The Heartbroken Man
In 1990, when Rooster Blues Records released The Heartbroken Man,
by Roosevelt “Booba” Barnes, Barnes was recognized as the
Mississippi Delta’s hottest juke joint performer. A unique guitarist,
harp player, and a colorful showman, Barnes held court at his
Greenville, MS joint, The Playboy Club.
His strongest influences were Howlin’ Wolf and Little Milton, and as a
youth, he played with Smokey Wilson, Big Bad Smitty, and L. V. Banks,
among others. During the 80’s, he was a mainstay at most of the
Mississippi blues festivals, as well as others in the Delta region.
Despite all that, The Heartbroken Man was his one and only album
release (he also had three tracks on the Mississippi Blues
soundtrack for Milan Records in the early ’80s, plus two tracks on the
out-of-print Deep Blues soundtrack). He was actually the first
Mississippi-based blues artist to record for the Clarksdale, MS label.
Barnes kicks things off with the funky “How Long This Must Go On,” which
was a jukebox favorite in Mississippi in the late ’80s. It’s a perfect
vehicle for Barnes, featuring his gravelly croon and his unpredictable
guitar. Next comes a propulsive version of the Deadric Malone standard
“Don’t Cry No More,” with some more of Barnes’ idiosyncratic guitar work
(Living Blues creator Jim O’Neal, who produced the disc, once
described Barnes’ guitar as “tuned and played in a key not in the music
Barnes also drops a perfect imitation of his idol, Howlin’ Wolf, in the
medley “Tell Me What I’ve Done/My Last Affair,” which also includes a
snippet of “Love Me Darling.” There’s also another nod to the Wolf in a
cover of “Rocking Daddy,” complete with more Wolf-like vocals.
Other highlights include another Malone medley, this one being a
combination of “Blind Man/I Pity The Fool,” which displays Barnes’
ruggedly soulful vocals in fine fashion. There’s also a revved-up cover
of Slim Harpo’s “Baby, Scratch My Back.” Probably the best cut on the
album is the title tune, a seven-minute romp with some of Barnes’ best
vocals and some of the best guitar on the disc.
The album was recorded in two different sessions. The one in Memphis
features James Earl Franklin on bass and Terry Taylor on drums, with Fat
Possum’s own James “T-Model” Ford contributing guitar on the Wolf
medley. The second session was recorded at Rust College’s studio in
Holly Springs, MS with Willie Miller on bass and Taylor on drums.
O’Neal’s production is the unembellished, live-on-stage sound that makes
the Rooster Blues releases so distinctive. It’s as close to the real
sound as you can get.
Barnes tried to capitalize on the success of The Heartbroken Man
by closing down The Playboy Club and moving his base of operations to
Chicago, like many of his influences did before him. Ironically, he was
one of the few artists that did not benefit from the move up north. He
never achieved the status in Chicago that he enjoyed (and would have
continued to enjoy had he stayed) in Mississippi. He was diagnosed with
lung cancer and passed away in Chicago in April of 1996.
The Heartbroken Man is an excellent look at Mississippi Delta
Blues, circa 1990, by one of the most unusual musicians of his time.
“Booba” Barnes was a one-of-a-kind artist who blended the old blues
sound with something new, giving it his own signature, and creating a
style that is still being imitated, but definitely not duplicated, by
young musicians in the Mississippi Delta today.
--- Graham Clarke