The Devil and his Blues: James “Son Ford” Thomas

“The blues is nothing but the Devil,” James Thomas (here) once said. “If you play spirituals, and you used to play the blues, the next thing you know, the Devil gets in you, and you’re going to start right back playing the blues. You can’t serve the Lord and the Devil, too.” All photographs courtesy of the William R. Ferris Collection in the Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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The Devil and his Blues: James “Son Ford” Thomas

by William R. Ferris
Southern Cultures, Vol. 15, No. 3: Music

"You can't always go by what them preachers say, because right now some of them drink more whiskey than me."

Leland was my gateway to the world of Mississippi Delta blues. It was here during the summer of 1968 that I first met James “Son Ford” Thomas, a gifted musician, storyteller, and sculptor. We became friends, and our lives remained closely tied together for over twenty-six years until his death in 1993. Allen Ginsberg referred to Thomas as “my guru,” a description that clearly fit the work we did together over the years. Thomas was a regular visitor and performer in my classes at Jackson State University, Yale University, and the University of Mississippi.