Interview with Mississippi Marshall Hopper, a bluesman who's music is a collection of life experiences

"The blues music of today sometimes lacks realism for me. I fear that if more young bluesmen don’t start bring the realism back to their blues that we may see the genre morph into something that may have never existed."

Mississippi Marshall: The Delta's Son

Mississippi Marshall is a sho' nuff real deal bluesman who's music is a collection of life experiences and is influenced by the blues legends he grew up around in the Mississippi Delta. Mississippi Marshall (Hopper) has been labeled "The Delta's Son" for years and his guitar and vocal styling are reminiscent of the Delta as well as the Texas searing blues styling. Mississippi Marshall was born and raised right in the heart of the Mississippi delta and grew up playing both the black and white jukes along the Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans.

Mississippi picked up his first guitar at age 8 and ain’t ever let it go. As a boy he had the good fortune to meet and play along with some of the great delta legends and it certainly shows in his unique delta thumbing guitar style. Mississippi has been a songwriter for over 30 years and has come to the realization the blues is who he is. Mississippi Marshall performs as a solo, a duo (Mississippi Marshall & Mojo Foots”, and also has the rockabilly blues trio known though out the Northwest as “The Juke Daddys”. He also hosts a vintage blues radio show on KRBX Radio Boise 89.9 and 93.5fm in the Boise, ID area on Monday evenings. The radio show is a huge source for blues history and education of its players. Mississippi Marshall’s personal vision and contribution for the Boise Blues Society is to help foster a healthy educated blues community through his performances, radio, and personally promoting the blues in a positive professional manner.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I was raised in the Mississippi Delta. The “Blues” has been a part of my life from a very early early age. What I have learned about myself through the blues is that I am a small part of blues history. Not because I learned to play the blues or heard it on the radio or I read about it but because I lived it from a young boy growing up on the cotton farms of Mississippi and am still living it. The blues is a way of life, a passion, the truth. I’ve literally had the blues all my life and it comes in all shapes and sizes. The blues means so much to me. It’s who I am. My music is blues roots based because I am blues roots based. I have such a respect for the delta blues forefathers and have an understanding of what they were trying to convey through their music. Blues is a way of life for me and will always be.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

As I stated before, I grew up with the blues and started playing professionally in the delta at the age of 11. I grew up around a lot of the delta legends and made it my business to study and learn all I could from them. I played many of the same Juke Joints on weekends. I lived the blues life, working on the farm during the week, playing the jukes and house parties where I began to understanding that the blues wasn’t just a music, but a lifestyle. Once I accepted who I was I was able to start putting into words the life I saw and experienced. Good songwriting has to have substance. It has to paint a picture for the listener and it has to be real. When I write songs I try to make the listener see and understand what I’m feeling at the time.   

"Blues music will always be around because man will always experience the blues in his life. The blues touches us all and leaves its mark."

How do you describe “The Delta’s Son” sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

The Delta’s Son sound could fill a book. I sincerely consider my music a direct reflection of my delta roots. I have been fortunate to meet, see, listen to, learn from and in some cases, play along with some of the famous delta legends such as Son House, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and R. L. Burnside to name a few. My style of playing and writing incorporates many of those influences and I have developed a unique playing style that is a derivative of those many influences. “The Delta’s Son” is again who I am. I grew up living the delta son life and my music is a product of it. My philosophy of the blues and my music is simple. It has to be real. The blues is real, you can feel it, you experience it, you have to love what you’re doing when playing the blues and you have to be sincere in your writing.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta a poor farmer’s son wasn’t easy, in fact it was hard. Harder than one can imagine. Rural Mississippi in the 60s and 70s were a tough time. If it wasn’t for the music and making extra money playing music, I’m not sure we’d have made it like we did. That time period was tough but it shaped who I am today and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The best moments in my career are right now and the journey I’m on. I am 54 years old and have been on the smallest and the biggest stages in the business over the last 40 years. I value each and every day of my musical experience but I guess today is one of the best. I’m happy, healthy and love to bring what I do to people to listen to. I love educating my audience about the delta and the roots of blues music. Every day is a good day. My worst moment in my career was learning how ugly the business end of music can be. There is a lot of politics and hands out when you want to succeed in music so I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, being  appreciated and respected as a bluesman in the business is more important that the big contracts.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

The blues music fan is dedicated to the genre I think. What makes you devoted to it or follow it is the realism blues music brings. It’s relatable to the audience. We have all experienced the blues and when it’s real one connects with it. Blues music will always be around because man will always experience the blues in his life. The blues touches us all and leaves its mark.

