Rev. Pearly Brown,; Jim Pettigrew; Christine Brown- Americus, GA, 1971 (courtesy Juana Haroldson)
One of my functions/duties is to tell the world of the demise of certain individuals connected with my life’s work in black music. Usually, such announcements have been for African American musicians, and other such contacts in the SE. As I get older, the supply of “my” musicians grows ever smaller (Little Sammy Davis being the only one still living that I recorded – the late Levon Helm did right by him). Now that I have become something of an “elder” in my own right, my pieces stray from those subjects to peers of mine, other white folks who dug around as I did. Little Eliot Lloyd (O&S #81) was borderline being white and a musician, and one of my first such friends to pass. Friends are precious. And it’s getting closer for myself as well!
It has recently come to my attention that my GA-based friend and peer, Jim Pettigrew, passed on 15 June of 2015 at the age of 70 in Thomasville, GA. I do not recollect how we first connected in Atlanta, but no doubt music was the keystone to it all. James Floyd Pettigrew, Jr. was born in Thomasville, GA, the town he returned to when his poor sight recently deteriorated badly. He and Mary Ellen (later, his wife) lived in Atlanta with Tom Hill (and his to be first wife, Betsy) in a two bedroom flat in some apartment units they referred to as “The Palmour Dump”! I didn’t notice! Hey, I’m a guy and I appreciated their hospitality!!
Jim certainly opened up parts of Atlanta for me regarding popular music, and I did the same for him regarding blues; good talk took place. One of the results of the latter was his own field trip with photographer Paul Dingman for BROWN’S GUIDE TO GEORGIA* (sort of a southern-fried version of YANKEE MAGAZINE!). It was on this jaunt that he came upon Cecil Barfield near Plains, GA (known as “Cecil Gant” to locals due to his similar singing voice!). A major “find” in our field of interest as George Mitchell, and Axel Küstner later found out and who recorded him (as well as myself)! They wended about, interviewing and photographing the likes of Cecil, Bud Grant, Rev. Pearly Brown, Cliff Scott, Bud Jones, Sammy Henderson, and “Uncle Jack” Henry. Not bad for someone’s first time “out” in the field! Jim wrote up their experiences for Brown’s Guide in 1976 in a fine piece sharing their experiences in words and pictures.
I also remember a piece he wrote for The Atlanta Historical Society’s journal** the following year on the history of popular music in Atlanta. I contributed my own piece on local blues musicians to the journal that was part of an exhibition at their museum. We did academic as well as popular writings – such versatility!! My only regret was not going with Jim to see an early Bruce Springsteen show. He was not yet “Springsteen” or “The Boss”, and I was underwhelmed by his first album… especially by the single, “Blinded By the Light”… and passed. I apparently missed many long hours of great music. My bad! Jim kept on working with all aspects of the popular music field, doing some teaching, and writing that including The Billboard Guide to Music Publicity, which went through several editions over time. There was fairly regular work with Creative Loafing (which is still active, btw), the local freebie music and entertainment newspaper (remember those!). He even got a review I wrote of a jazz performance by Rahsaan Roland Kirk (as well as an accompanying photograph of mine) at The Great Southeastern Music Hall into their pages for me. For the usual fee, of course – zilch!
I cannot remember what year I last saw Jim – it was definitely after 1980, when had I ceased my decade’s worth of southern jaunts. He and Tom Hill showed up at my home base in Cottekill (Ulster County), NY… on a motorcycle! (Born to be wild, indeed!!!) I had spoken to him later from here in Oz occasionally after he had moved to St. Simon’s Island, but our lines of communication were stretched thin by long distance fees. Eventually we communicated once in a while digitally, and my last e-mails were ca. 2009/10. He was working to get Rev. Pearly Brown into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (now defunct) – he was a long-time friend of Pearly’s from back in his college days as the photos show. I wrote some kind of letter of deserved support for that project, if my memory is accurate. Jim was a good ‘un and had a big heart, ignoring any obstacles that might crop up.
His eyesight was never great at the best of times when I first met him and he eventually went totally blind maybe a decade ago or so. Jim had earlier gone to St. Simon’s Island with his daughter (Mary Danellen) before that happened. (His wife Mary Ellen had died much earlier in her forties [lung cancer?] and she had been a lynchpin for his much of his adult life.) With the disappearance of any vision, he moved back to his old hometown of Thomasville, GA*** where he died two years ago (of cancer). I gather that few, if any, of his usual life-long cronies (Tommy Bass, Russ Holloway, Tom Hill, Juana Haroldson) knew how ill he had become. He never wanted sympathy, just equality and to stay out of his way! My current knowledge of his demise comes from my attempt to contact him recently regarding a research question. Eventually, photographer Tom Hill got back to me with the sad news – “another man done gone”, as the old song goes. Bye, Jim; gonna miss ya, dammit.
PETER B. LOWRY Sydney, 2017
* BROWN’S GUIDE TO GEORGIA – Vol. 4, No. 4 (Jul/Aug 1976) “In Search of the Blues: Can’Cha Hear Me Cryin’, Ooo-hooo”. pp 40-47.
** THE ATLANTA HISTORICAL BULLETIN – Vol XXI, No.2 “Just Not Whistlin’ Dixie”: “From Rhythm ‘n’ Blues to Disco: A Broad Overview of Atlanta’s Pop Music since 1945”, pp 114-138.
*** Jim told me that there wasn’t much to do growing up in Thomasville but fool with cars and motor cycles, and race them, drink beer, and get laid. Coulda been worse!
Pete, thanks so much for writing this. It’s a great obituary for Jim, and he sure deserved it!
Jim told me that he damaged his eyesight in a car crash shortly before he was able to get his driver’s license at 16. His friend who was driving way too fast came up on a “T” intersection and couldn’t make the turn. When I met him at UGA in ’72 he couldn’t identify a friend from across the room by sight, but he sure was good with voice recognition!
He was a great friend.