THE PANOLIAN BATESVILLE MISSISSIPPI JULY 18, 2019
‘Crossroads’ coming to Como
By Katie Krouse (https://www.panolian.com/author/katie.krouse/)
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Published 4:37 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Continuing their late fall tour of libraries in Panola County, Drs. Rebecca Jernigan and Wendy Garrison
will bring “Robert Johnson at the Crossroads” to the historic Emily Pointer Library in Como Thursday
(Dec.13) at 4:30 p.m.
In colorful costumes Garrison and Jernigan retell the tale of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. Tandem
telling with music, drama and sign language, they recount his fateful encounter with the prince of darkness
at the crossroads of the Mississippi Delta.
They will round out their performance with holiday stories for the young and young at heart. Their tour is
funded by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council Speakers’ Bureau.
Jernigan and Garrison have performed together in the public schools for grades 4th through high school,
at the BB King Museum in Indianola, the Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers’ Institute, in Theater Oxford
productions, the Tupelo Arts Showcase, for the Word and Music Series in Pass Christian, at the Oxford
Community Market, and at the Double Decker Storyfest.
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For the education department of Delta State they offered a hands-on workshop for area teachers on arts
integration. In October they entertained for the Oxford/Lafayette County Library and will round out their
tour of “Robert Johnson at the Crossroads” for Panola County Libraries in Batesville, Como, and
Crenshaw. The performances are free.
Jernigan is an actress with notable credits. Some of her film credits include “The Client,” “Ode to Billy Joe,”
and most recently “Texas Heart.” In September she starred in the Theatre Oxford production of “On
Garrison is profiled in the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Mississippi Folk life & Folk Arts Directory as a red
clay hills slide guitarist. She honed her signature style as an apprentice to Mississippi Blues artist Bill
Howl-N-Madd Perry, performing around North Mississippi with Perry and his band. She regularly gigs
around the region and has appeared at the King Biscuit Blues Festival as a street musician.
Tupelo Daily Journal, August 20, 2017
Oxonian obsessed with slide guitar | Lifestyle | djournal.com 8/20/17, 8:06 AM
Oxonian obsessed with slide guitar
By M. Scott Morris Daily Journal Aug 20, 2017
OXFORD – After moving to Mississippi more than 20 years ago, WendyJean Garrison fell in love with slide guitar. “When I came here, there was a blues archive,” she said, “so I went to see if anybody could teach me.”A retired biology professor, Wendy Jean Garrison spends her free time practicing on her Taylor guitar. She does solo gigs and performs with Maybelle’s Lovers, a four-woman group based in Oxford. These days, the Taylor guitar she bought in the ‘80s is tuned to an openE chord, and she bends notes at will. “It’s an obsession,” she said. “I like to practice. I’ll set a timer for the next half hour and I don’t have to worry about anything. A half hour goes bylike nothing, so I go for another half hour and just keep going.”She and her husband moved to Oxford to work at the University of Mississippi. She’s now retired from the Biology Department, so she has more time to focus on music. Sometimes, there’s just a sound I want to get, so I play around with it,” Garrison said. “There are so many different ways to do it.” She can dive into the internet to find tutorials or learn from other guitarists in person, but she also has to trust what works for her. “I put the slide on my pinky finger, but I notice a lot of people have it on their ring fingers,” Garrison said. “I guess there’s a wrong way and a right way. I guess I’ll do it the way I learned it.”
She moves the metal slide up and down the neck of her acoustic guitar, which is connected to an amplifier with a detachable pickup. Though it can seem like a free-wheelin’ style of play, Garrison said it requires precision to get the sound she wants. She compared it to a runner on a baseball diamond: “You have to justland on home plate. You can’t go to the left of it. You can’t go to the right of it. You can’t stop before you get there.”
Her dedication to her craft has been winning over listeners for years. The memory of the first stranger to compliment her slide guitar skills still makes her smile.“I don’t remember the exact day,” she said, “but I remember the feelingof them saying, ‘Wow, that’s neat." Her playing also has won the respect of fellow musicians. A few years ago, Garrison applied for a Mississippi Arts Commission program but wasn’t accepted. However, a staff member suggested she ake part in a mentoring program.
