Each week, American Routes brings you Shortcuts, a sneak peek at our upcoming show. This week, we speak with bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes about his time running a juke joint in Bentonia, Mississippi called the Blue Front Café. It was at the Blue Front where he learned the Bentonia style of blues guitar from the revered Jack Owens.
Jimmy Duck Holmes: My mom ran a juke joint known as the Blue Front Café. Historians say it's the oldest still running juke joint in the state of Mississippi. Now myself, I've been opening the door 46 years, it'll be 47 years this coming July 1st, and my mom started it in 1948. I was one year old. I grew up in a house of 14, 16 with my mom and dad. The farm itself just wouldn’t take care of all of them.
Nick Spitzer: Who mainly came out to be there?
JDH: The Blue Front Café was the ballroom of the Bentonia community. As a matter of fact it was the first establishment with a concrete floor. You had some places called juke houses but they was made out of wood structures. Back during the time as far as I can remember, they thought it was a privilege, a luxury, to be able to go to the Blue Front Café, where you could dance and the jukebox didn't shake.
NS: You have been running a juke joint, there are people who go to church who would say, that's a place for the evil spirits, but that doesn't seem to have affected your thinking.
JDH: Nah, my thing is, some people say preacher don't eat that much, watch that joker when he leave his church. Some people say a preacher don’t cheat, watch who that joker got under the sheet. My thing is, the same people as you meet Sunday morning at church is the same people you hung out with Saturday night at the club.
NS: How is it that you have, it seems to me, had a pretty happy life running the juke joint, and you actually stayed in Bentonia and ran the show, and you still do.
JDH: I left for a couple of times with the intention of not coming back. I would tour Piedmont and then end up right back in Bentonia.
NS: Why is that do you think?
JDH: I guess some things are just meant to be. You know, I guess it just wasn't meant for me to take up roots nowhere else but Bentonia.
NS: You've been taking care of the Blue Front for a good long time. It seems to me it takes a lot of willpower to run a place like this.
JDH: You gotta have a passion for it, cuz you might sit there all day long and nobody come buy nothing. Thank god I'm retired, I don't really need to depend on it financially, but I enjoy- I go there every day, 7 days a week because I know what it did for my family. It took care of us back in the day.
NS: You sound like you've got it goin’ on though. You're playing the blues and running the Blue Front and keeping the world aware of what's going on in Bentonia. Doesn't sound to me like you're old and gray.
JDH: Well I feel pretty good, you know, but that don't mean I'm not getting old.
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 6pm on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.