Month: March 2015

Woke up that morning, heard them Statesboro Blues

The Evolution of a Musical Genre by Clay Sikes

I was strolling to class one day in 1969 or 70, at what is now Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. My route to class followed a sidewalk that skirted the gym and athletic fields. As I neared the gym, I heard music from within and remembered that some band was playing on campus that night, but not anyone I had ever heard of. There was nothing unusual about a band practicing in the gym, so nothing really caught my interest until I was close enough to clearly hear the music.

Having been raised in the rural south, the son of a long-time High Sheriff, I often found myself in black churches – funerals, weddings, political meetings, etc., From my earliest childhood, I was always moved by the old ‘spirituals’ I heard, the beautiful harmonies, and the power of songs sung from the heart. Secretly, this had become my favorite music, and I was ever so delighted when my dad brought home records by Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, and later, Little Richard and Ray Charles who sang with the same passion about life instead of the Lord. As a young teen, I never realized the influence this music had on me until I heard two powerful Georgia musicians – James Brown and Otis Redding. Something really hit me about this soulful sound, much more so than other very popular music coming out of England at the time.

What I heard in that Georgia Southern Gym stopped me dead in my tracks, as twin slide guitars were playing soulful, bluesy, harmony very similar to what I had heard in the churches. With scant minutes to spare before class, I decided to dart into the gym and listen a few minutes. What I heard from the instruments blew me away, but when the young blond boy (who looked to be about my age) began to sing, I knew I would either be tardy or absent – the song would decide! I was absent, and sat there watching and listening to a band I had never heard of play tune after tune that resonated deeply within my soul – simply the best music and musical style I had ever heard.

What I witnessed that incredible day was the genesis of a musical genre, birthed by musical genius as Gregg and Duane Allman gave rise to the Allman Brothers Band, and what many have called ‘Southern Rock.’ The influence this music had, and still continues to have, on many subsequent iterations of music is untold, as this unique style now has roots in many forms of music.

What started out to be just another day, turned into one of my most memorable as I witnessed a piece of musical history, and one that continues to affect the world today.

Clay Sikes lives and works and writes in Coastal Georgia.1463012_10203439596409657_1735436019_n

Our 100 Miles

Georgia’s 100 miles of coastline on the Atlantic ocean places us 16th in the nation. We rank even behind New Jersey in miles of coastline. But wow what a wonderfully different coast it is from all the others.

The Georgia coast reigns supreme for being under to un-developed on it’s coast. We live in a country now that puts a high price on nature and the environment, as we should. Of all the states and all the coast in this great country, ours is more pristine than yours…sorry, it’s true. From the Savannah river to the St. Marys river, ours is beautiful natural coast.885231_10201315952078556_1028206273_o

There are 15 major barrier islands along our coast that are oceanfront; Tybee Island, Little Tybee Island, Skidaway Island, Wassaw Island, Ossabaw Island, St. Catherines Island, Blackbeard Island, Sapelo Island, Wolf Island, Little St. Simons Island, St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little Cumberland Island and Cumberland Island. Of these, only Tybee, Sea Island, St. Simons Island and Jekyll are developed to any real degree.

The remainder of these islands can be said to be in near pristine shape.

If you are fortunate enough to live here, which I am, then you understand the glory and the bounty of this beautiful place. The weather, although very warm at times, is moderated by the winds of the Gulf Stream waters winter, spring, summer and fall. This subtropical climate allows for numerous species of plants and animals to live here year-round.

So many birds and fish call this place home or begin their lives here in our miles and miles of estuary.

From a human perspective, what a wonderful place to eat. We enjoy fresh to our table fish, shrimp, blue crabs, oysters and clams. We love our low country boils and would love you to join us in a dinner fresh from the Georgia coast.

1417554_10201422122892760_27511152_oIf you have been fortunate, as I have, to travel to any other states or any other countries and haven’t visited here, then you are in for a big surprise. Having traveled  and returned time and again. you will not see the abundance in nature any where else that you see here.

We here on the Georgia coast are truly blessed. Go away then return. Come here for the first time and compare. You won’t be disappointed.

