DEATH OF ROBERT JOHNSON

John "Boogie Daddy" Wells JOHNW@MCES.MSSTATE.EDU
Tue Aug 16 13:25:52 EDT 1994


> That's kinda how I see it. Anyone out there tried to buy liquor in
> Mississippi before 1980? It wasn't easy to get then, and in some ways,
> it isn't easy to get now.
>
> Edward Komara, Ole Miss, Oxford MS

    I neither dispute nor disagree with Edward's post. However, my
experience has been that liquor, either bootleg or wildcat, has
never been THAT difficult to obtain, at least in parts of
Mississippi. Illegal, perhaps, but not unobtainable.
    "The Woodpile" was a bootleg establishment well-known to several
generations of college students and others in this part of the state,
and I suspect there were similar bootleg operations just about
anywhere there was a demand for liquor. As far back as 1963, I can
remember riding around with slightly older friends one Saturday night
when they decided the daring thing to do would be to ride out to a
bootleg place and buy some whiskey. We rode out from town on a gravel
road ... not more than 2 or 3 miles out of town ... and turned off
onto a horse-shoe shaped dirt drive that circled around a small
building (20 feet square?). The place was readily visible from the
gravel road. When we pulled around to the backside of the building, a
young man opened the door, walked the ten feet or so to our car, and
said, "What ya'll want?". The order was given and the purchase made,
and we drove back to town.  The interesting thing is that while the
stuff was illegal, there was no such thing as being "underage". And
it's a real good possibility law enforcement officials (sheriff) knew
all about the operation and, to please politicians and bible-
thumpers, would sometimes bust the place. I was told that the only
things inside the bootleg shack were a few shelves on the wall on
which the bottles of liquor were lined up. Then, if the law came, the
bootlegger would take a small iron rod and rake it down the row of
bottles to break them and destroy evidence.
    Also, while squirrel hunting, a friend and I discovered a small
whiskey still out in the woods not far from where I lived. No one was
around (thank goodness!) when we discovered it. NASTY! A used car
radiator sitting in a 55 gallon drum was the heart of the operation. I
remember the distinct smell of the souring mash piled along the creek
bank. It was a small operation ... like maybe the guy only fired it
up once a month or so. He used rejected/discarded pressed wood toilet
seats obtained from a manufacturer in town. I also remember news
reports of larger stills being busted up in the same county during
those years around 1960 +.
    I mention these things to say liquor was readily available to
those who sought it and to some who didn't. I don't think there would
be any problem for a blues musician playing in a juke joint to get a
drink of liquor. He might not have been able to get a beer, but
whiskey and the like, I believe, was readily available.  John.




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