'Gulfport Boogie' marker honoring local musicians

Post date: Jan 19, 2015 5:9:21 PM

GULFPORT, Mississippi -- The Mississippi Blues Trail will salute Jaimoe, Roosevelt Sykes, Carl Gates, Cozy Corley, Skin Williams, Yvonne Tims and others who have contributed to the musical legacy of Gulfport with a historical marker next week.

On Jan. 13, the trail's 184th marker will be unveiled at the "Four Corners" intersection of Arkansas Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at 3 p.m.

That spot was a central location in the decades when the African American communities in and around north Gulfport supported many nightclubs that operated outside the old city limits.

Drummer Johnnie Lee Johnson, now known as Jaimoe, was raised in Mississippi City, and his bass-playing friend, Lamar Williams, grew up in Handsboro before both gained fame as members of the Allman Brothers Band.

Both played with many bands along the coast, including George Woods' Sounds of Soul, and they also worked together in other groups after the Allmans' initial disbandment.

Jaimoe, who played with later incarnations of the Allmans, now leads Jaimoe's Jassz Band and plans to be present for the marker dedication.

The marker is titled "Gulfport Boogie" in honor of a song recorded by Blues Hall of Fame pianist Roosevelt Sykes, who lived in Gulfport in the 1950s when he starred at Charles Conway's club, the Beverly Lounge, on Old Highway 49 (now Arkansas Avenue).

Other local venues included the Owl Club, the Hi-Hat, and the North Gulfport Auditorium.

The entertainment slate included big-name blues, R&B and soul acts who toured through Gulfport regularly, along with locals including Carl Gates (a bandleader, promoter and high school band director), brothers Cleve and Clezell Booth, Sugar Billy, Skin Williams, Willie Willis, Yvonne Tims, and -- more recently -- acts such as Dr. G.L. John.

Cozy Corley, who relocated to Gulfport from Hattiesburg, was the first artist to have a record released on the Malaco label in Jackson.

Gulfport's blues and jazz history dates back to the early 1900s when New Orleans jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton played the Great Southern Hotel.

Another early New Orleans figure, Lee Collins, and 1940s blues singer Albennie Jones spent some of their early years in Gulfport, and pianist Little Brother Montgomery was based there in the 1920s.

Ma Rainey, "the mother of the blues," performed in tent shows in Gulfport, which also became an occasional stop for rambling bluesmen such as Robert Johnson and Big Joe Williams.

Blind Roosevelt Graves, a guitarist also honored on a Hattiesburg marker for his contributions to the roots of rock 'n' roll, settled in Gulfport in his final years.

White Gulfport native Jimmy Donley, a cult figure in "swamp pop" circles, added another chapter to the Gulf Coast musical saga with his recordings and with songs he wrote for Fats Domino.

The Mississippi Blues Trail is continuing to document blues history from all parts of the state and welcomes any information on blues performers and venues, as well as photographs and recordings.

MBT research director Jim O'Neal, a former Biloxi resident, can be contacted at 816-931-0383 or bluesoterica@aol.com.