- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - While it pays homage to the area’s farming culture, the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival also celebrates the Delta blues and the bluesmen who have long been sitting on their front porches, singing and playing music.

This year, the festival is dedicated to two such Delta bluesmen: Leonard McIntosh and George Allen, said Billy Johnson, curator of the Highway 61 Blues Museum. The festival runs Friday through Sunday.

“Mississippi is being touted now as the birthplace of America’s music, and people like George Allen and Leonard McIntosh, they can play jazz, blues, country, gospel. They just have a feel for the music,” Johnson said. “Both of those guys, it didn’t matter, musically, what kind of situation you put them in, they were always going to excel. It’s just rare talent they both had.”

McIntosh, a Greenville native who at 71 still plays every Thursday at Lillo’s Restaurant in Leland, said he was more shocked than anything when he found out the festival was honoring him this year.

“I was surprised because I’m the backup guy for most musicians and bands,” he said. “I’m not the leader of the band, but I have played in a bunch of bands.”

McIntosh, a saxophonist, has rocked ‘n’ rolled alongside artists, including Albert King, John Horton, Johnny Taylor and Bobby Bland.

Leonard McIntosh has been an integral part of the music scene in the Delta for 40 years,” Johnson said. “He’s one of those rare musicians that all the other musicians want to play with because he makes their bands better.”

At the festival on Saturday, McIntosh will take the Highway 61 Blues Stage with Jamie Isonhood.

“I’m excited,” he said, adding that he wasn’t able to attend the inaugural festival on the banks of the Mississippi River at Warfield Point Park.

His love for music, especially the blues, began at a young age, he said.

“I grew up in that environment, really,” he said. “I listened to the blues just about every day.”

And while he grew up listening to the blues, he didn’t realize the musical talent he had until grade school.

He was in third grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School when his band director, Winchester Davis, introduced him to the saxophone.

“He was a saxophone player, himself,” McIntosh said.

He hasn’t put the saxophone down since, he said, adding that he doesn’t often sing.

It was said Allen, who died in 2010 at age 61, could hold his own with anyone when it came to blues and funk music, though he always loved traditional country music.

Born in Greenville to a musical family rumor has it that those family members who weren’t as musically talented were called “suspects” Allen played several instruments.

“Like many other kids of the era, George spent his teenage years in various garage’ bands first on guitar and even keyboards,” his biography at the Highway 61 Blues Museum reads.

It continues, “He was soon drawn to his true calling the bass guitar quickly becoming quite proficient on it.”

His skills on the bass guitar were quickly noticed by others. Over the years, he worked with or played alongside well-known artists, including producer and musician Jim Dickinson. He also joined several bands, including the Electric Cyrkus in 1969. The band moved to Jackson, where they too caught the ears of many. Before long, they became the band for B.J. Thomas, a well-known recording artist.

“When B.J. left, the band was quickly signed by Polydor Records, re-named Mississippi Rain’ and promptly set out touring across the country,” according to his bio at the museum.

When Mississippi Rain disbanded, Allen and a group of other musicians created Sassy Jones. Later in life, Allen learned how to play the acoustic guitar and began singing and writing country music.

“Listening to George Allen and a band with George on bass and Duff Dorrough on guitar is as Delta as it ever got,” Johnson said. “They could just switch from one style of music to another effortlessly. They were fan favorites, and everybody wanted to play with those two guys. Those two guys were always at the forefront of people wanting to play with them.”

The inaugural Mighty Mississippi Music Festival was dedicated to T-Model Ford, Eugene Powell and Lawrence “Shine” Thornton.

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Information from: Delta Democrat-Times, https://www.ddtonline.com


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