Jewell "Babe" Stovall
was a Mississippi-born songster whose style fell somewhere between the deep Delta sound of Tommy Johnson
and the fingerpicking technique of Mississippi John Hurt
. Born in 1907 in Tylertown, MS, Babe
was the youngest of 11 children, most of them musicians. Stovall
learned guitar when he was around eight years old, and was soon playing breakdowns, frolics, and parties in the area, even meeting and learning "Big Road Blues" from Tommy Johnson
. He moved to Franklinton, LA, in the 1930s, and split his time between there and Tylertown for several years, picking up whatever work he could as a farmhand.
In 1964 he moved to New Orleans, where he was "discovered" working as a street singer in the French Quarter, his act featuring crowd-pleasing antics like playing his National Steel guitar behind his head and shouting out his song lyrics in a voice so loud that it carried well down the street. He recorded an LP for Verve in 1964, simply titled Babe Stovall
(re-released on CD by Flyright in 1990), and did further sessions in 1966 (released on CD by Southern Sound as The Babe Stovall Story) and with Bob West
in 1968 (which form the basis of The Old Ace: Mississippi Blues & Religious Songs
, released on Arcola in 2003), and became active on the folk and blues college circuit, as well as holding down a house gig at the Dream Castle Bar in New Orleans.
Because he hadn't recorded in the 1920s and 1930s like his rediscovered contemporaries John Hurt
, Skip James
, and Son House
, and was thus harder to package to the media, Stovall
had a somewhat less lucrative time of it on the blues circuit, a situation that wasn't helped much by his legendary drinking exploits. Said by some to be the character inspiration for Jerry Jeff Walker
's "Mr. Bojangles," Stovall
died in 1974 in New Orleans. His rough-edged voice, hybrid picking style, and use of the National Steel guitar made his personal blues style unlike any other bluesman of his day.