From the Clarksdale Press Register
By JOSH TROY (with some editing)
Dick Waterman had a love for music at a very young age and put himself in danger in his effort to find Clarksdale’s long-lost bluesman, Son House, in the summer of 1964.
In June 1964, Waterman, who was living in Cambridge, Mass., along with Phil Spiro and Nic Perls left on a quest to find House.
Waterman, now 82 years old, was a writer, promoter and photographer, and with a love for music already, got involved with the search. “I was in the folk music scene and I was a journalist, so I had sold the story to a prominent newspaper,” he said. “I went looking for them to find the story.” It would only be published if he found Son House, which he did. Waterman gained a life long love for the blues during the trip.
Along with Waterman, Spiro and Perls, there was another group of college students in California on a similar blues quest: Jeff Fahey wanted to find bluesman Skip James in Mississippi in June 1964 too.
Across the country, many baby boomers in college who believed in Civil Rights went to the south that June to help African-Americans register to vote. This became known as Freedom Summer. The film “Two Trains Runnin’: Mississippi Blues meets Civil Rights in Freedom Summer” follows the story of both groups to find their bluesmen and the setting is amid this important civil rights summer. The film aired during the Clarksdale Film Festival at Grandma’s Sports Bar last Saturday night.
Waterman was the special guest, and he introduced the film followed by a question and answer session. The standing room only audience much enjoyed and participated in the discussion of some of Waterman’s experiences.
During June and July 1964, the Ku Klux Klan, rogue police officers, racists, rednecks and die-hard segregationists were intrepid to stop the “outside agitators” from coming into Mississippi and disrupting the African-American labor force (or changing their way of life). This caused increasing danger to the two groups on their quest to find long lost bluesmen because those opposed to Freedom Summer could not tell the difference between them and those civil rights agitators coming into Mississippi.
“We didn’t have an imminent sense of danger although if we were smarter we probably would,” Waterman said. It was during this summer that the nationally know three Civil Rights workers – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner – were murdered by the Klan in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Waterman moved to Oxford in the 1980s where he wrote the book Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive. “They have a good blues community there and I went there to do my photography,” he said.
Clarksdale Film Festival director Roger Stolle introduced Waterman and talked about how he helped blues musicians receive exposure they would not have gotten if not for him. “He was one of the young men who introduced guys like me, ultimately, to these great pre-World War II Mississippi bluesmen,” Stolle said. “Without actions during times that were not easy to take, Mr. Waterman and his friends and colleagues, we would only have these great recordings of the 1930s.”
One member of the audience asked Waterman about what music they listened to in his car on the trip from up north to Mississippi. Waterman said he had a tape recorder, played James and Buddy Holly’s music, noting he was a big Holly fan. “The Beatles and Stones were big,” Waterman said. “The Beatles were big first and then the Stones came right after that.” Waterman said the summer of 1964 always stays close to his memory.
Waterman also talked about founding Avalon Productions, his booking agency and production company specifically formed to represent blues artists, including House and James. “When I look back on it, the 60s, 70s and 80s seemed to flip right by. It was hard work in those days,” he said.
Another member of the audience asked if Waterman is still selling photography. Through his career of managing major blues artists, and founding and developing Bonnie Raitt’s career as well, Water became a consummate photographer of concerts and musicians.
“When you grow old, the first thing that goes are the knees,” he said. “The eyes are still there. The feet are still there, so I actually only go to festival where I can get through multiple stages or whatever.”