New life for old interviews: Some Atlanta music & journalism history

Eric King and Joel (J.T. Speed) Murphy at the Blind Willie's bar, Oct. 24, 1990. Photo by author.

Eric King (front)  and Joel (J.T. Speed) Murphy at the Blind Willie’s bar, Oct. 24, 1990. My recorder is on the bar. Photo by author.

Earlier this year I began taking steps towards completing a project that had its origins back in 1990. For a few hours the evening of October 24, 1990, Eric King and I consumed a fair amount of alcohol  and talked blues music and history at the bar of his Atlanta club, Blind Willie’s. At the time, I wrote a blues column for a short-lived alt-weekly, Footnotes. I had been spending lots of time in Willie’s and I had wanted to interview King for background material for future stories.

Footnotes folded in the spring of 1991 and I went on to write for Creative Loafing and the now-defunct Atlanta Daily News until I returned to Philadelphia and graduate school later that fall. By then I was freelancing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Charlotte Observer, and other newspapers around the nation.

Charlie Musselwhite performs at Blind Willie's, Feb. 21, 1991. Photo by author.

Charlie Musselwhite performs at Blind Willie’s, Feb. 21, 1991. Photo by author.

I hadn’t seen King since leaving Atlanta in 1991. In 2012, we bought a house across the street from King in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood and I dug out the audio and rough transcript from the 1990 interview intent on polishing them up to give him for a Christmas gift. (Read the 1990 interview transcript.)

Eric King-CD Case insert

Eric King interview CD case insert. Two copies were burned on archival CD: one for King and a second for the Atlanta History Center.

Revisiting my old Atlanta interview files gave me an idea to donate them to the Atlanta History Center. But, because the interviews were a couple of decades old and I had done them as a journalist trying to make a few extra bucks while finishing graduate school, they lacked some essential paperwork that would allow me to donate the transcripts as oral history documents.

Li'l Ed Williams performs at Blind Willies, Mar. 17, 2013. Photo by author.

Li’l Ed Williams performs at Blind Willies, Mar. 17, 2013. Photo by author.

After contacting the Atlanta History Center to see if they would be interested in archiving the materials — they were — I got the appropriate release and biography forms necessary to make the transcripts available to researchers. I then set out to find the Atlantans I had interviewed in the early 90s to get the forms signed.

Blind Willie's at dusk. The guitar neon toting gator is a recognizable image on Atlanta's Highland Avenue.

Blind Willie’s at dusk. The neon guitar-toting gator is a recognizable image on Atlanta’s Highland Avenue. June 2013, Photo by author.

I reported on the efforts to locate the people and their results in a pair of History@Work posts on the National Council for Public History’s blog:

New uses for old interviews (February 13, 2013)
New uses for old interviews II: Wrapping it up (June 24, 2013)

As for Footnotes, its writers moved on to other publications like Creative Loafing. Many, like myself, were holding bounced checks for freelance work we did before the paper went out of print. The week after Footnotes disappeared from local bars, music stores, restaurants, and bookstores, its publisher, Brian Barrett, published an “open letter” in Creative Loafing:


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