurance is lapsed and food is low,

And the landlord is knockin' at my door.

Last night I dreamed I died,

The undertaker came to take me for a ride.

I couldn't afford a casket,

And embalming was so high,

I got up from my sick bed because I was too poor to die.

Now ain't that blue?

[Visuals of B. B. King performing at Yale University. Bill Oppenheimer plays keyboards.] [45]

[Music] [Blues] [B. B. King singing and playing guitar]

B. B. King: [Close-up of B.B.'s guitar] [V/O] Whenever I would sing and have these people gather around me like they did, then this seemed to me as family. This is another thing that make the blues singer and the blues musician continue to go on because this is his way of crying out to people.

[Shots of B. B. sitting in a living room and playing guitar] [46] [47]

The thrill is gone.

The thrill is gone away.

The thrill is gone, baby.

The thrill is gone away. [Zoom in to close shot]

You know you done me wrong, baby,

And you're gonna be sorry someday.

Thrill is gone.

Thrill is gone away from me.

Thrill is gone, baby.

Thrill is gone away from me.

Although I still live on,

But so lonely I will be.

Thrill is gone.

The thrill is gone away for good.

Thrill is gone, baby.

Thrill is gone away for good.

I know I'll be over that one day, baby,

Like I know a good man should.[Zoom in on guitar]

You know I'm free now, baby.

I'm free from your spell.

Free, free, free, now baby.

Free from your spell.

Now that it's allover,

All I can do is wish you well. [48] [49]

[Video of B.B. King playing guitar]

[Roll credits over black] [50]

[Music] [B.B. King playing guitar]

A Film by William Ferris [51]


Dale Lindquist


Robert Slattery

Production Assistant

Sara Miller


Dale Lindquist

A production of

Yale University Media Design Studio

In cooperation with

Center for Southern Folklore

Produced in Association with

Howard Sayre Weaver

With Support from:

Ford Foundation

Poynter Fund

National Endowment for the Arts

Edward W. Hazen Foundation

Our thanks to:


James "Son" Thomas

Shelby "Poppa Jazz" Brown

James "Blood" Shelby

Cleveland "Broom Man" Jones

Parchman inmates (Camp B)

Joe Louis

Joe Cooper

Wade Walton

Robert Taylor

James Shaw