Focused on Mississippi: Duck Holmes and the Blue Front Cafe

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Walt Grayson is here to start our week as he is every Monday at 6pm. And we’re going to a place where they play the blues.

BUT… the only thing “blue” about the Blue Front Café is the front of the building. Kind of a happy place, huh Walt.

Well, the Blue Front Café and the blues played there have made the owner, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes anything but blue.

His hours are long every day.

“If I don’t get here at 7 o’clock or 6:30 there’s something wrong. And I’m going to stay ‘till the last person leaves at night.”

That’s Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, the owner of the Blue Front Café in Bentonia. He got the nickname “duck” when he was a child and walked bow-legged. He outgrew the walk, but never outgrew the nickname. Nor has he outgrown the Blue Front Café. His parents opened it the year after he was born.

“I pretty much grew up in here. Sleep at the house but I live here. Seriously.”

Those who keep up with these kinds of things say the Blue Front Café is the oldest original juke joint in Mississippi.

“I don’t argue that because I don’t research it.”

Something else Jimmy says he doesn’t research is the fact that he is pretty much the last person who plays what is known as the Bentoina style of blues. Skip James played it. This man, Jack Owens taught it to Duck.

“And it bothered him because he couldn’t read nor write. So he couldn’t tell me an A chord or E or whatever. It bothered him.”

Jimmy told me he didn’t start out with a desire to play the guitar. But it has taken him places he never thought he’d see, invited to play all over the world.

“South America, Bolivia, Canada, Europe several times.”

He may sing the blues. But the Blues has given Jimmy “Duck” Holmes a life many could only imagine, traveling to places a long way from Bentonia.

“The guitar got me down there.”

Not only has Mr. Holmes been all over the world as an ambassador of Mississippi and our music, but people from all over the world also come to the Blue Front Café on pretty much a daily basis.

“All over the world. Had someone come in from Johannesburg, South Africa said he has set, put it on his schedule to come to see the Blue Front a year ago.”

To the folks in Bentonia, the Blue Front Café is still what it has always been, a place to go meet up and visit. But because of the Blues Trail and the worldwide popularity of Delta Blues, there’s no telling who they’ll be visiting with when they get there nowadays.

One more place the guitar has taken Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, is to the Mississippi postage stamp. That’s his hands playing the guitar. He graciously autographed a sheet of those stamps for me while I was there.

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