Blues legend LC Ulmer dies at 87

BY Lici Beveridge

ORIGINALLY POSTED by Hattiesburg American

Blues legend LC Ulmer has died. He was 87.

He was found unconscious Sunday morning by family members in his Ellisville home. He died of natural causes, though the exact cause of death is still pending, said Ernest Hollingsworth, Jones County deputy medical examiner/investigator.

Ulmer was a regular on the blues circuit, playing festivals, concerts and clubs throughout the South. He was featured in the 2008 documentary, “M for Mississippi: A Road Trip through the Birthplace of the Blues.”

Jeff Konkel of St. Louis, who with Roger Stolle co-wrote, directed and produced the documentary, had traveled with Ulmer and a couple other blues musicians to places like Norway, France and Israel, to talk about the documentary. He said Ulmer was one of the best.

“He really was truly the greatest, if not one of the greatest, bluesmen of Mississippi,” Konkel said. “The traditions that he pulled from are gone now.”

But Ulmer, who lived alone, also was known for his deep friendships, one friend said.

“He was just a sweetheart,” said drummer Rosalind Wilcox of Clarksdale. “We were more than just friends. He was like a father to me.”

Wilcox often performed with Ulmer, helping him book gigs in the Delta.

“I started out drumming for Robert Belfour, but after we (Ulmer and Wilcox) met each other it was instant magic,” she said. “He was awesome. We really loved each other. We’d be on the phone for four or five hours together.”

He was esteemed by many who worked with him and knew him. Other musicians and friends took to Facebook early Sunday, as news of Ulmer’s death spread.

Songwriter and saltwater blues musician Libby Rae Watson of Pascagoula was one of those who shared her thoughts on Ulmer’s passing.

“He’s driving his truck right up to the pearly gates because he wants to get there on his own,” she said on Facebook.

Ulmer lived a healthy lifestyle “eating his medicine” instead of taking pills, Wilcox said. He was a vegetarian, and often shared his wisdom and recipes.

“He didn’t like to go to the doctor. He liked to use homeopathic remedies,” she said. “He was working on a recipe book – I guess I’ll finish it now.”

BettySue Morgan, a friend who lives in Pflugerville, Texas, fondly recalled Ulmer’s gentle guidance.

“He called me once to make sure I was eating my vegetables and wasn’t using black pepper in my diet,” she said on Facebook. “The blues just got better in Heaven.”

Lee Chester Ulmer was born Aug. 28, 1928, in Stringer. Ulmer’s father was a well-known musician who occasionally played with Jimmie Rodgers. Soon after picking up the guitar at age 9, Ulmer was playing on the street for tips, and a lifetime of music began.

Ulmer played a variety of instruments, including fiddle, banjo and mandolin, but later played mostly guitar at performances.

He performed for many years as a “twelve-piece” one-man band, his Facebook bio says.

“Back in his heyday he could play 12 instruments all at the same time,” Konkel said. “It’s a dying tradition, the breadth and depth of what he was able to play.”

Ulmer performed across the country and internationally, including at such venues as the King Biscuit Blues Festival, Chicago Blues Festival and the Roots and Blues Festival in Parma, Italy.

He was named the 2009 Blues Artist of the Year by the Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola.

In his youth, he met or played with many famous musicians, including Elvis Presley, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino, and Louis Armstrong, at the Motaurant in Holbrook, Arizona.

He later performed with other blues legends, including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy.

Although he was well-versed in modern blues, much of Ulmer’s repertoire reflected his early influence by older musicians, including blues and gospel legend Blind Roosevelt Graves.

He worked other jobs in his youth, but always stayed true to his music and himself.

“LC lived his life his way,” Wilcox said. “He’s the coolest guy ever. He was loved by everyone ”

“He was a character,” Konkel agreed. “When traveling with him, something crazy would always happen.

“He was a delightful guy.”

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