Bentonia, MS: home to the legendary Skip James, famous for his falsetto
vocals and his mastery of a rare blues guitar style that has become
known as the “Bentonia style”.
The origin of the style goes back
to a chance meeting between Bentonian Henry Stuckey and black Bahamian
soldiers in France during World War I. Stuckey learned an odd E-minor
guitar tuning from the Bahamians and when he returned home taught it to
his brother Jacob and to Skip James and the younger Jack Owens.
these musicians traded ideas in the semi-isolated area of Bentonia,
James and Owens perfected the style by adding dark, introspective
lyrics. With his overwhelming personality coming through his
recordings, James created a haunting and unique sound that continues to
influence blues and folk music today. Though James died in 1969 and
Owens in 1997, this local style is preserved in the playing of Duck
While Duck comes from a much younger generation, it
seems he was destined to soak up the sounds and feel of the Bentonia
style whether he was trying to or not. Born Jimmy Charles Holmes on
July 28, 1947, Duck grew up two houses down from Henry and Jacob
Stuckey. In 1948, his mother and father opened the Blue Front Café
where they served cold drinks and offered live music. This music was
often provided by the Stuckeys or Jack Owens and harmonica player Bud
When Duck took over the Blue Front in 1970, he began
arranging for Jack and Bud to play more regularly at the café. With the
encouragement of Jack, Duck began honing his skills and has emerged as
one of, if not the only living practitioners of the Bentonia style.
And you can still hear it played today at The Blue Front Café.