OXFORD — The memorabilia of two legendary bluesmen has found a home in the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi, thanks to two patrons who generously donated the materials.
Thousands of items once owned by singer-songwriters Percy Mayfield and Lowell Fulson were donated by Mick and Molli Kolassa to the archive housed in UM’s J.D. Williams Library. The collection includes a variety of items, including handwritten lyrics penned by Mayfield, photographs of the various musicians and family members, correspondence, contracts and much more.
Kolassa, founder and chairman of Medical Marketing Economics, LLC, said, “It was the last wish of Tina Mayfield, who was married to Mayfield and romantically involved with Fulson before she died, for these items to be permanently located here. I’m pleased that I was able to fulfill her desire and add yet another outstanding collection to the archives’ world-renowned repository.”
Among Percy Mayfield’s best known songs are “Hit the Road, Jack,” which was recorded and made popular by Ray Charles, and “Sugar Mama/Peachy Papa.” Fulson’s major hits include “Reconsider, Baby,” which was covered by Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton.
Tina Mayfield donated a collection of materials related to Percy Mayfield in the 1980s. She discussed donating the remainder of both her late husbands’ materials also, but passed before she had the opportunity to do so.
“Someone else purchased Tina Mayfield’s estate,” Kolassa said. “At the urging of Michael Upton (UM Foundation development officer), I bought it from him and gave it to the archive.”
Born in northwestern Louisiana, Percy Mayfield began his performing career in Texas and then moved to Los Angeles. In 1947, a small record label, Swing Time, signed him to record “Two Years of Torture.” The song sold steadily over the next few years, prompting Art Rupe to sign Mayfield to his Specialty Records label in 1950.
Although his vocal style was influenced by such stylists as Charles Brown, Mayfield did not focus on the white market as did many West Coast bluesmen. Rather, he sang blues ballads, mostly his own songs, in a gentle vocal style. His most famous recording, “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” a No. 1 R&B hit single in 1950, was widely influential and recorded by many other singers.
A 1952 auto accident left him seriously injured, including a facial disfigurement that limited his performing. However, Mayfield continued to write and record for Specialty until 1954 and then recorded for Chess Records and Imperial Records. His career continued to flourish with songs like “Strange Things Happening,” “Lost Love,” “What a Fool I Was,” “Prayin’ for Your Return,” “Cry Baby” and “Big Question.” In 1961, he came to the attention of Ray Charles with “Hit the Road Jack.” Charles signed him to his Tangerine Records label, primarily as a songwriter, and there he wrote “Hide Nor Hair,” “At The Club,” “Danger Zone” and “On the Other Hand, Baby.”
Mayfield died of a heart attack in 1984 at age 63.
Born on a Choctaw reservation in Oklahoma, Fulson moved to California, forming a band that soon included a young Ray Charles and tenor saxophone player Stanley Turrentine. He recorded for Swing Time Records in the 1940s, Chess Records (on the Checker label) in the 1950s, Kent Records in the 1960s and Rounder Records (Bullseye) in the 1970s.
His most memorable and influential recordings included “Three O’Clock Blues” (now a blues standard), the Memphis Slim-penned “Everyday I Have the Blues,” “Lonesome Christmas,” “Reconsider Baby” (recorded in 1960 by Presley and in 1994 by Clapton) and “Tramp” (co-written with Jimmy McCracklin and later covered by Otis Redding with Carla Thomas, ZZ Top, Alex Chilton and Tav Falco).
Fulson died in Long Beach in March 1999 at age 77.