Ages ago, I came across a short video of a song fragment by Belton Sutherland on YouTube. The clip of Sutherland, performing the song “Old Grey Mule,” was taken from the Alan Lomax documentary The Land Where the Blues Began (1978). In the film, and the YouTube clip I saw, the song cuts out after a single verse. That single verse captivated me. The emotion with which Sutherland performed the piece was incredible. The guitar lines were menacing, and his ragged voice matched the tone perfectly.
Later, while trying to show the clip to a friend, I discovered it had been taken down, presumably for copyright violation. In its place a second video had emerged, this time of Sutherland performing “Belton Sutherland’s Blues.”
Belton Sutherland, “Belton Sutherland’s Blues” (1978)
This song, along with “Old Grey Mule,” are the only two songs ever recorded by Belton Sutherland; both songs were recorded by Alan Lomax at Clyde Maxwell’s house near Canton, MS in Madison County. Other than these two videos, little appears to be known about the bluesman; however, after doing some poking around, I was able to find what I believe is his cemetery entry, here (search: Sutherland). The St. John M.B. Church Cemetery, where a Belton Sutherland is interred, is located 13 miles to the northeast of Canton. According to the cemetery entry, Sutherland was born Feb. 14, 1911 and passed away Oct. 7, 1983, a mere five years after these recordings, at the age of 72.
Recently, I was reminded of Belton Sutherland after watching some videos over on FolkStreams, which hosts a stream of The Land Where the Blues Began, and decided to see if the clip “Old Grey Mule” had made its way back onto YouTube yet. To my surprise, a video of the entire performance of the song was available. So, for your viewing pleasure, check out Belton Sutherland playing “Old Grey Mule” below.
Belton Sutherland, “Old Grey Mule” (1978)
If you enjoy these songs as much as I do, you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve taken the liberty of extracting the audio from both clips, and making them available for download as mp3s
here. [Link is dead. Request for re-upload.]