04/25/18: Bluesman Josh ‘Razorblade’ Stewart dies in Memphis
CLARKSDALE - Clarksdale lost a colorful member of its blues community over the weekend with the passing of Josh "Razorblade" Stewart, 72, in the Memphis Veterans Administration Hospital Saturday, April 21.
Despite semi-frail health following hospitalization in 2016 for back problems that confined him to a wheelchair for several months, Stewart still performed occasionally at local blues clubs and was booked in his usual longtime slot at the 2018 Sunflower River Blues Festival Aug, 11.
With his signature “Ah Hah” punctuating performances on stage, Stewart was a popular entertainer at Red’s Blues Club and Ground Zero and became an informal ambassador welcoming visitors to downtown Clarksdale.
His pickup truck frequently could be seen outside the Delta Blues Museum where he was an avid supporter of the Delta Blues Museum and its after-school education program.
Giving many young musicians an opportunity to play professionally with his band. “The Deep Cuts,” he nicknamed Anthony Sherrod “Butcher Knife,” Lee Williams, “Pocket Knife,” and Jacqueline Gooch Nassar, “Butter Knife.” When guitarist Michael James, Dr. Mike, played with the group, he dubbed him, “Butcher Knife.”
Guitarist John Holmes, who teaches in the DBM’s after-school program and is a member of the well-known Bentonia family of musicians says, “Razorblade was happiest on stage and behind a microphone. It made his day.”
Holmes said Razorblade encouraged DBK kids, telling them he was “scouting for new talent,” and promising to pay them when they were good enough to perform professionally.
A dapper dresser on stage, Stewart was a main stage performer at the Sunflower River Blues Festival and was joined by numerous local musicians.
Maie Smith, festival booking chairman, estimated Stewart performed 13 to 15 consecutive years. He also donated his performance at the Sunflower’s annual Ground Zero Thanksgiving Eve fundraiser to keep the festival free.
Born December 22, 1946, in Jonestown, Stewart taught himself to play music as a young child, according to his biography in the Delta Blues Museum gallery. He learned how to read music as a member of the Coahoma County Agricultural High School and College Band where he played for six years and became accomplished at slide trombone, saxophone, trumpet, and piano.
Following high school he joined the military and became part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and served in Vietnam.
Returning home in 1970, he joined brothers Harvell and Deon Thomas, students of Mr. Johnnie Billington, as members of James “Super Chikan” Johnson’s original band, “The Fighting Cocks.” In 1998 they toured Europe and performed in Notodden, Norway, Clarksdale’s sister city, and also in Switzerland, and Amsterdam.
Visitation is scheduled from 12 noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Century Funeral Home in Clarksdale, and the funeral service will be at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Union Grove Baptist Church, 2237 North State Street.