Memories and blues for Bubba

It’s Thursday morning, and I’m digging through my modest record collection. I want to get my hands on the albums I bought from Bubba Sullivan at his store, Bubba’s Blues Corner, on Cherry Street in downtown Helena.

I want to hold them and look at their covers, read the sleeve notes and remember the days I bought them, those days I snuck into Bubba’s to grab the latest issue of Rolling Stone and browse through its selection.

I grew up in Helena, and in the late ’80s and early’ 90s, Bubba’s was a haven for a burgeoning record nerd. It was the perfect place to find out where the music I loved came from – from rock to country to soul. It was also a place to learn where I came from.

You went left after entering This Little Pig Antiques, the store owned by Bubba’s wife, Kathy, and there was Blues Corner.

Bubba, with his horseshoe mustache and sparkling eyes, often sat behind a table covered with paperwork and CDs. There were rows of records and CDs, and shelves of blues books. The walls were covered with posters from the King Biscuit Blues Festival, photos of musicians and artwork.

It was a gateway to something mysterious and deep, where I found these things made by giants – Lightnin ‘Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Robert Johnson, Frank Frost, Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson.

Bubba was always friendly, making suggestions or telling a story while I flipped through the trash cans. The guy knew everyone.

Right after we got married, my wife was working at the antique store when Robert Plant of the mighty Led Zeppelin stopped by to look at the files at Bubba’s. That’s what he did whenever he was in that part of the world. He knew what was going on.

Bubba was one of those who started the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena in 1986. He has been a staple on stage ever since, performing acts and turning up the crowd.

I spoke with him on August 8th. He called me to tell me how much fun he had had a few days earlier at his 81st birthday party, where his friend Bobby Rush had performed. The man knew how to have fun. I should have been there.

A few hours ago my wife told me that Bubba was dead. We talked about him and Blues Corner and Robert Plant and the blues festival and our memories.

And then I started digging through my records.

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