Interview of this Jackson, Mississippi, based guitarist and singer by Mike Stephenson took place in Jackson in June 2010. Many thanks go to Peggy Brown for arranging the interview for Blues & Rhythm.
I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, my daddy was a sharecropper and I worked on a farm with him back in the fifties. That was before I even learnt how to play music. My true name is Edward Memphis Antoine. When I was seventeen or eighteen years old I was in the field working and I didn’t go to school like I was supposed to because back then those days was hard. Then I got with my cousin and they all played music and I wanted to play so bad so they taught me, they taught me how to play guitar. This was when I was about eighteen and that was when I did my first club gig. My cousin Clifton Chenier, I was playing guitar with him when I was seventeen and he taught me how to play rhythm guitar behind him and we would play a lot of zydeco music and blues. We played through Louisiana and Texas back then. I was a young buck trying to learn from him. I did one recording with him back then which I think was something like ‘Dance With Me’ which was in French. I played with him up to about 1958, and in 1959 I moved up to Port Arthur in Texas with my sister and mother. After that I started playing with my other cousin playing blues and also playing by my own. The name of that cousin was Lionel and I played with him for about a year in 1959, and then I left and went to Portland, Oregon, and then I got my own band. Before I got my band I was playing with a jazz band, a twelve piece band in Portland, and I stayed there about a year and played the blues with my band which was called King Edward Blues Band. Then my brother, Nolan Struck, who was living in Chicago, called me and told me to get to Chicago as there were a lot of blues players there, so I moved to Chicago in 1960. When I got to Chicago I started playing with my brother and Lonnie Brooks, we all grew up together.
I met Buddy Guy and Junior Wells and played with them for a while and I used to sit in with Muddy Waters sometimes and I got to meet B.B. King there as well. I stayed in Chicago and played all over, Milwaukee, Gary, Indiana, Jew Town and all over the Southside. I did some recordings in Chicago with Nolan Struck called ‘Too Many Irons in The Fire’ which was a 45 recorded in Chicago. I then met McKinley Mitchell, after I left my brother as he went to work with Lonnie Brooks, so I went to work with McKinley and we started doing theatre gigs like the Regal and a lot of road work and I did a lot of recordings with him, playing the guitar. Some of the numbers were ‘End Of The Rainbow’, ‘The Town I Live In’ and others this was by the George Leaner label One-Derful. I stayed in Chicago up until 1975. When I was with McKinley we would open for acts like Michael Jackson when he was a little boy, The Temptations, Diana Ross, Bobby Bland, B.B. King. Any big star that came through the Regal, we were the opening act for them. Pervis Spann was bringing everybody through there and he was booking us.
Me and Jessie Robinson grew up together and I met him in Chicago in 1965. We were both in our mid twenties then and that’s when I met Lonnie Brooks and all of them. I met Tyrone Davis then and he was singing with my band. We didn’t have nothing but a three piece band and Tyrone was on vocals and my brother Nolan was on bass. This was back in 1962. He sung with us for about a year and he used to sing a lot of Bobby Bland stuff then. When he cut that song ‘Can I Change My Mind’ the reason he got that hit at the time was Jackie Wilson’s company wasn’t going to sign him back up so Tyrone got with the company. I knew Jimmy and Syl Johnson back then. Now ‘Too Many Irons In The Fire’ was Nolan’s first record and Syl Johnson also recorded that. I recorded a song behind Lee Shot Williams in Chicago and L.V. Johnson was on there as well. I can’t think of what that song was, it was back in the sixties. It was a good hit for Lee Shot back then.
How I first met McKinley, I was walking in the street in Chicago and me and Nolan used to look alike back then and he thought I was Nolan, and I explained that Nolan was my brother and I told him I played guitar, and he said he was looking for a guitar player right now and he wanted me to get with him and get on the road and do some recordings with him. Before I met McKinley I was playing in the basement with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at Theresa’s. James Cotton would come in there and Pinetop Perkins. When I went with McKinley that was a different type of music that was more r&b. We travelled with Red Saunders and his band on the Greyhound tour bus. We were the opening act for him. Now Red had a fifteen piece band and they would back us up. I had to go to rehearsal with them and get their musical director to write the music for me. Now his band used to read music but for me it was in my head. When I first went to play at Theresa’s it was Fenton Robinson, and I went there and Theresa thought I was Nolan and she asked me what I played and I told her guitar and bass, so I went there and Fenton was looking for a bass player so I played bass with him for about three weeks on my regular guitar, and then Theresa let me play guitar and I stole the show from Fenton.
So then I started playing with Junior Wells and then James Cotton wanted me to go on the road with him but I was already hooked up with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells then. I used to play at the Checkerboard as well sometimes in the early morning. There used to be bands playing there all night and during the day, there were so many bands back then. I played with Magic Slim in clubs and with Magic Sam. I used to sit in with Earl Hooker and he was a real terrible guitar player, nobody could touch him on guitar. He would play with a slide and make that guitar talk. He had that TB thing and they had him in that hospital and he would sneak out of the hospital at night through the window and go play his gig, and before the doctor would come back in the morning he was back in the hospital. We used to tease him about what time he had to be back in the hospital. Me and Hound Dog Taylor played together and he wanted me to go to Alaska with him but it was too cold there so I didn’t go with him.
