Andrew Garrett Hamilton
Started in 1992 by Matthew Johnson and Peter Reveders Lee, Fat Possum began “in a bar”. An appropriate place, considering the subject matter. The idea was to record bluesmen that frequented the juke joints of the area, such as Junior Kimbrough’s place in Holly Springs.
I was turned on to a documentary titled You See Me Laughin’ by some fellow Memphis musicians during my freshman year of college This relatively short documentary was my introduction to Fat Possum. I attribute this documentary to fundamentally changing my view on music, and on a personal level, that would be like me saying I found an alternate view on eating or sleeping. I firmly believe in the adage you cannot judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes, and to hear the stories these artists tell personally, and Matthew Johnson’s retelling of them, is to be transported to a lifestyle and culture that is something the vast majority of people, not just music fans, could ever fathom.
To me, Fat Possum is everything that I picture in an independent record label. I have always viewed independent record labels as channels for releasing regional music. Music that may have never been heard outside of a few hundred miles of where it was been played.
Having lived all my 22 years in close proximity to the Mississippi delta, I have been blessed with having the ability to experience such a rich musical culture, a culture that can be felt in the air and seen everywhere you are. A culture that, at times can seem so far removed from what is considered popular, the music from Los Angles, New York and Nashville, the sterile, generic music that sells ring tones and accompanies peoples trips to a Starbucks. I have been to Holy Ridge, Mississippi; I have seen the shot gun shacks, the fields, and the poverty. I also whole heartedly know that the music that has been coming from this area of our great nation is some of, if not, the most soulful and human music that has been created in the last 200 years.
Thanks to the efforts of Fat Possum, you don’t have to live in the greater Mississippi River delta to hear what I am talking about.
To hear the music of Junior Kimbrough, Asie Payton and T-Modal Ford is to step away from the glamour and posh lifestyles that the majority of recording artists are accustomed to. This is the music of men who lead lives that are unimaginable to the majority of people that grew up in the suburbs. This is music that has such an angst and suffering in it, that to hear it and dismiss it to me should be an indicating factor of whether or not an individual has a pulse. This is the music of men who have killed; who have suffered such unbelievable losses that make you thankful for whatever it is you call your own. This is the music of men who were not taught how to play their instruments, or to sing in key. This is the music that exists in such a primal part of the human psyche that it cannot be taught.
Artists such as R.L Burnside and Junior Kimbrough recorded their music after years of playing their respected tunes, reflecting their hard lives in their storytelling. T-Model Ford didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 58.
Junior Farmer, interviewed in the You See Me Laughing documentary was such a religious person that he blamed his health problems on the fact that he had recorded blues music, or what he believed was the devil’s music. That kind of fear and belief in something is so raw and organic that it is almost impossible to imagine. Music is not a commodity to these people.
Fat Possum is not a NPR special on the blues, nor is it a faded black and white picture. Don’t get the impression they are trying to give you a history lesson. They are simply supplying a demand for quality music. Fat Possum, from their base in the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, is not just an archival record label. They are releasing cuts by such buzz artists as Wavves and Band of Horses. There website is reminiscent of the majority of modern and up and coming record labels, and they have a prescience in social media. I don’t want to be rude, and seem like I am skipping over the quality of these new bands and new releases. I am a fan of these bands. Fat Possum released The Black Keys after their debut on Alive records, and look where they are now! Someone over there obviously has an ear for new music that has market potential and is generally well accepted by casual music fans. But like any fanatic, I must preach of the quality of music that they recorded and released of the blues variety.
If you consider yourself a fan of music and American culture, I highly suggest that you check out all of the Fat Possum catalog.
Asie Payton- I Love You http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgiaOk0QcuE
Junior Kimbrough – All Night Long http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-Taae2zLfA
Blues Access http://www.bluesaccess.com/No_28/possum.html