An Interview With Daniel Cowen, Co-Director Of New Blues Documentary TRUE DELTA

Super Chikan!

True Delta
is a snapshot of the blues scene in Clarksdale today, as seen through the lenses of Daniel Cowen and his documentary team. 

It asks the question: As the older players pass on, is there a torch to be passed to a younger generation of artists? And what will the blues of the new generation of players sound like, considering a culture that is quite different from that of the older players?

"The torch will be passed but it will be a different torch." "A blues man in his eighties grew up in a world that was dominated by cotton and mules and Jim Crow, bringing a very different set of experiences to their music than you will have in a young person today." -Professor Luther Brown, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at State University. 

I appreciate that the question is being asked. The blues is always dying. Then somebody else comes along and the blues says "I'm feeling much better now, I think i'll go for a walk." It's good to check the pulse now and then, right? 

Assuming the minute-fifty trailer is properly repping the thirty-six minute film, True Delta is good looking. If the content matches the drapes it could be a winner. I look forward to seeing it.

  Daniel Cowen is co-director of the new blues documentary True Delta, which is now in the Kickstarter phase of raising money for post-production work (a slew of pricey processes). They have a few days to go and need your help to bump them over the line. They've got a bunch of different premiums but thirty-bucks gets you the dvd and a 5 X 7 print, plus you'll sleep better with the knowledge that you supported some serious Mississippi blues. You'll show this to your kids, they'll want to play the blues. With you. 

Mr. Cowen took some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions I had about his documentary, True Delta:

What's the impetus behind True Delta? How'd it get started?

The concept for True Delta came from Erickson Blakney and Rich Maloof, both alumni of
Hobart and William Smith Colleges and (along with myself) former students of Lee Quinby. Erickson and Rich were telling Lee about the film they were envisioning, a documentary about the blues revolving around Clarksdale MS's annual Sunflower Blues and Gospel Festival, Lee got in touch with me. We had just finished up another film, Facing The Waves and were ready to jump into another!

You've chosen to showcase a number of my favorite artists- Super Chikan, T-Model Ford, Jimbo Mathus, and Sharde Thomas (who is carrying on the Fife and Drum tradition of her late Grandfather Othar Turner). What was it about these artists that drew you to include them in True Delta, and who else can we expect to see in the film?  Also I was delighted to see  Mr. Johnny Billington and his Delta Blues Education Program / Blues To Schools program make an appearance in True Delta. As you know, Mr. Johnny feels that if you can get a guitar in a kids hand before the crack or meth dealer can get a pipe in it, the kid might stand a chance of survival. Tell us about your experience with the indefatigable and spry Mr. Johnny Billington.

Each of the Artists we include in the film reverberate an intensity, an energy unique to their experience, whether younger or older. We also wanted to show the range of sound in Delta musicians and how the music is still being transformed.

Our focus was more on Mr. Johnny, but I can say that The Blues to Schools program helps teach kids about the Blues, the cultural history of the area and even how to fix lawn-mowers, its pretty much a course in LIFE. Mr. Johnny is hugely respected in the area as a Bluesman and beacon of light. 

At 36 minutes this is a short-form documentary. With that time constraint is there anyone you wanted in the film but just couldnt fit? Anything else you'd like folks to know about the film?

The 36 minutes wasn't a time constraint but what worked given the footage we were able to capture. Producing a documentary is a lesson in humility as there are basic limits to what one can guess the story will be. We went out and shot a ton - collectively over 60 hours of footage. The story that we distilled came out to 36 minutes. Is there a logic behind this? No. But as Jimbo Mathus says in our film, "try to write a Charlie Patton melody down, you can't do it!"

True Delta offers a very rare glimpse of an American cultural bedrock at a time of its struggle and massive transition. Two weeks after we left, a performer in the film, a Clarksdale native, Foster Wiley (Mr. Tater the Music Maker), passed away. A few months after that, Big Jack Johnson, another featured performer, passed. As far as we know, this is some of that last footage of these greats ever captured. And for those who care about the Blues, seeing the next generation of musicians, the kids who have learned from Mr. Johnny and the Delta Blues Arts and Ed program under the tutelage of heroes like Bill"Howl-N-Madd" Perry will be an exciting look into what the music form may mean as a music genre and American culture in the future.

* In 1999 I had the pleasure/work out of assisting Mr. Johnny in a Blues To Schools program at UF. After the kids he'd taught all week to play the blues, had played the blues, I played drums behind Mr. Johnny with my pal Dub on bass and UF gallery director Jim Wyman on guitar. We played for over four hours non-stop.