Saturday, October 20, 2007

James Corbett Morris a.k.a. Jimmy Driftwood

Jimmy took his last name from a joke his father played on his mother when he was born, handing her a bundle of driftwood wrapped up in a blanket instead of her new son. The term "larger than life" has never been more appropriately applied to a human being. I wasn't in Winfield in '67, but I got to see him in '69 at a Woody Guthrie Memorial that had to be moved to Oklahoma City when the town of Okemah denied the organizers a permit. The stage vibrated when Jimmy walked across it, some kind of inner tremor from a faultline that leads straight back to Stone County, Arkansas. The air did a slow buck-dance in anticipation of his crouching frame as his mouth bow commenced to call out like some old heeler clear down at the end of the draw out to Timbo. It wasn't music that come out of this man so much as it was the beginning of music, the newly born heart of music, the eternal soul of music wrapped up in a bundle of sticks.

It might have been the first trance of my young life.

In the second photograph, Jimmy can be seen holding his trademark guitar, the one he learned to play on and which he used in all of his concerts and in all of his recording sessions. It was made by his grandfather from a fence rail, an old ox yoke, and the headboard of his grandmothers bed. With him are two young gentlemen who were a big part of the driving force behind this festival: On the left is Sam Ontjes, festival director, who lives now in Hutchinson, Kansas, on the right is Stuart Mossman, guitar builder, who died in 1999. Not today, but someday, both men will be recognized as co-founders of the Walnut Valley Festival.


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