Clay Sikes remembers Elijah ‘Dan’ Golphin

One of my most unforgettable ‘coastal’ characters was Elijah ‘Dan’ Golphin. The grandson of slaves, who lived and died within a few hundred feet of his birthplace in eastern Liberty County. Born in an unknown year, Dan worked for our family on Maxwelton Plantation, off and on, as long as I can remember. Strong, wise, and witty – this old man ‘from another time’ introduced me, through his stories, to life on the coast as it once was – mules, wagons, kerosine lamps, basket weaving, crops, and “food from de ribber – scrimps, crobb, and de fishes.” All told in thoroughbred ‘Geechee.’

He was very old and I was very young when we first became friends. I admired his strength and energy, yet another quality drew me even more – his joy. He was the happiest man I’ve ever known – he seemed to never stop smiling. At the end of a long hot day in a hayfield…manually loading bales on a trailer…still smiling…old as the hills, sweating like a dog…still joking, still laughing. I can see him now in that field, drenched by the humid August heat…grinning and glistening from the shinny perspiration…a ball of elderly energy like I’ve never seen before or since…and those ugly rubber boots.

As the years passed, my friendship with him deepened. There were times upon returning home from school, I would ‘hot foot’ it to his house before going home…I so enjoyed our visits that included hours of countless stories. Dan was known to make a little ‘shine’ and share it…and yes…we sipped, right there in his back yard sitting on coca cola crates. “Jar Whisky” we called it, cause that’s what we drank out of.

Dan died in the late 70s, but before he did, I was able to convince Georgia Educational Television to do 13 hours of crucial interviews with Dan and others, some the actual children of slaves. These interviews captured the story of coastal Georgia in the post civil war era. Recognizing that this part of living history was soon to vanish forever, I interviewed from the stories I had heard most of my life. Priceless! The tragedy, no one can locate this video.

Elijah Golphin, my buddy. Every time he would see me he would address me as “my buddy.” Not as Clay; in fact never as Clay…but always “my buddy.” I miss him terribly!

Clay Sikes lives and works and writes in Coastal Georgia.1463012_10203439596409657_1735436019_n

The deepening of the shipping channel in Savannah, Georgia, won’t be dredging up just mud and sand.

The deepening of the shipping channel in Savannah, Georgia, won’t be dredging up just mud and sand.
For about the next nine months, divers will be working to bring up the CSS Georgia, piece by rusted piece, from nearly 40 feet down in the Savannah River.
CSS Georgia, also known as State of Georgia and Ladies’ Ram, was built in Savannah, Georgia in 1862 and was originally designed to be an ironclad warship. Funding in the amount of $115,000 for her construction was provided by the Ladies’ Gunboat Association.
The removal of the CSS Georgia is necessary for the state and federal project, which will see the channel go from 42 to 47 feet so massive cargo container ships can use the port without relying on the tide.
After settling to the bottom of Savannah River, the wreck lay unknown for more than 100 years; it was during a dredging operation in 1968 that the wreck site was discovered. As dredging continued over the years, the site was avoided; however, possible accidental impacts from dredging equipment and anchors intended to mark site location may have damaged the ironclad.Today, all that remains of Georgia are portions of her forward and aft case mate and remnants of her engines, including boilers, shafts, propellers, and condensers. Several cannon were found near the wreck as well, along with assorted ordinances.
“She is really in large sections scattered throughout the bottom down there,” Julie Morgan, archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah said.
The CSS Georgia didn’t have enough power to maneuver and effectively trade artillery rounds with any enemy vessels that might approach from the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, the vessel became a stationary floating battery, bristling with artillery pieces.
Placed under command of Lieutenant Washington Gwathmey, CSN, she was employed in defending the river channels below Savannah, training her cannons against the Union advance. It is believed she lacked effective locomotive power for offensive engagement and was subsequently anchored in the Savannah River, protecting both Savannah and Fort Jackson as a floating battery rather than her intended design as an ironclad warship. CSS Georgia had only been in operation for 20 months when Sherman’s March to the Sea ended in Savannah on December 21, 1864; on that day the Confederates chose to scuttle her rather than abandon the ship to the Union. During her service history Georgia never fired a shot in combat.
The Yankees refused to take on the CSS Georgia or other nearby defense obstructions.
The CSS Georgia won the battle, but lost the war: The vessel was scuttled in December 1864 shortly before Union forces took Savannah and presented the city to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present. The shipwreck has rested in the river since, rarely disturbed and having weathered the indignity of being hit during dredging a couple of times over the years.
Recovery of the ironclad will cost between $14 million and $15 million, Corps officials said.
Contract divers have been at the site and are first mapping, tagging and putting a recovery grid in place. A network of ropes connects wreck site artifacts and helps divers navigate the river floor.”For every person we have on the bottom, there’s four more people up on the surface that are tending him, talking to him and being sure that whatever he is doing is safe,” said Watts.
While officials have made no determination of where CSS Georgia artifacts may eventually reside, Kingston believes they should stay in Savannah, perhaps at Old Fort Jackson.

