JT Watkins

Watkins, JT #175 [English]

JT Watkins

Interview conducted by Mike Stephenson for Blues & Rhythm in Jackson, Mississippi in June 2010. Many thanks go to Peggy Brown for arranging the interview.

I was born right here in Jackson, Mississippi and this is where I have been most of my life other than for travelling a little bit. I first got started in music by my grandfather when I was twelve years old he was a piano player and he used to do a lot of church songs on the piano and he also did a lot of blues songs on the piano.

I guess he was the greatest inspiration for me to want to be a blues singer as I used to love to hear him play and we just had such a wonderful good time with all the family sitting around on a Friday afternoon and he would be playing the piano and singing the church songs and later we would sing the blues together. It was good times and just a family thing and that’s when I first started out. The first band I was with was called Larry Thompson And The Famous Blue Rockets that was here in Jackson. They were playing shows at Richards Playhouse on Farish Street and we would go down there and do small gigs and back then the James Brown thing was real popular and Jackie Wilson. I used to love to do Jackie Wilson tunes. This was back in the sixties.

Then later the guy who I can really say I owe my music to was King Edward because King Edward when I met him he was playing at the Queen Of Hearts in Jackson. That’s when I really wanted to get off into the blues with King Edward this was back in the early seventies. I was really interested in learning the blues and King Edward really taught me a lot about singing the blues and my timing and co ordination and everything so I started going around with King. I was singing on his shows and later after I learnt the blues so well I got with Benny Latimore’s band and I worked with him for about two years. Now this is the real Latimore. When I was with him he had just come out with ‘Sunshine Lady’ that was real big for him. After I left Latimore I started doing my thing with Nolan Struck who is King Edwards brother and I stayed with Nolan for a length of time and from there I got with Lynn White the singer and I worked with her and her band for about a year or more. This was mainly around the Jackson area but when I was with Latimore we was travelling all over such as Atlanta, Arkansas, Alabama all over.

After getting with Nolan Struck we were doing a lot of work around Jackson. After this I got with McKinley Mitchell and we played Chicago, Detroit and places like that. I used to open up the shows for these artists I was the opening act for them. After McKinley I was with Lee Shot Williams travelling a whole lot with him. I really like Lee Shot as he knows every honky tonk in the country and he can name them and he plays then often. I had a wonderful time with him. After Lee Shot I started doing some things on my own. I got with Ace Records and Johnny Vincent but before I got with Ace Records I was with another company called Traction Records that was owned and run by James Bennett from Jackson. My first single came out on the Big Thigh label called ‘Baby Let’s Get Married’ and ‘I’m A Ladies Man’ this was in 1987. Big Thigh was a subsidiary label of Traction Records a sister label of James Bennett’s. Later on I did some more stuff that came out on the Traction label. James Bennett had moved me from Big Thigh to Traction and I did ‘Love To See You Smile’ which was in 1991.

Then in 1994 I created Arrow Heart Records which is my own label. I had already written a complete album with the help of Frank O Johnson who was with Ace Records here at Jackson at that time. Me and him sat down and we wrote a whole album. I used his ideas and he used my ideas and we came about the “I Can’t Get Over You’ CD which came out on Johnny Vincent’s Ace Records in 1997. I had already recorded that album at Ervin Beach Studio in Jackson with a guy named Ron so I took that record over to Johnny Vincent and he signed me to the Ace label then. I stayed there for a while and it helped me get a lot off shows travelling here and there and then I decided that I wanted to come back and do something on my label again. So I came back in 2002 and did ‘Tribute To Some Of The Greatest’ album on my Arrow Heart label. In 2003 I did the album ‘Father And Son Sing The Blues In Mississippi’ on my own label which featured two songs with my son David and then in 2007 I did ‘Why Not Tonight Girl’ on Arrow Heart label so my career has really been advancing. I’ve not recorded anybody else on Arrow Heart it’s just me and my son. I did think about doing that but it is too much hard work so I just stayed on it myself. I distribute the label myself. I have a twelve inch album out tilted ‘Mother in Law Blues’ which has four songs on it. It has two original songs on it and two instrumental songs so you can lean the songs and then sing along with the music. I put that out myself on Arrow Heart in the mid eighties. Recently me and a young lady Tina Diamond have put out a record its called ‘Tramp’ that’s the latest release I have out at present.

Back in 2002 I got a call one night asking me to go to the Subway Lounge. I had been singing for some time at the Subway Lounge with King Edward and all the other guys on a Friday and Saturday nights back then. There was a movie company down at the Lounge and they wanted me to sing two songs for the movie and I asked them what two songs they wanted me to sing. So I did those two songs, one was a McKinley Mitchell number, and that was for the ‘Last Of The Mississippi Juke Joints’ DVD. I made the front cover of the TV guides for that along with King Edward and Lavern Lindsey. We were at the Subway lounge when the photographer took the pictures.

I have a son, David Watkins, he writes a lot of music and on the ‘Why Not Tonight’ CD he wrote some of the numbers on that. He was a disc jockey at 90.1 radio station in Jackson playing the blues on the local radio called ‘The Black Zone’ and I worked with him on that. I would call up the artists and schedule them with an interview every Wednesday night for the show. It got to be such a hot show everybody was waiting to see who we had coming on next. We did Joe Simon, Latimore, G.C. Cameron, The Rose Brothers, Bobby Jones, and so many others. The show came off the air earlier this year.

My main working area these days is anywhere where somebody has some money that want to bring me. I haven’t done that many shows in Jackson recently I do go to the Hal & Mal’s Blue Monday sessions though on occasions. I visit the clubs in Jackson and listen to artists and occasionally sit in and sing but not that often.

I am a retired Field Officer for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. I was the first African/ American game warden. I made history I’m in a book called ‘Journey Through The South’. I’m presently working three days a week for the agent I retired from. I’m heading up their security for them and I love being around kids and where they have me is at the museum and we have a lot of kids come through there. I have numerous awards such as ‘Town Hero’ here in Jackson and I’ve got the B.B. Award for the year for the blues in 2008. I use my home as my office and I mail out to radio stations around the country sending them my records. In 1996 I received an award from Jackson Music Awards for Outstanding Support of the Jackson Music Awards. I like being in control of my situation and I continue to write songs and I’m planning on going into the studio to record some more soon. I use a studio here in Jackson that is owned by a friend and my musical arranger is Harrison Calloway. If you look on my CDs you will see his name on just about every one of them. My guitar player is Norman Clark and I use different musicians if I think they will fit the part on the song. There is so much bootlegging going on out there with music at the moment which is making selling music hard

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