Precious Bryant is a homebody. For much of her life, the Georgia blueswoman has lived in rural Talbot County, at the southeastern edge of the Chattahoochee River Valley. Over the past few years, Bryant has ventured out less and less, preferring the familiar comforts of her house trailer to the flux of the outside world.
At 61, Precious is dealing with diabetes and arthritis ("I done got old," she sighs), yet, surprisingly, her career has hardly stagnated. In the past 20 months, she's recorded her debut album (Fool Me Good, on Terminus Records), performed at festivals across the Southern U.S., and written dozens of songs.
Today, Bryant is content to hold court from within the confines of her four-room trailer, located at the end of a gravel road off state highway 208. She rests in an overstuffed chair situated between an air conditioner and a box fan, both running full-blast in an attempt to circulate the muggy air. The front door is to her right, and a blaring TV sits just in front of her. Tony, her 36-year-old son, is in his back bedroom, and, with a houseful of guests, Bryant is happy.
"I love it here," she says over the noise of the television, gesturing toward the unbroken line of pine trees barely visible from a tiny window. "I love where I've been, but I don't intend to move away from here." She grew up in a wood-frame house "right on the same spot as this trailer."
"The rest of my family would be out in the fields chopping cotton while I'd sit on the porch picking my guitar," Bryant recalls. A little girl in a man's world, she was a fast study, picking up tunes from her father, Lonnie James Bussey, and her uncle, George Henry Bussey, just as fast as they could play them. "I got my theme song from Uncle George Henry's 'Staggerin' Blues.' I put my own words in," she says, then sings "My name is Precious, y'all, and you know I love my guitar/I play the lowdown blues/That's what I keep my guitar for."
The radio was another early influence. "I had a ringside seat," Bryant says, "listening to deejays like Daddy Cool, the Thin Man, and Satellite Papa. I got songs from them too. WLCS, that's where the blues was." She reels off a list of her favorite musicians, including Muddy Waters, Memphis Minnie, and John Lee Hooker. "My main man," she exclaims, "was Jimmy Reed. I liked his style."
In those days, the south Georgia countryside was full of music. Several members of her family played guitar or buck-danced, and one cousin, Floyd Bussey, played bass drum with Ephram Carter's fife and drum band in Waverly Hall, a hamlet just a few miles up Highway 208. "On Christmas night they'd go around to everybody's house," Bryant recalls. "They called it serenading. It was a real good time. I used to play with them too. I beat that drum 'til I put a hole in it!"
"The Chattahoochee River Valley is 'a hotbed of social rest.'" So says Jake Fussell, quoting journalist Mary Margaret Byrne. Perhaps the understatement of the millennium, Fussell's words nevertheless adequately describe the goings-on of the region, an area encompassing less than 100 square miles of southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia.
Fussell, the son of folklorists Fred and Cathy Fussell, is also Bryant's drummer, with son Tony rounding out the band on bass. The next day the trio sets up to play in the Fussells' den. Bryant recorded Fool Me Good here last year, and her guitar, a black Epiphone electric/acoustic archtop model, rings out confidently in the small space. "I want everyone to have a good time tonight, even though I'm not feeling too good," she says, looking to her producer, Amos Harvey, who is seated in the back of the room.
"Hey y'all, come take a look," Bryant commands, launching into the title track from Fool Me Good. She plays in a masculine, oddly percussive manner, using metal picks on her thumb and index finger to pluck a thumping rhythm while her other fingers play the song's melody. The sound owes as much to early rock-and-roll as it does to the blues.
She rips through an instrumental she calls "See Saw Tune," then stops to re-tune her instrument. "I sure do miss my old guitar," she laments. She lost all her possessions -- "my guitars, my Memphis Minnie tapes, my clothes, my amplifier, everything" -- in a 1998 fire that destroyed her last trailer. Her current guitar was donated through the Music Maker Relief Foundation, and while she's happy to have it ("Taj Mahal picked it out for me," she brags), she's not completely at ease with the shiny new instrument.
Bryant perks up when Tony and Jake play a tune called "Jukebox Boogie," and, for a moment, she taps her foot, captivated. "I wanna do it, but I'd better take it easy," she says. "I believe it's time for me to switch gears." We're prepared for a slow number, but Bryant tears through her newest song, a rollicking 12-bar tribute to the TV show Dark Angel.
When asked about her allegiance to that sci-fi drama, Bryant chuckles: "I like those fightin' shows. That Jessica Alba can take care of herself." It's obvious, too, that in her youth, Bryant could take care of herself whenever the need arose, but, as she's gotten older, she's had to slow down. "I wish y'all could've seen me tearing up and down these roads," she says, somewhat pensive when -- at her request -- we take her back home.
"I fell down right over there," Bryant says, nodding toward an overgrown gully as she makes her way to her trailer door. The incident was the basis for one of her original songs, "Wadn't I Scared."
"I gotta bring back some of those old songs that I haven't played in a while," Bryant says, musing over her upcoming shows this fall. "I played guitar all my life, and I'm not about to quit." n
The King Biscuit Blues Festival runs
Thursday, October 9th, through Saturday, October 11th.
For a complete schedule, see KingBiscuitFest.org.
King Biscuit Blues Festival
Friday, October 10th 2:40 p.m.