“We need it to stay here. It will help Savannah in terms of tourism. It will help tell our story. It will enhance our reputation from an historical viewpoint. We need to make sure it does stay local,” he said

Now some Coastal Georgia Fiction

Please enjoy this excerpt from chapter 2 of Jennifer H. Westall’s book, Love’s Providence. This portion being set on our lovely coast. To get your copy please click here

Later that evening, Lily stood on the playground and squeezed the sand between her toes as a warm, moist breeze swirled strands of hair around her face. The village shops by the pier had been teeming with tourists all afternoon, but most of them had closed down hours ago. The sounds of traffic and screaming kids had faded into a gentle lapping of the ocean against the nearby rocks.

Her feet ached from walking around for the past several hours, and her head was beginning to throb as well. To make matters worse, her dad had insisted that she keep an eye on Kara and her cousin Rachel, which meant an evening full of aimlessly wandering through tourist shops and listening to shallow comparisons of one guy after another. At this point, she wanted nothing more than to go back to the beach house, put her feet up, and relax with a good book.

A few yards away, Kara and Rachel competed to see who could swing the highest. As much as they insisted on being treated like adults, it was amazing how childish they could be. She rolled her eyes and sighed, glancing down at her watch. Nearly time to go.

“Y’all about ready?” she called.

Rachel jumped out of her swing first, followed by Kara who narrowly missed landing on her rear. Rachel doubled over with laughter, and Lily couldn’t help but laugh too. Kara flushed bright red as she glanced around to see if anyone else had seen her stumble.

“Nice,” Lily said.

Kara ignored her and straightened her clothes. Rachel slid her feet into her sandals and tugged her shorts back into place, though they still left little to the imagination. She smoothed her dark hair and picked her purse up off the ground. Then suddenly she squealed like a mouse and waved Kara toward her.

“Look, those cops over there are cute!”

Lily followed her gaze to the massive live oaks that provided a canopy over a picnic area of the park. It was empty now except for two officers talking quietly at a picnic table in the lamp light, their bikes resting in a rack nearby. From several yards away they appeared similar—broad shoulders, dark hair, well-built. Nothing spectacular.

“You’re hopeless,” Lily said. “They’re way too old for you to even think about.”

Rachel shrugged. “So? Cute is just cute. Age doesn’t factor.”

Lily looked at them again. Maybe Rachel was right, but she wasn’t interested in another lame discussion about guys like they were a tasty dessert item.

“They’re all right, I guess. Not really my type.”

Kara snorted. “Oh please. I think you have to date more than one person to have a type.”

Rachel laughed and looked away from Lily’s glare.

“Well, you are the expert,” Lily said. “How many boyfriends have you had?”

Kara took a few steps closer and jutted her chin at Lily. “I know a lot more than you think. I know that hanging out with one guy since you were nine years old doesn’t make you an expert. You wouldn’t even know what to do if a great guy was interested in you.”

“Sure I would. I’d say thanks but no thanks.”

“Oh my word, Lil. Seriously. There’s something wrong with you.”

“I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t want to date right now.”

Rachel’s mouth fell open. “Really?”

“Look, I just want to enjoy my vacation. You know, relax a little, read a good book, take a walk on the beach. I don’t need drama.”

Kara shook her head. “I’m not talking about a serious relationship here. Look around. There are cute guys everywhere. Loosen up and have some fun.”

“I don’t need a guy around to have fun.”

Kara winked at Rachel. “Well, if you’re going to be hanging around us, you better get used to cute guys being around. In fact, I think we should start right now.” She nodded toward the tree where the cops were still seated. Rachel’s face lit up.

“Oh no,” Lily said. “We’re going back to the house. It’s nearly midnight.”

But they sped away before she could stop them, so she threw her hands in the air and followed. This was going to be humiliating. As she approached the officers, the girls sang hello in unison. She could just imagine what these two gentlemen must be thinking. Leaning back on their elbows in identical poses, both of the officers grinned at the girls.