In 1975 I broke up with my wife and McKinley was breaking up with his at the same time. He told me that he came home one night and all his clothes and furniture was gone and I told him the same had happened to me. So he decided to move to Mississippi and I was going to go to Louisiana and we decided to ride together and when we got to Jackson, Mississippi we lived with his mother and his family for a while, so I stayed there. So McKinley started working for Malaco Records and I started working with him at Malaco. We recorded ‘When It Rains It Pours’, ‘When I Try’, ‘Over The Rainbow’ and many others. I helped him put the music together for those songs, I was the music director and I played guitar. After that we brought Nolan in from Chicago and recorded him at Malaco studios. We did ‘My Nerve Has Gone’. James Bennett, the producer, was working with Malaco then, and Nolan’s numbers were on James Bennett’s label. We recorded ‘Falling In Love With You’, ‘Fire Don’t Burn All The Time’, The Love You Share’, Just A Matter Of Time, ‘Ghetto Cowboy’ and more.
I was guitar behind Nolan on those recordings. Bennett was the producer on those recordings. So I was working with both Nolan and McKinley on the road at that time. I decided in 1978 I would record myself and I signed up with Johnny Vincent’s Ace Records. Me and Sam Myers, we recorded some tunes, some that came out on the CD called ‘Johnny Vincent Presents The Ace Blues Masters Vol 4’. Me and Sam played together for a long time and we were on the road together. Back then I was young and enjoying myself. I cut ‘The Things I Used To Do’, ‘I Should Have Quit You’, ‘Today I Started Loving You Again’, ‘Look Over Yonders Walls’, ‘You’re Looking Good Again Tonight’, that’s an original, ‘I Wanna Get Funky’, ‘Something Good Going For Me’, and ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ and Sam is blowing harp on some of those songs. See, there were a lot of us on that Johnny Vincent album and I was playing on the whole session and we used only one band. I took my songs off that album and put them on my CD. Johnny Littlejohn and Elmore James Junior, Bad Smitty was on that album, so what I did was to put my songs on my album called ‘History Of King Edward’.
I was playing a lot of club gigs and when I left McKinley I used to play the Queen Of Hearts club and then Richard’s Playhouse on Farish Street here in Jackson and then the Subway Lounge on Pearl Street, that was the one that everybody knows about as it was in the documentary ‘Last Of The Mississippi Jukes’ DVD. I was leading my own band and I was doing my own thing. Back then me and Sam Myers was working together in club gigs and we worked with local artists like Cadillac George Harris, Bad Smitty, he used to sing like Howlin Wolf, and we were like a little group playing around here in Jackson. I did some other recordings with other people like George Harris, Frank O’ who used to work with Malaco.
Both me and Nolan did that ‘Brother To Brother’ CD. I did seven songs on that album, numbers like ‘Rock Me Baby’, ‘Mr. Charlie’, ‘Looking Good Again Tonight’ but that was recorded different to the one I did with Johnny Vincent, ‘Life Has Been Good For Me’ and others. Nolan has eight songs on that CD and we recorded that in Jackson at Sergio’s Recording Studio. We recorded that in the early eighties I think, and it was produced by Sergio, Bob Jones from Chicago and Ralph Simon. Bob writes a lot of songs, as a matter of fact ‘You Got Something Good Going For You’ on that album was written by him. I did some session work for James Bennett, he would hire me to put some music together on tape, like demos. I did some stuff with McKinley Mitchell and Nolan for James Bennett. We would go to Memphis to record it with the band. Some of the songs that my brother Nolan did for James like ‘Stand By Me’ we recorded that in Memphis. Back in the early nineties before McKinley died, me and McKinley was the opening act for B.B. King in the schools around here in Mississippi.
I’m doing a lot of road work at present and we did the Chicago Blues Festival in 2009 and we are working on a new album. On my show at the Chicago Blues Festival we had Tina Diamond and Nolan. We are working on getting out of Mississippi and working in other states. Recently I was awarded a Peavy Grammy award from the governor of Mississippi when we did a big show at the Hard Rock casino with Bobby Rush, Eddie Cotton Jr and Zack Harmon, The Mississippi Mass Choir, The Williams Brothers. I’ve been playing festivals in Vicksburg and the Tommy Johnson festival. We have played the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming in Clarksdale, it’s a bit like a homecoming for musicians. I still do shows every once in a while with my brother Nolan. He does his own thing and I do my own thing. He is doing a new album and I am helping him put that together. In my band I have Rick Lewis on drums, Abdul on bass, Carter McMillan and myself so we are a four piece band. It all depends on what the promoter is looking for, we can go up to a ten piece if they want it, depending on the money. We have the Blues Society band and I back them sometimes, that’s Pat Brown, Denise Fountain, Abdul, Ricky Lewis, Dwight Ross, Johnny Sharp, this is the Hal and Mal’s club thing on Monday nights here in Jackson, we all team up together for that.
When I go on the road I have my own band. I played with Honeyboy Edwards and Grady Champion recently at the 930 Blues Café here in Jackson, which was presented as ‘Three Generations Of The Blues’. I am mentioned on three Mississippi Blues Trail Markers here in Jackson. At the site of the Queen Of Hearts club in Jackson on Martin Luther King Drive, I used to play there when I first got to Jackson. And then at the site of the Subway Lounge on Pearl Street where I used to play, and then at Ace Records on Capital Street, it’s just down from the King Edward hotel in Jackson. My picture is on the Queen Of Hearts marker. That is an honour for me.