PUTTING RIGHT AN INJUSTICE: Obtaining a gravestone for Richard “Hacksaw” Harney.

I conducted an interview with Steve Salter who co-ordinates donations so he can obtain blues artists a grave marker, rather than they earthly remains are subject to relative obscurity. After the interview was submitted in mid July 2011 I put it to Steve that if he ever collected for a proposed marker for Mississippi guitarist Richard “Hacksaw” Harney then I would be willing to send him a donation.

Richard “Hacksaw” Harney was a phenomenal guitarist who predominately played in a ragtime style of Blues. It has been noted that Robert Johnson had held in esteem, and that he was one of the very few who he actually played toe-to-toe with. In almost all Blues music books, there is no mention of Hacksaw Harney, and if the do it is sparse, sometimes just that he played with his brother, Maylon, calling themselves Pet & Can (Richard’s nickname, short for Candy).

Richard Harney was born in Money, Mississippi (where Emmett Till was murdered), July 16th 1902 and raised in Greenwood, MS, and Marvell, Arkansas. Research has found that Harney later resided in both Clarksdale, MS and Memphis, Tennessee. In David Honeyboy Edwards’ glorious book, “The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing” he mentions that he played with both Hacksaw and Tommy McClennan, and that in fact that McClennan got the song “Cross Cut Saw” from Harney. Gene Rosenthal of Genes/Adelphi records Big Joe Williams who travelled around perhaps more than any other Bluesman had to say to after he introduced him to many top blues artists of the day, “You ain’t heard nothing yet. Wait ‘til you meet Hacksaw”. In an interview with “Living Blues magazine” Robert Junior Lockwood said, “I really think that Hacksaw was a big influence on Robert” (Johnson). “He (Hacksaw) was the only somebody who could compete with him…He played the guitar very, very well”. Pinetop Perkins reckoned he got his nickname as he carried a hacksaw with him in which he could fashion almost anything into a piano key. That was the double whammy that Hacksaw had, well he could play the piano, yes, but he supplemented his guitar playing living by tuning pianos, and doing repairs to them. On Hacksaw Harney’s business card that Woody Mann shared with me, it also stated that he repaired sewing machines as well AS PIANO TUNING AND REBUILDING.

Harney recorded with his brother Maylon as back-up for four sides by Pearl Dickson and two with Walter Rhodes,  both in December 1927, when Richard’s brother died, in his own words he said he had to learn to play both parts, hence the intricacy of his playing from there on in. Michael A. Stewart who recorded himself as “Backwards Sam Firk” tracked him down, and Hacksaw subsequently recorded “Sweet Man” for Adelphi/Genes. He then moved to Jackson Mississippi from Memphis Tennessee, where he died of stomach cancer on Christmas Day 1973. Perhaps the best account of Richard “Hacksaw” Harney’s life is in the liner notes of his Adelphi CD “Sweet Man” by author Denise Tapp (album cover shot by esteemed music photographer David Gahr), although the late Pinetop Perkins has subsequently disproved Steve LaVere’s explanation of Richard’s nickname. In Steve LaVere’s defence both he and Tom Hoskins visited Harney in Jackson, as he was ill with cancer, and tried in vain to get medical assistance via donations from within the Blues community, though none was forthcoming. Steve LaVere also gave us the name of the funeral home, Collins Funeral home on Farish St in Jackson and help if required to find the grave.

Getting back to the introduction, Steve Salter kind of left things up to me to come up with some hard evidence on Hacksaw’s grave. I was helped by Roy Book Binder putting me in touch with Denise Tapp (author of “Sweet Man’s” liner notes), and Marcia Weaver who had proven to be a great source for me when writing my piece, “Blues Decay: More than teething problems, about Farish Street, Jackson MS. I wrote to Marcia, as I was aware Hacksaw had moved there after he recorded and lived in Memphis, around a year before he died. I had various other respected industry figures I had corresponded with, but these women were thorough, and went way above what I could ever expect them to. Marcia had found the graveyard eight years prior, finding Harney’s name misspelled on the records in Raymond, MS outside of Jackson. Apart from Marcia’s connections, and the valuable time she had bestowed on my idea in her first email she had pledged $50, and wished me well. The cemetery, in which Harney lies, is under the ownership of Hinds County and operated by the correctional facility nearby. Although it was a common practice to bury those without funds here, it implies no criminal activity by Harney whatsoever, but it has brought up more legal obstacles by being so. Denise Tapp brought up various ways to move on how to honour Hacksaw, and important background information on him, his final years and cemetery costs etc. Marcia swiftly formally requested permission from the authorities to place a stone, and had suggested possibility of a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker upon a successful grave marker placing. Having been involved in the Adelphi Blues Vault Series, in which Denise pushed for their releases. She confided in me in the meagre sales of Hacksaw’s CD, and that it was very difficult to sell a CD by an obscure Blues artist; and that she felt that would reflect in the donation drive to get him a headstone. Meanwhile with all the juggling Marcia Weaver had from running a hotel, being a City official and being Dorothy Moore’s manager, I felt I was depending on her too much. I was to find out, that there would be no stopping the formidable Marcia Weaver. Marcia has secured a meeting with the Hinds County board to put forward our resolution in which Marcia has carefully compiled all known facts, Harney’s importance and experts’ validations, hence this breaking news story. This has all been possible due to Marcia’s work with the Sheriff at Raymond, Mississippi correctional facility in correctly finding Richard Harney’s lot as being, Lot # 71 within the Raymond Pauper’s Cemetery in Mississippi.

The resolution is on the agenda for Monday, Dec 5th before the Hinds County Board of Supervisors. The meeting will take place at 9am within the Chancery Building on the first floor of President Street. The Major of Raymond has taken an interest in knowing about Richard Harney, and may well attend the meeting. Many thanks to Marcia Weaver, Steve Salter, Denise Tapp, Steve LaVere, Gene Rosenthal, Elijah Wald, Scott Barretta, Brett Bonner, Roy Book Binder, Woody Mann and many others in bringing this all to pass. Upon a successful outcome, there will be a donations plea for a marker. A great way for Blues fans to give back, and to address the balance. Billy Hutchinson.

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