Ten Shots with Jeff Konkel of Broke & Hungry Records

By Georgetown Fats
August 2012

Regardless of a particular blues bent, all blues aficionados can agree that the key ingredient to all good blues is passion.

Having had many opportunities to speak with and interview many musicians who have a talent for evoking passion through their chosen instruments, this month I get to once again feature a member of the blues community who exhibits his own passion by providing a platform and a voice to those blues artists who may not have an opportunity to market their material otherwise; Jeff Konkel of Broke & Hungry Records.

Through fate and an opportune 40 oz. at Red’s Juke, I had the opportunity to have Ten Shots with Roger Stolle of Cat Head Blues and Folk Art. This month I have the opportunity to interview another man I have an incredible amount of respect for; someone willing to ignore commercialism and mass media blues by funding his own label and supporting country blues throughout the Mississippi community.

In a musical genre and industry filled with hucksters and charlatans, blues fans, it is my distinct privilege to interview someone like Jeff Konkel of Broke & Hungry Records, a man willing to put his considerable passions into a blues genre which does not promise a considerable financial payout.

So without further ado:

Georgetown Fats - So do you remember the name of the juke you were in, and the adult beverages you were consuming at the time when you had your ‘ah-ha moment’ about Broke & Hungry Records?

Jeff Konkel - Absolutely. In fact, I can tell you the exact date. It was Thursday, October 6, 2005 at Po’ Monkey’s Lounge in Merigold, Mississippi. The adult beverage was, most likely, a Budweiser. I’m usually more of an Indian Pale Ale kind of guy, but when in Rome …

Georgetown Fats - Fair enough. I would imagine trying to order an Indian Pale Ale at Po’ Monkey’s Lounge gets a lot of blank stares and chuckles.

Georgetown Fats - So what was it about Jimmy “Duck” Holmes or the Bentonia Blues Sound that made him your first release?

Jeff Konkel - One of the things that has always endeared me to rural blues are the little regional differences in style and content. In a world where music is increasingly homogenized and corporatized, rural blues artists continue to hold on to the unique sounds of their communities. Bentonia, Mississippi is a perfect example. Over the past century, the town has produced only a handful of guitar players, but almost all of them have embraced the same unusual minor key tuning and haunting lyrical quality. To find someone like Jimmy “Duck” Holmes keeping such a rare style alive was a revelation.

Georgetown Fats - How did you manage to connect with Roger Stolle? Was he at the initial juke episode, or is there another connection there?

Jeff Konkel - Interestingly, Roger used to live in St. Louis where I live, but we didn’t know each other then. I believe that I met him briefly in 2002 in Clarksdale, shortly after he opened his Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store. But it was in 2005 that we really started crossing paths. He was, indeed, at Po’ Monkey’s Lounge on the night that I dreamt up Broke & Hungry Records. He had organized the evening’s entertainment: A CD release party for Big George Brock’s Club Caravan CD. I was impressed that he had taken matters into his own hands by recording George after all of the existing labels passed on him. I thought if he can do it, why not me? After that we began running into each other a lot and soon began joining each other on various adventures and misadventures up and down the Delta.

Georgetown Fats - Are there any new projects or ideas in the pipeline for Broke & Hungry Records?

Jeff Konkel - Yes, there are several ideas currently percolating in my head. Nothing I’m ready to announce yet, but I hope to get a couple of more projects started in the fall. And, of course, Roger and I are discussing several future collaborative projects. Right now we’re still very busy promoting our current movie release, “We Juke Up in Here.” We’ll spend the next six months to a year organizing screenings at film and music festivals. We’re currently working with some partners to bring the film and several of its featured artists to Europe.

Georgetown Fats - While filming “We Juke Up in Here” or “M is for Mississippi,” were there any surreal or humorous moments you could share that maybe made the cutting room floor?

Jeff Konkel - Too many to count! Both film shoots were filled with funny moments. Many of those ended up in the finished films, but some were left out for various reasons. We love for viewers to experience the insanity of the Delta through our movies, but we never want to embarrass anyone. A few incidents were, therefore, left out to protect the innocent (and the not so innocent)!

One funny experience I can mention is the botched moonshine run from “M is for Mississippi.” We had this idea that we would secretly film and record a trip to the home of a corn whiskey bootlegger. We would then include it in the film with the identities of the bootlegger obscured. Naturally this was a risky undertaking since a bootlegger might resort to violence if he learned he was being filmed. In the end, the whole thing was a failed mess. We couldn’t find a way to film it without exposing the camera, and the audio recorder that I had wired under my clothes like a police informant ended up malfunctioning. On a positive note, we did get our moonshine.

Georgetown Fats - Speaking from experience during some “daze” I spent in West Virginia, I am glad to hear you got the moonshine and nobody was harmed in the purchase.

