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The man responsible for the most famous last name in rock music lays in an unmarked grave. Obscured beneath the trees, bushes and underbrush of Sanford’s White Oak AME Zion Cemetery resides the final resting place of bluesman Floyd Council.
Why would people around the globe have a clue about a musician who never recorded a full LP? Back in the mid-60s, Syd Barrett read the liner notes on “Blind Boy Fuller: Country Blues 1935-1949. Among the names mentioned as greats of the Piedmont Blues were Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Barrett joined their names to create Pink Floyd. Many DJs simplify them as “The Floyd.”
How can a man whose name is emblazoned on millions of albums, t-shirts and black light posters not have a tombstone with his name?
The Floyd Council Memorial Project’s primary mission is to locate, restore and mark Floyd’s grave site. The project is spearheaded by musician Bullfrog Willard McGhee. They want to do more than just put up a memorial. “The object here is to build some community to get some people involved in the regional blues tradition in North Carolina,” McGhee said. The first of their fundraising projects is “Pink & Mr. Floyd” a compilation CD featuring the songs from both namesake inspirations performed by regional blues musicians. The album launch party is Thursday (December 1) at Amplified Arts in downtown Raleigh.
The album features Boo Hanks, John D. Holeman, Lightnin’ Wells, Tad Walters and Bullfrog Willard McGhee. The artists represent a wide span of ages and experiences as Blues performers. They all ended up in Sound Writes Studio to record with Steve “Tooch” Tucci at the controls.
“Tad Walters is a Raleigh boy. He traveled for years with Bob Margolin,” McGhee said. Margolin backed Muddy Waters on guitar from 1973 to 1980. “Lightinin’ Wells has great hands and sense of style and timing. He’s a good natured genius.”
“John D. Holeman lives over in Durham. He’s been a fixture over there,” McGhee declared. “We sit around and talk what it was like to when he was a kid standing on the sidewalk in front of Blind Boy Fuller playing in haze of the pig smokers of the BBQ joints on Fayetteville Street. It was a favorite place of Gary Davis, Sonny Terry and Blind Boy Fuller. Holeman would talk about standing on the sidewalk and watching Fuller’s hands. I want to be there in that moment.” “Boo Hanks lives up there on the border at Virgilina,” McGhee said. “He plays the hell out of the blues. He was in there for an hour straight talking about all his little women,” Tooch injected. What’s remarkable is that for a man in his 80s, he’d had a full day before picking up his guitar. “He had already been in a tobacco field putting up tobacco for eight hours and drove to get here,” Bullfrog said. Hanks wasn’t a bit fatigued in the studio. At the end of the session McGhee asked, “Let’s just do a couple for security.” Hanks replied, “I’ll do the whole thing again.”
“John D. Holeman is 87 and Boo Hanks is 83,” Tucci said. “They both wear it well and they’re both wonderful men,” included McGhee.
A major influence on McGhee and Tucci’s approach in the studio was the lack of recordings made by Floyd Council. They weren’t going to cut a session short. They recorded 50 songs with the various musicians. They were able to put together "Blues Under the Bottle Tree" featuring other memorable songs of the Piedmont Blues musicians. “We went with let’s get as much as possible,” Tucci said. Some of these guys, you never know when they’re going to record again or if they’re going to record again.”
Floyd’s recording career started when Blind Boy Fuller took him up to New York City for a session in 1937. Floyd served as second guitar on the records. Floyd was impressive enough to get his shot as a solo artist. Strangely enough, for a man whose first name would be attached to multi-platinum records, his own labels wouldn’t let him be known as Floyd. His work with Fuller and three solo singles got too creative with his name.
“They billed him as Blind Boy Fuller’s Buddy. They billed him as the Devil’s Daddy-In-Law since it was working out so well for Petey Wheatstraw as the Devil’s Son-in-Law. They released some records as Dipper Boy,” McGhee said. “If he had a nickname it was Mr. Floyd. It was the record company trying to figure out how to capitalize on Fuller’s popularity and bounce Floyd up a ladder. I don’t think those records got any traction.”
Floyd Council was not able to capitalize of his new found fame when Pink Floyd became superstars with “Dark Side of the Moon.” Health issues including a stroke had impaired his ability to play and sing. Musical historian Peter Lowry recorded Floyd in 1970, but nothing was released from the session. Council passed away in 1976 from a heart attack. McGhee has no clue what Floyd thought of Pink Floyd. He figures Lowry would know the answer, but he has yet to respond to McGhee’s emails and letters.
McGhee has been a historical detective locating details of Floyd’s life and final resting place. Nowadays we know way too much about a performer thanks to gossip magazines, zealous publicists, VH1’s “Behind the Music” and Twitter. But so much of Council’s life is mystery. “It’s easy to fill in the gaps with your imagination. I personally have to be mindful because I want to fill in those gaps to make them exciting.” The popular myth seemed to be that Floyd had been buried in a pauper’s grave. Turn out Floyd had paid for the plot. He just never bought a headstone.
What bothered McGhee for the longest time was the lack proper map for the White Oak AME Zion Cemetery. None of the officials he approached knew or were concerned by it. McGhee’s been relentless in uncovering the location of Council’s grave. He doesn’t want to pick a random spot for a memorial. During one fact finding trip to the library in Sanford where a pal stumbled upon a great resource about Council. Turns out in the phone book has a listing for Floyd Council. Jr. It’s his son. McGhee thought Floyd had died childless. Thanks to the help of Floyd’s son and others, McGhee knows how to find the plot. The problem is that the neglected cemetery is so overgrown that he can’t get near the space. There will be a lot of work to clear the grounds, but McGhee is up to the challenge.
“It’s turned into my Eagle Scout project. He’s been out there for 34 years. If it hadn’t happened yet, somebody better do something. I elected me and started talking to people. At first it was a fairly modest project.” He was going to see if the state would put up a historical sign on the highway. But they threw up roadblocks about policy for marking cemeteries and how famous was Floyd Council really was. The state would be little help. McGhee realized he needed to round up folks to help clean up the graveyard and give Floyd a proper memorial.
Suitably fitting, the single being promoted to Blues radio shows from the record is “Keep My Grave Clean.” “Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded it initially. Pink Anderson recorded it for “Carolina Bluesmen” in the ‘60s so it fit in the project,” McGhee said.
For those curious, Pink Anderson does have a marked grave in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“Pink & Mr. Floyd” will be available at the Art Exhibit and Reception for the Floyd Council Memorial Project on Thursday (December 1). The event starts at 7 p.m. The launch party will include paintings, sculptures, illustrations and even a few photographs of Floyd Council, Pink Anderson and other Piedmont blues musicians. The artists include Phil Blank, Ryan Miller, Tim Lee, Jeff Magner, Eric Manning, Dave Brainard, Hannah Pearce and Willard McGhee. John D. Holeman and Tad Walters should be at the reception. McGhee and Boo Hanks are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m.
Amplified Art is located on 325 Blake Street, Raleigh, NC 27601. For more information call 919-745-1238.
For information on the memorial project see: http://floydcouncil.com/
To contribute to this cause use the following link to the Questell Foundation site: http://www.questellfoundation.org/donate.php
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