"My music is blues roots based because I am blues roots based. I have such a respect for the delta blues forefathers and have an understanding of what they were trying to convey through their music. Blues is a way of life for me and will always be."

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

I had the great fortune at the age of 13 to meet and play a few hours with Son House. I didn’t really understand who or what he was until years later but I did realize at the time that he was so soulful in every song he sang and played. Son and my dad were friends and my dad had grown up around him. I’ve been fortunate to jam with some heavies over the years but I think Son House started my blues journey and defined what I want to be.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

I had the privilege of attending a blues seminar at Mississippi Valley State University where I got to sit and listen to Mr. B.B. King talk about the blues and what it was to him. His advice to this young guitar player was to express yourself when you play. It ain’t about how many notes you can play and how fast but that you can express the feeling you want during your playing. I have never forgotten that and when I’m writing or recording I keep it in the back of my mind.

What's been your experience from your trip in Delta? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

This latest trip home was huge for me. First, I competed and was a semi-finalist in the 30th International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. A lot of good things have come out of that and I’m looking forward to the future because of it. After that I went home to the Delta for a few days to reconnect with my roots. I spent the week with my dearest friends Tom and Carolyn Sturdivant on their farm. I visited old stomping grounds in Clarksdale, Greenwood, Cleveland and Indianola, MS. I got to see my family, friends and play a few intimate gigs. Sometimes you have to remember where you’ve come from to put into perspective where you want to go. The Delta trip was just that for me. I had to recharge my blues roots battery for the coming year. I also had a very moving visit to Robert L. Johnson’s gravesite out from Greenwood, MS. The realness of what he was and still is, is a motivator for me to continue my blues journey.

"I lived the blues life, working on the farm during the week, playing the jukes and house parties where I began to understanding that the blues wasn’t just a music, but a lifestyle."

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

This is a tough question for me. I can’t put my finger on any one thing in particular that I miss most nowadays except the realism. When I was growing up in the delta, the music I heard and played was so real because I related to the songs. The blues music of today sometimes lacks realism for me. I fear that if more young bluesmen don’t start bring the realism back to their blues that we may see the genre morph into something that may have never existed. While there are many forms of the blues, for me, it has to have life and be real.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of acoustic folk Blues with the modern electric sound?

Listen to the early music of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, or Buddy Guy…Listen to early R.L Burnside as well as Blind Boy Fuller, Skip James and Mississippi Fred McDowell. You will hear the transformation from traditional acoustic blues to electric blues. The change was cool because it opened doors for more and more creativity. Where I come from, good acoustic blues is still appreciated as well as the more modern sounds of electric blues. Both have a special place in history.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Idaho. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Idaho has had limited exposure to traditional blues roots music and just in the past few years had a radio station that would bring the real deal blues to the Northwest. I recently joined the board of the Boise Blues Society and we are working hard to bring real blues to the Idaho audience. “Do I believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?” Absolutely! I believe real blues will always be around as long as the artist is willing to not compromise based on success or money. Real blues is all around us. We, as artists” have to be willing to bring it to the audience and believe in it. I am committed to preserving the art and am willing to share it wherever I go.

Which incident of blues history you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting with you?

I think a moment I experienced at the age of 12 in Clarksdale, MS. I met John Lee Hooker, Albert King and Supa Chicken in the park by the railroad depot. That day.. I became a bluesman.

"The blues is a way of life, a passion, the truth. I’ve literally had the blues all my life and it comes in all shapes and sizes. The blues means so much to me. It’s who I am." 

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I’d go back to that day in Rosedale, MS when I met Son House. If I could, I would talk with him for hours about his days playing with Charley Patton and Willie Brown. I’d want to know his story about Robert Johnson, I would tell him about my song “The Delta’s Son” and what role he played in it. I’d spend the day feeding my soul.

Mississippi Marshall @ Boise Blues Society's Home

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