Georgetown Fats - Given the country blues focus of Broke & Hungry Records and your work on “We Juke Up in Here” and “M is for Mississippi,” you have a very eccentric-but-genuine client list with stories to tell. Are there any particular artists or proprietors you had to work a little harder before they would tell their stories?

Jeff Konkel - Sure. A lot of the guys we work with could be fairly described as “front porch players,” amateur musicians with no music career aspirations. As a result, some just don’t have any interest in being recorded. One such musician was hill country guitar player Odell Harris. He had very little interest in recording a record or making festival appearances. All he wanted to do was drink a little whiskey and play his guitar for friends. I somehow managed to coax him into an insane all-night recording session back in 2006. Shortly after the sun rose, he unplugged his guitar, hopped in his truck and drove off. We haven’t been able to track him down since then, but he left behind a great record.

Another example is the artist we call the Mississippi Marvel. He was a devout church-going deacon who loved to duck into his local juke joint to play his rough-and-wild brand of blues. Unfortunately, he never felt comfortable letting his church congregation know about his secular pastime. He simply didn’t want his community to know he was moonlighting as a bluesman, so he refused to record for quite a while. Eventually we came up with a workable solution: We would record him under a pseudonym and not reveal his true name or location. Hence the title of his debut CD: The World Must Never Know. He also made a memorable appearance in our film “M is for Mississippi,” in which we blurred his image. He was a wonderful blues artist and a truly kind gentleman. Unfortunately he passed away earlier this year after a battle with cancer.

Georgetown Fats - Please understand the question is meant with a great deal more respect than it may carry, but it is one I have to ask in my own words. What fuels your continued passion about country blues and the dwindling juke scene to fight mass media and a somewhat dumbed-down contemporary pop blues sound to continue with Broke & Hungry Records?

Jeff Konkel - Rural blues has always managed to cut me to the core. There’s a directness to it that speaks to me in a way that many other blues styles can’t match. I don’t begrudge anyone else’s listening choices, but for me, you just can’t beat the real thing.

Georgetown Fats - If you could have the budget of a major label, what would you attempt to do in order to bring the country blues sound to the masses?

Jeff Konkel - If I were sitting on a mountain of money, I probably wouldn’t change much about our products. I’d still be focused on making studio-quality field recordings and filming quirky documentaries. But the additional cash would allow us to do a whole lot more of these kinds of projects and to expend more resources in promoting them.

Georgetown Fats - Admittedly this is a recycled question, but it normally elicits good responses. If I were to break into your CD collection, what artists would I be surprised over either by their admission or omission from your collection?

Jeff Konkel - I think people would be baffled by my CD collection. I have a well-deserved reputation as a blues purist, but my musical interests run far and wide. Among the many thousands of CDs and records spread throughout my house, you’ll find loads of psychedelic rock, avant garde jazz, dub reggae, honky tonk country, Bollywood soundtracks, ‘60s folk, ‘70s punk and much, much more. My wife calls it an addiction.

Georgetown Fats - Which artist or artist(s) are you surprised that have not yet caught the consciousness of the mainstream blues fan?

Jeff Konkel - Sadly, very little surprises me any more about public listening tastes. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the audience for this kind of music will continue to be very limited. Having said that, I always felt that Pat Thomas’ gentle style of blues would find a bigger audience, but his Broke & Hungry debut, His Father’s Son, somehow slipped through the cracks among a lot of listeners.

Georgetown Fats - What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail, and why?

Jeff Konkel - I like to think that – despite the fact that our records sell in tiny numbers – I still act like someone with nothing to lose. I produce music that I would want to hear as a fan. How it will sell almost never enters my mind. Maybe that makes me a fool, but at least I can say that I’m proud of everything we have released.

Georgetown Fats - When you are not chief cook and bottle washer of Broke & Hungry Records, or doing the family thing, what do you do in your free time?

Jeff Konkel - Well, I also work as a public relations consultant and freelance writer, so my dance card is always pretty filled, but I do have a number of hobbies. I’ve been an avid runner over the past few years. I’m not especially fast, but I like to compete in a few half-marathons a year. I also love to travel. My wife and I drag our kids all over the globe on a regular basis. I’m also a bit baseball obsessed. Go Cardinals!

Georgetown Fats - If you could fall down on your knees at The Crossroads to make your own deal with the Devil, just what would your deal with the Devil entail?

Jeff Konkel - Truth be told, the Robert-Johnson-meeting-the-devil myth takes up so much of the ongoing discussion of Delta blues that it wears me out. So I guess my deal with the devil would be to change the public discussion to what’s happening now in the Delta rather than something that never did!

Georgetown Fats - Thank you, and I am sorry if this hit a nerve. Thanks for educating me as this question must be the equivalent to asking someone from Massachusetts about ‘Pahking they-ya cah in Hah-vahd yah-ahd’.

For additional information on Jeff’s work with Broke & Hungry Records please check out:

www.brokeandhungryrecords.com/

www.wejukeupinhere.com

www.mformississippi.com

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