Alum Documentary “True Delta,” Premiers – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Alum Documentary “True Delta,” Premiers

“True Delta,” a film produced by Erickson Blakney’87 premiered at the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Col., over Memorial Day Weekend. “Telluride Inside and Out” included a review of the film in advance of its showing in May.

The film’s website describes “True Delta” as “a cinematic snapshot of the Blues tradition that remains vibrant in and around Clarksdale, Mississippi–the renowned birthplace of the Blues. The film captures the excitement of festival audiences that come from all over the world and the sweaty bravado and skill of the Blues musicians and singers on stage.”

In addition to Blakney, there are other HWS connections to the film: Rich Maloof ’88 helped develop the concept for the film with Blakney. The film was co-directed by Daniel Cowen and Lee Quinby, a distinguished lecturer at Macaulay Honors College, CUNY. Quinby served as the Donald R. Harter Chair in the Humanities Professor at HWS for more than 20 years. Maloof and Blakney were both students of hers and told her of their idea for the documentary. “True Delta” also has an accompanying book of photography featuring the work of Mike Scanlan ’86, who attended Hobart.

The documentary features interviews that demonstrate how the Blues is intertwined with “the religious, economic, and cultural life of the Delta region,” as well as interviews of Blues musicians and singers ranging in age from 10 to 90. Among the musicians featured in the movie are James “Super Chikan” Johnson, James Lewis “T-Model” Ford, Grammy award-winner James “Jimbo” Mathus, Guitarist/Vocalist Bill “Howl-n-Madd” Perry and the late “Big Jack” Johnson.

In August, “True Delta” will be featured in Clarksdale at the 25th Annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.

Blakney is currently a writer, editor and reporter for CBS News, and a media trainer for the University of Delaware. He earned a B.A. in English from Hobart College.

Maloof is an independent publishing professional based in New York. He earned a B.A. in English from Hobart.

The full article by “Telluride Inside and Out” follows. A trailer of the film is online.


Telluride Inside and Out
“EB” Brings “TRUE DELTA” Blues to Mountain Film

Susan Viebrock • May 22, 2012

Editor’s note: Multi-media happening includes documentary, music and musicians, and an exhibit of still photography by Mike Scanlan. “True Delta” screens Friday, May 25, 9:15 p.m., Nugget Theatre and again on Sunday, May 27, 4 p.m., Masons Hall. Photos on display at the Kamruz Gallery during Mountainfilm’s Gallery Walk, Friday, May 25, starting at 3:30 p.m. Bill “Howl-n-Madd” Perry rocks the joint post screenings and also appears at various presenter’s forums. EB Blakney, Daniel Cowen, Mike and Howlin, the Lucky Find team, are in town for the weekend.

Who among us has not been there at least once?

I’m talking about a dusty old bar stool in a dusty old club at the darkest part of the day, beer in hand, listening to music the whole world should hear, but hardly anyone else is in the room? But then how many of you have turned that experience into a movie? Erickson (EB) Blakney did. And his “True Delta” is one of 70 or so featured films at the 34th annual Mountainfilm in Telluride, May 25 – May 28, 2012.

The seed was planted on one of those nights in the summer of ’09 when EB was visiting Clarksdale, the renowned birthplace of the blues.

“Red’s Lounge at the corner of Sunflower and Martin Luther King was so dark and decrepit I didn’t think it was open. It was, although I was among a crowd of four people, including owner Red Paden himself, masked behind a pair of black-dark shades. I soon settled in with a bottle of Bud. On stage that night was a lean, tallish, young man soulfully uttering a few lyrics while masterfully ‘plunking a guitar.’ All the while I kept imaging W. C. Handy waiting for a train at the Tutwiler depot. The experience was quite extraordinary. It was a warm Delta evening and there I was, just me and my beer for company, parked in a space plastered with dated posters, a peeling floor, collapsing ceiling, and a jumble of chairs and tables.

I was listening to a guitarist of exceptional talent and essentially, I didn’t have to share him with anybody. It was my own private, live blues concert. A question popped into my head:‘Where is everybody?’ Because they’re really missing something quite special.”

Back home in New York, EB, whose day job is broadcast journalist for CBS News, met up with a classmate from Hobart College. Rich Maloof is a past editor of Guitar Magazine. The duo knocked around several ideas about the blues.

Several years before, EB had become familiar with the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival several years before. Sometimes referred to as “the purest blues festival” because its aim is to showcase Mississippi musicians.

“Fast forward to August 2010, the weekend of the festival. It was a whirlwind of filming, interviewing, jawboning, cajoling, networking and darting to, what felt like, all points in and around the Delta.”

That was the weekend ‘True Delta” became EB and Rich’s love child.
“True Delta” is a cinematic snapshot of the tradition that remains vibrant in Clarksdale and beyond. (Check out the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival this September for example.) The documentary captures the sweaty bravado and skill of blues musicians and singers in performance. Additional interviews with church leaders, blues historians, and local business owners show how blues, religion, economics and cultural are woven together to form a colorful tapestry of life in the Delta. The footage also includes interviews with musicians and singers, ages 10 – 90, who reveal their commitment, their struggles, their deep passion for the genre, among them, guitarist/vocalist James “Super Chikan” Johnson, James Lewis “T-Model” Ford, Grammy Award-winner James “Jimbo” Mathus, the late “Big Jack” Johnson, and Bill “Howl-n-Madd” Perry.

With his raw, emotive guitar-playing, and his gutsy, gravelly vocals, “Howl-n-Madd” joins EB and the Lucky Find team in Telluride. Get ready to get down: the man plans “rock- the-juke” following the screenings.

“True Delta” is also comes with a book of photography featuring the work of Mike Scanlan, who tells a beautiful story that partly mirrors the film. (In keeping with “True Delta’s themes, a percentage of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Delta Blues Museum’s Arts and Education Fund and the Mississippi Blues Foundation’s Musicians’ Aid Fund. )