Alligator in Bolivar County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
Highway 61, "the blues highway," is lined with the birthplaces of blues, R&B, and gospel artists all along its route in Mississippi, and even small communities such as Alligator share in this proud musical legacy. Performers born or raised around Alligator include blues guitarists George "G. P." Jackson and Robert "Bilbo" Walker, singer Johnny Drummer (Thessex Johns), and the gospel and R&B group the Kelly Brothers. Delta blues icon Robert Johnson also lived in this area in 1930.
Alligator has a blues history that rivals that of many a larger town. Once a bustling business center, Alligator has had entertainment spots in town in addition to outlying country juke joints, plantation house parties and storefronts where musicians played as they traversed the surrounding Bolivar-Coahoma County communities, including Duncan, Shelby, New Africa and Clarksdale. The most famous area resident, Robert Johnson (c. 1911-1938), was enumerated (as a farmer) along with his wife Virginia, his half-sister Bessie Hines and her husband Granville in this district of Bolivar County in the U.S. census of 1930.
Robert “Bilbo” Walker, born on the Borden plantation in the New Africa area in 1937, grew up hearing acoustic blues around Alligator, before local musicians had amplified their instruments. Revelers juked to the music of guitarists Richard Veal and “Kokomo” and harmonica player Howard T. Johnson, Walker recalled. Walker, later billed as “Chuck Berry Jr.,” developed his own famously entertaining juke joint show by adding a rock ’n’ roll edge to his deep Delta blues. During stays in Chicago and Bakersfield, California, Walker, a cotton farmer and perpetual traveler, continued to return home to perform
Thessex Johns, who named himself “Johnny Drummer” while playing drums in Chicago, was born in Alligator in 1938. His stepfather, acoustic guitarist Daddy Hall, and Hall’s brothers Willie B. and Hollis played locally, and Drummer’s cousin, Tenry Johns (aka “King Kong Rocker,” b. 1946), had a band in Shelby before moving to Chicago. Drummer sang in Alligator’s Pleasant Valley Church with cousins Andrew (1932-2005), Curtis (b. 1935), and Robert Kelly (b. 1937), who also migrated to Chicago. The Kelly Brothers recorded both gospel and rhythm & blues, sometimes billed as the King Pins. Drummer performed as a sideman and bandleader while working at times for the Board of Education and the Chicago Police Department. Enhancing his stage act with keyboards and harmonica, he became a steady attraction in the South Side blues clubs, known primarily for his soulful singing. His recordings have been released in Europe and the U.S.
Robert Johnson’s historic Columbia recordings were repackaged in this 2011 collection celebrating the centennial of his birth.
George Jackson, shown performing at the 1989 King Biscuit Blues Festival, recorded his only full album, Sweet Down Home Delta Blues, in Kansas City in 2985. The posters shown here from K.C. clubs
Robert “Bilbo” Walker, posing in Clarksdale in this 1996 photo, recorded the CDs Promised Land and Rock the Night for Rooster Blues Records.
Johnny Drummer is pictured above playing harmonica at the Chicago Blues Festival and with his cousin Tenry “T.J.” Johns in Evanston, Illinois, in 2009. Drummer recorded several CDs for Earwig Records following a 45 on the Arpco label (at top).
The Kelly Brothers (from left, Andrew, Robert and Curtis Kelly, Offe Reece and T.C. Lee) began recording gospel music in Chicago in 1954. Signed by Federal Records as a gospel act in 1960, the group also recorded R&B as the King Pins. Their single “It Won’t Be This Way (Always)” hit the Billboard charts in 1963. Andrew’s son, Vance Kelly, became a Chicago blues singer and guitarist with several CDs to his credit.
Erected 2012 by Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 166.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music • Entertainment. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail 🎶 series list.
Location. 34° 5.399′ N, 90° 43.173′ Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Alligator MS 38720, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 12 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Fred Coe (approx. 0.2 miles away); Duncan (approx. 3˝ miles away); The Blues Legends of Duncan (approx. 3˝ miles away); Henry Townsend (approx. 10 miles away); The Shelby Depot (approx. 10 miles away); Decker-Malatesta Post 0113 (approx. 10.1 miles away); Cotton Pickin' Blues (approx. 11 miles away); Hopson Plantation (approx. 11.1 miles away).
Credits. This page was last revised on August 16, 2020. It was originally submitted on August 15, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 39 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on August 15, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.