Henry “Gip” Gipson started throwing backyard blues parties at his Bessemer, Alabama, home back in the 1950s. Half a century later, those parties were still going, and “Gip’s” became famous as one of the last surviving juke joints in the country. Acts came in every Saturday night, from all over the country and all over the world. Both Gip and Gip’s became local icons.
Gip kicked off each weekend’s show with a prayer and a few blues tunes of his own. For the rest of the night, he’d work his way through the crowd, shaking hands, or he’d sit on the side of the stage, soaking in the scene he’d made possible.
Gip passed away on October 8. To help celebrate his legacy, I broadcast on The Lost Child an hour of historic, never-released performances from the Gip’s stage, which you can now stream anytime, right here:
This hour includes performances by several great Alabama blues players and singers, recorded live at Gip’s in 2008 and 2009: Willie King, Elnora Spencer, Jock Webb, and, of course, Gip Gipson himself. Lenny Madden kicks off the proceedings with the house rules. Ray Gant made the recordings. Roger Stephenson made them available for radio play. Also included are a couple of tunes from Gip’s only album, Nothin’ But the Blues.
It’s an honor and a privilege to share these recordings with a larger audience. Not only do they offer vivid entry into the sound and spirit of Gip’s Place, a tribute to “Mr. Gip”‘s great legacy; they also provide testament, along the way, to another of Alabama’s most remarkable blues heroes, the late Willie King. He died in 2009, just a few months after these recordings were made.
At Gip’s funeral, friends and family described a man who’d changed their lives — through his music, his faith, his example, his unique approach to the world. Visitors to his juke joint described it as a kind of sacred space where everyone was welcome and everything was steeped in love. Jock Webb played a little blues harmonica, some “traveling music” to send Gip home, and there were two performances of “Amazing Grace” — by singer Tara Sabree and harmonica player Randy Guyton — Gip’s favorite song.
Pastor Alfonzo January described in his eulogy a scene from the movie The Color Purple, when the blues singer Shug Avery leads her crowd, dancing and singing, straight from the juke joint and into the church — where the two groups, long separated by custom, prejudice, and pride, are joyously united. “When the juke joint and the church get together,” Pastor January preached, “it’s going to be a time” — and Gip Gipson was a man whose life symbolized that union. The pastor, whose own church is around the corner from Gip’s, noted that there were a couple of church pews in the place, and he joked that he knew he was missing one or two. At Gip’s Place, they fit right in. At the end of his eulogy, the pastor implored Gip’s family to keep the juke joint going — which is what they intend to do.
When you have some time, I hope you’ll give a listen to these recordings from Gip’s. Many thanks for Roger Stephenson for making them available.
Rest in peace, Mr. Gip, and thanks for everything.
3 thoughts on “LISTEN! Live from Gip’s”
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you, Burgin Mathews! Saw you at the Festival from afar. Sent you and Gloria DotD hugs. : ) So Gip passed at 88, not 99? Somehow a death at 99+ is okay to my bizarre mind but 88 seems too soon. I think that is because I get closer to that number everyday. Funny that. Very glad to hear Gip’s family plans to keep Gip’s Place going. Big love, Wendy
Wendy Jarvis, thanks so much for this message!
I’ve been fascinated at how the idea of a 99-year-old Gip caught on, and even serious news sources just accepted it without question: even NPR stuck to the 99 story, and the local news outlet that was present at his funeral reported the same age that night — regardless of his actual birthdate, printed right there on the program. A few years ago the story was always that “Gip doesn’t know how old he is but he must be somewhere in his nineties.” At some point that morphed into “Gip is 99.” Both those narratives (age unknown, or 99) fit the image everyone wanted of this ancient, super-“authentic” bluesman. Similarly, the usual thing is to say he’s a gravedigger, not to mention that he owned his own cemetery, the grave-digging just one part of his business. Gip’s story and his character were and are compelling enough on their own, but people got hooked on the extra mythology and exotic color used to package the man.I suppose it’s not unlike what I see on Facebook every day, where people accept as fact whichever fake news stories confirm their own biases. It’s interesting to me that in the case of Gip, even the real news got it wrong. Like they say in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” It troubles me that, when it comes to the blues, people care more about legend than the fact.
And I agree with you: 88 was too soon for Gip Gipson to go.
Thanks for this comment. Big love back to you and Michael.
Comments are closed.