MAC paid blues musician Bill “Howlin’ Mad” Perry from Abbeville a stipend to help Garrison develop her sound.“The first time I met him, he said, ‘So, Wendy, meet us in the parking lot of Kroger. We’ll take you to a gig in Indianola,’” she said. “It was an oldjuke joint sort of place. That was really neat. We really hit it off. He is a wonderful mentor.”
During his career, Perry had spent time as a studio musician, where he was called upon to play funk, R&B and jazz that could involve complicated chord work. But when teaching other people the blues, he sticks with something he’d learned from one of his early mentors. “When I was young, some of the older guys I met were in their 40s and 50s,” Perry said. “One of them told me I needed to know a four-letter word, ‘KISS.’ I said, ‘Kiss?’ He said, ‘No, keep it simple, stupid.’” Three chords have a seemingly infinite ability to entertain audiences,Perry said.
“Everybody’s got it in them,” he said. “It’s the way you approach what you’re doing. Some can make it easy and some can make it hard. The simpler the music, the more people can relate to it.” He and Garrison talked about the blues and played plenty of musictogether, and Perry could tell his lessons were sinking in. “To show you how much confidence we had in what she was doing, my daughter, Shy, was working on a CD at the time,” Perry said. “On one of the tracks, Wendy was playing guitar, so she fit right in.”
These days, Garrison performs with Maybelle’s Lovers, a four-woman band named in honor of “Mother” Maybelle Carter. Most of their gigsare in and around Oxford, so they lug their equipment around town.“We like it if the place has a PA system,” she said, “but then you have to figure out how to operate the PA system.”
She knows the frustration of playing for a crowd that clearly isn’t interested, and she’s been disappointed when a hoped-for gig failed to materialize.
Nobody ever said a musician’s life would be easy, but it has its compensations, even if money isn’t one of them. “They come up to you after the show,” she said. “Sometimes, people will tell me they wish they didn’t give up guitar. Or they’ll say something reminds them of a song they used to listen to. You just hope to get areaction that’s different.” The group plays cover versions of songs by Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., Townes Van Zandt and others. Gina Sexton, lead vocalist, also writes songs, and Garrison and the rest of the band, Robbie Ethridge on bass and Jenny Gordon Thompson on drums, help with the music. “We’re able, for whatever reason, to work well together,” she said. Garrison, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, also plays solo gigs. She’s scheduled to perform in downtown Gulfport on Sept.12-13. At noon Oct. 12, she’ll provide the music while actress Alice Walker performs Blanche DuBois’s death monologues from “A Streetcar Named Desire” during the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festivalin Clarksdale.“We’re going to play in a cemetery,” Garrison said, “so that should be fun.”
Usually, Garrison likes to dress the part when she performs. She’s got her cowboy boots and a closet full of sparkly clothes that shed sequins around her house. “I like to wear sequins because people expect it,” she said. “They want it and expect it when the lights are shining down on you.” Up on stage, Garrison can cut loose or take it slow, depending on what
the song requires, and whatever she plays has a precise, free-wheelin’ quality she continues to cultivate and refine.
“There’s always more to learn – always,” she said. “You never stop learning.”
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Garrison loves blues
by Reid Posey
Published 6:00 am Sunday, May 22, 2016
The week that local slide guitarist Wendy Jean Garrison first moved to Mississippi in 1987, she had a chance encounter that would impact the rest of her life.
“I was sitting there on campus, and I didn’t know anybody,” Garrison said. “I had just happened to have read about the Blues Archive, and I went over there and asked if anybody could teach me some blues. That was the beginning.”
In truth, Garrison’s musical beginnings can be traced back to years before her fateful trip to the Blues Archive. When she was a child, her grandfather gave her family a grand piano, and soon her father and the rest of the family were taking piano lessons. Upon reaching her teenage years, however, Garrison asked her parents for a guitar. Her parents agreed to rent a guitar and place her in lessons to see if she would stick it out, and after seeing Garrison’s commitment, relented and bought Garrison her own guitar.
