Cootie Stark & Neal "Big Daddy" Pattman - Timothy Duffy
Cootie Stark is "the real success story of the foundation," says Timothy Duffy. "I met him in the spring of '97 and that same year he was headlining the Newport R&B Festival with Aretha Franklin, had been to Europe three times, spent the summer in the Hamptons... making lots of money." The blind guitarist and former streetsinger from Greenville, South Carolina, has an enormous repertoire that runs from Gary Davis tunes to soul classics to such unique songs as Jigroo-a New Orleans-style melody he picked up from an early guitar mentor.
A guitar will make you wild... young, you want to travel from town to town. That's right. And the hardships you had on the farm, you want to get away from there. Because I had it hard. I didn't have it hard as some people, but I think what I had, it was hard enough. The hardships I had I'm glad about it. I appreciate that. Because I know how to treat people. And I appreciate what people do for me, you see. If I would have had everything gived to me, how would I know how to be thankful? I wouldn't know... 'Cause everything was gived to me freely. Just like the generation of today. The generation not havin' no hard time. "Oh, I'm tired." No! They gettin' things easy... pushin' this electric. Now when I was at home in the country we had [a] water well. We used to go out and draw our water out the well, heat it up, make a fire in the stove or in the fireplace one and heat our water. Then my daddy used to take an old can, used an old molasses bucket, saw it down and make a tub for we to take a bath and wash our clothes... You know, them old folks, they really knowed how to make a way. The generation now don't know how to make no way. And them old people back in them days, they didn't have no education. But they had that brain, where they call it motherwit. They could make a way. And they could scrackle up food for you... They didn't have no cookin' book. They had their own brain to make a way to feed their family. And it be good. So I'm glad of the way I came up. And I'm glad the way my mama raised me, 'cause I know how to treat people. And I know how to feel for people... Folks don't love no more like they once to have been. Folks ain't got no love no more. Folks ain't got no time no more like they should have. In my hometown, in Greenville, I call it old phony love. That phony love not gonna work. You got to have the real love to make it in. God ain't nothin' phony. He's for real... That slickness ain't gonna work. That slickness'll catch up with you. That slickness will make you do many, many years behind the bar. Or sleep forever in your grave. I used to follow a preacher out to the prison, play for 'em on Sunday. And some of 'em be so pitiful. And some of 'em get on the chain gang from bein' accused of doin' somethin' and didn't do it, but it was the chain gang. Some of 'em be just as honest as they can be... Beans. Everyday beans. Wasn't no steak like they get today. And you didn't get no pay like the prisoners do now. There wasn't no shower. What shower? You go out there and let it rain on you... And people in that day wasn't as bad, 'cause people didn't want to go on the chain gang. Said, "Man, I ain't gettin' myself in no trouble. I been on a chain gang one time before and I ain't goin' back there no more." Well, now they don't mind goin' to jail, 'cause, "Man, I'm goin' home." See what I mean? "I'm goin' home. I won't have to work. Won't have to pay no rent. I'm goin' home, man. If I can take me a shower, watch TV, eat good food three time a day." They'll go around now and look for somethin' to do to get in trouble now. They don't want no responsibility. But when them shackles was on, man, you stayed out of it... Yes sir. I remember all of that. If they catch you, you are chain gang bound. And them women was penitentiary bound. That's right... And some of 'em can sing, it's so pitiful, boy, they can sing, boy, I'm tellin' you. They be pitchin' that shovel... Hah!... Liftin' that 25-pound hammer... Boom!... that's right. You don't wanna go back down there no more.
Old man, Tobe Hudson, started me off. He used to live across the creek from us. I was 14 years of age, and my daddy took and bought me a little guitar. My granddaddy was gonna buy me one, but he died 'fore he got it. So my daddy messed around and got me one... It wasn't tuned up, so it was a man used to go with my aunt, Aunt Bessie, his name was Will Cate, he tuned it up for me, he played around, you know, that night. He tuned it up in Vastopol. And I looked at him, that was at Christmas Eve. So that Christmas mornin' we went on to Mr. Tobe Hudson. And he played around all day, we ate, and had dinner and everything, he got back on the guitar and he showed me some things. And the first piece I struck, and that was Can't Make a Living On Sandy Land, that Sunday night. So he told me I had it, man, I was so glad I jumped straight up. And comin' down through the woods comin' home, man, I worried 'em [scats boogie]... All the way home. And [Mama] say, "Cootie, I done got sick of that. I'm sick of that noise." And I played and played, and Mama and them, they went to bed, and I set up by the old fireplace playin' [scats boogie]... Mama wake up, said, "Cootie, my God, boy, get in yonder and go on to bed. Go on to bed!" That mornin' about five o'clock I got up, I helped my brother and I made fire, went to the well and got some water. I washed up and everything... so, I got back on my guitar that mornin' and I played, and then Mama called me for breakfast, I put that guitar down and I ate, and when I got through I washed my hands off and went back on that guitar [scats boogie]...So I used to keep my guitar in my hand from the time my brother and them go to school and from the time when they come home. All day. So that's how bad I wanted to learn.
Well, there was a story that I heared a whole lot of people say, say you take your guitar, get you a chair, and go out to the fork in the road. But you got to be by yourself. You can't carry nothin' with you, nobody. And sit out there, and when the sun rise you come home you be playin' anything you want to. But I was gonna try that. One mornin' I woke up, it was rainin', then another mornin' I woke up, I was too late. But I was gonna try it. That's how brave I was, how bad I wanted to learn. But I did used to go in a dark room and close the door, I did all of that. They told me to do all of that to learn... and I believe it's true, 'cause I learnt on a Sunday. It was on a Sunday when I went out and the first piece I struck, it was on a Sunday... The best way to learn how to play an instrument is pick it up on a Sunday... And the best way to learn then, you gotta be by yourself, you don't let nobody bother you... You got to have your mind on just it.
[I was born] in Abbeville [S.C., on December 9, 1927]. I was raised up around Anderson County. I started on little streetcorners in Abbeville. Then I went to Anderson. I was about 16, 15, when I went to Greenville. My aunt used to live in Greenville. And I ran into Baby Tate. And I used to follow him around, you know, so far, 'cause I couldn't go with him far 'cause I was a kid. He had Willie Young on the rubboard and Fred Ellis on the little ol' four-string guitar before he bought him a bass, old Fred... And so [Baby Tate] showed me Little Lean Woman [Skinny Woman], oh man, I wanted to learn it right quick. But I couldn't. Well he told me, he say, "It ain't gonna be quick but you gonna learn." He said, "Cootie, that's why I don't mind showin' you, 'cause you are interested in learning." And I used to take my guitar and go on down on Spring Street [scats boogie] and make myself some money that way... When I become a real man, when I really started travelin' around, I went to Asheville [N.C.]... [I'd travel from town to town] on the Greyhound, Trailways, train... I'd play on different corners and things, and the police would run me off of there and I'd go to another 'un. That's the way I used to live. I got a permit and one of 'em, they took my permit, but that didn't stop my gift. I guess some of them dead and gone and I'm still here and I'm still playin'. I've been 'bused, I've been robbed, I've been kicked around, but I'm here. I used to live here and there. That's the way I wanted to live, to know what life all about. It wasn't easy. Sometimes I was hungry. But I made it. Peoples give me somethin' to eat, give me a good meal, then I move to another place and I might not get no real good meal... maybe Saltine crackers and sardines, cheese, pig skins. But I made it. I didn't worry mama and them about nothin'. I wanted mama and them to know that I could make it.