Then she caught a glance from the one on the left, and his eyes traveled down her legs. A sliver of a smirk played at the corner of his lips. Maybe gentleman wasn’t the right word. Kara rattled off introductions, oblivious to the amusement on their faces.

“I’m Kara. This is my sister, Lily, and our cousin, Rachel.”

Lily offered a polite nod. There had to be a way to exit gracefully, but she couldn’t think of one. Kara and Rachel dropped onto the bench of a picnic table opposite the officers, looking entirely too eager. They were practically panting.

“I’m Steve,” the one on the right said. “It’s nice to meet you, ladies.” His smile lit up his whole face, and his eyes had a warm puppy-like expression. Lily relaxed a little. At least one of them was friendly anyway.

“You can just call him Poindexter.” The other officer’s eyes sparked with mischief, and Steve slapped him across the chest.

“I know you don’t want me to tell them what they can call you, Rambo.

“Rambo?” Rachel asked, tilting her head.

He waved his hand to dismiss the question. “Forget it. It’s not that funny anyway.”

On closer inspection, the nickname seemed fitting given his dark waves and bulging muscles. He probably did think he was some sort of action hero. She could practically see him admiring his biceps in a mirror.

“So what is your name, Rambo?” Lily asked.

Their eyes met, and his lips tipped into a smirk.

“Walker. Alex Walker.”

Yep, definitely an action hero.

“So what are you supposed to be?” she asked. “Double-oh-six-and-a-half?” The retort slipped out before Lily could catch it.

Steve snickered and looked away from Alex’s murderous glance.

“Well, you can just call me Daddy.” He cocked an eyebrow at her, an obvious challenge, but his grin never changed.

Lily held his gaze, irritated by the way her stomach flipped. Must have been something she’d eaten.

Rachel finally broke the awkward silence. “So, um, is it usually this quiet around here?”

Steve shook his head. “Nah, it’ll pick up tomorrow, trust me. This place’ll be crawling with people and screaming kids.”

“And plenty of little boys for you girls to play with, I’m sure,” Alex added.

Rachel’s chest sprang out as she huffed. “We are not little girls, and we are not interested in little boys.”

“How old do you think we are anyway?” Kara asked.

Lily couldn’t wait for this response. Alex had wandered into dangerous waters, but he seemed oblivious. He put his fingers to his chin and assessed them.

“Hmm, let me see.”

Steve waved off the challenge. “I can’t ever tell.” He sent a knowing grin at Lily, and she couldn’t help but smile back. At least he had some sense.

“Well,” Alex said, looking first at Kara, then at Rachel. “With all the make-up, you look about twenty-one. So I’d have to say you two are about thirteen, maybe fourteen.”

Kara’s mouth dropped open and Rachel gasped. Lily could barely control her laughter.

“What?” Rachel exclaimed. “I am fifteen, almost sixteen!”

“And I am already sixteen!” Kara folded her arms across her chest.

“Whoa! Don’t get your panties in a wad.” Alex threw up his hands in surrender. “I was just giving you a hard time.”

As the girls continued to sulk, he winked at Lily. Something about him sent a shiver down her arms.

“And how about you?” he asked.

She hesitated. She shouldn’t let him bait her into comments she might regret. Arrogant or not, he was an officer of the law, a position she had always been taught to respect.

Rachel finally spoke for her. “She actually is twenty-one.”

Kara lifted a brow, a puzzled look that seemed to ask if she was okay. Lily decided to ignore it and Alex as well.

She turned and looked out over the ocean, wishing she could enjoy it alone. The ocean and sky had melted into one large black expanse, but she could hear the waves tumble into the rocks not far away.

“So, how long have you been police officers?” Kara asked.

“Seven years for me,” Steve answered.

“You’re kidding. You don’t seem that old.”

Steve laughed. “I went into the police academy right out of high school. Been doing this since I was eighteen.”

Lily glanced at Kara and caught the slight nod toward Steve. She knew she was being rude, but what did Kara expect? Flirting with a stranger wasn’t going to fill the hole in her chest. Still, she supposed she should at least be polite.

“That’s pretty young to become a cop,” Lily said. “You didn’t think about going to college?”

“Nah.” He grinned like the thought was absurd. “I never wanted to do anything but be a cop. Dad’s a cop. Mom’s a cop. Just seemed natural.”

He smiled at her again, and the warmth of it reached out to her. It wasn’t much, but it made her smile. Maybe getting to know Steve wasn’t the worst idea in the world.

To get your copy please click here 



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