Growing up in Maryland, Garrison wasn’t exposed to the blues until later in her life.
“Before I moved here, I just had only the vaguest notion of what blues was,” she said.
After going to the Blues Archive and asking around for lessons, Garrison was directed to Rust College, where a blues and gospel event was being held. After these first encounters with these new styles of music, Garrison began to soak in more of the culture, and over the years, she has found that her involvement in music has opened a variety of opportunities for her.
“It’s a way of going places and being a part of things I might not have been a part of before, like this mentorship I did with Bill ‘Howl-N-Madd’ Perry,” Garrison said. “I got to go up to his place in Abbeville, and hang around with him and his family, and travel with his blues band.”
Eventually, Garrison was even able to play with Perry’s daughter, Shy Perry, on one of Shy’s albums.
Garrison has been playing in live settings since 1996, when she was involved with a group called High Water Mark, with whom she played at several local bars, including the now-defunct venue Blind Jim’s.
She currently plays with the recently reformed four-piece outfit Maybelle’s Lovers, named after “Mother” Maybelle Carter, the matriarch of the famous Carter Family musical group and an artist whom Garrison and her group frequently cover. Joining her in Maybelle’s Lovers are Gina Sexton on guitar and vocals, Robbie Ethridge on bass guitar, and Jenny Gordon on drums.
Additionally, Garrison also collaborates with Shaundi Wall, who plays snare drum and provides vocals to accompany Garrison’s guitar. Together, the two have played Sarahfest, hosted by the University of Mississippi’s Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, in addition to receiving an invitation to play at the Tupelo Arts Showcase.
Although Garrison has worked with a variety of musicians from Oxford and the surrounding areas, there are still a few artists in particular with whom she would like to collaborate.
“I’d like to play with Tyler Keith, because I really admire his songwriting, and his playing and everything,” she said. “The other person I’d like to play with is Morgan Pennington.”
Another outlet Garrison has found for her music is her church, Pine Flat United Methodist Church.
“After I joined the church, after awhile, I asked them if it would be all right if I played ‘In the Garden’ on my guitar,” she said. “As soon as I did it, they really liked it. It just made that connection with them that I might not have had otherwise.”
Although she did not grow up in an overly religious household, Garrison can point to one moment from a childhood vacation to the Jersey Shore that helped to shape her future affection for gospel music.
“There was a thing called ‘The Sing.’ In the middle of the week, some ladies would go to a place and play the piano,” Garrison said. “We were little kids, and we would get to sing. I guess that was my introduction to being on stage. That got those gospel and church songs in my mind, and then I just thought it was so neat that grown-ups would just get together to sing just for the heck of it.”
Now, later in life, Garrison still finds a similar comfort and joy in this style of music.
“I really do connect with that music and with the moment in church. It’s just incredible,” she said.
It was at a church performance that Garrison received a gift that has allowed her to pursue yet another musical endeavor, the lap steel guitar. A woman from the church brought Garrison a stack of instructional books about the lap steel that her son had left behind at home, and Garrison bought the lap steel and began to learn the instrument, claiming to have a particular fondness for steel guitars, specifically the Nashville pedal steel sound.
In addition to the lap steel and the slide guitar, Garrison can also play the harmonica and the diddley bow, a single-stringed primitive precursor to the slide guitar, crediting her early exposure to the piano and music theory for her ability to make sense of a variety of instruments.
Now that she has retired from her position as a professor of biology at the University of Mississippi, Garrison is looking to channel her time into an increase in productivity for her music.
“I’m not doing that anymore, so I have full time to do music, and I’m hoping to do it in Oxford and travel around North Mississippi to do it,” she said.
Moving forward, Garrison is preparing to venture into more solo territory and looking for opportunities to play various types of events, whether it be private parties, art gallery openings or any occasion along those lines.
Interestingly, Garrison admitted that one of her favorite types of events to play is wedding rehearsal dinners, enjoying her role in elevating what could be a simple, straightforward dinner into something closer to a party, which is a function that she looks forward to performing in any number of settings moving forward.
“If you’re having an event, I’d like to rock it a little bit.”