CLARKSDALE – When Anthony Sherrod was five, he became a blues musician recognized by ZZ Top.
At 16, he borrowed Buddy Guy’s spotted guitar and joined him on stage for a Delta Blues Museum benefit.
Reaching 30, his 25-year career has earned him frontman status with the Big Jack Johnson Band at the Sunflower River Blues Festival Saturday night finale. He credits Big Jack for putting him there.
“After playing at Red’s one night, I heard Big Jack talking in the back about my ‘going places,’” says Sherrod.
This off-the-cuff assessment by Clarksdale’s internationally renowned musician/songwriter apparently carried weight in the psyche of young Sherrod’s decision to take charge, step up front, sing and shout to the crowd, “Are you ready?”
According to Pennsylvanian, Bobby Gentilo, guitarist with the Big Jack Johnson Band, Anthony definitely is ready.
“Before a cheering Saturday night crowd of 4,500 in Harrisburg several weeks ago, Anthony was a gem – a true bluesman,” says Gentilo.
“People loved him, and want him back,” he continued.
“Many Big Jack fans here are saying Anthony seems to be channeling Jack’s energy,” adds veteran drummer Dale Wise of Harrisburg.
Regarded as a child prodigy years ago during Blues in the School and museum educational programs directed by Mr. Johnnie Billington and Big Jack, Sherrod once was shy about singing and seemed more comfortable playing bass than lead guitar.
Maturity changed all that, and Sherrod says, “I’ve got it all figured; I’ve got it all together now.”
Sneak previews of this mature, all grown up, and growling blues figure are documented in a brand new CD, recorded in April: “Anthony Sherrod: Red’s Juke Joint Sessions.”
A CD release party at Red’s is scheduled Friday night, Aug 8, before his starring role on the Sunflower stage the next evening.
Taking the finale stage along with Sherrod will be an impressive lineup of musicians who played with Big Jack or were influenced by him during his 50-year career, says Wise.
Two drums sets are needed on stage to accommodate drummers Lee Williams and Wise.
Since last Thanksgiving Wise and the other core band members have been approaching the festival tribute and the Blues Trail Marker unveiling as a personal crusade to acquaint the music world about the quintessential might of their boss.
Among the believers traveling to Clarksdale to participate in the “Remembering Big Jack Johnson” program under the VIP Tent Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9 is Mark Carpentieri, a Big Jack producer and president of M. C. Records.
He says, “Big Jack was one of the most dynamic musicians I ever experienced. Not only was he an intense live performer and songwriter, he was always moving forward.
“Many blues musicians embrace just the past, not Big Jack. He would write contemporary songs and mix in contemporary music in his blues. He was always experimenting with his sound.
“One of the last times I saw him, he was playing the slide on an electric mandolin. Big Jack was gentle, kind, and cared deeply for his family. I miss him in every way,” continues Carpentieri.
The public is invited to participate in the Blues Trail Marker unveiling by state Tourism officials at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8 on the corner of Sunflower and Martin Luther King Blvd, near Red’s Blues Club.
“We are urging the public to participate in the free “Remembering Big Jack Johnson” educational program beneath the Sunflower Festival’s VIP tent at 3 p.m. Saturday, July 9,” says John Sherman, Sunflower chairman.
For additional festival information, view www.sunflowerfest.org
Anthony Sherrod (singing into mike)
Photo of young Anthony Sherrod and Lee Williams as youngsters with blues teacher Mr. Johnnie Billington and ZZ Top at the Beale Street Memphis Fest where the rock stars were presented their Walk of Fame marker now positioned outside Carnegie Public Library and the former location of the Delta Blues Museum.
Photos by Panny Flautt Mayfield
Big Jack and M. C. Records president Mark Carpentieri (submitted by Carpentieri)