Looking South on Highway 6I (Cilla Huggins)
'I was raised by my uncle and aunt, my mother had me when she was fourteen or something and my father, I never really knew him but I knew his family but like he split. He was married I think or something like that when he got my old lady pregnant, she was just a girl. And my grandfather was a big black man, my ancestry must be from West Africa 'cause he look like them; I've only learnt the characteristics of the people from West Africa since I've been in England.
This man he was a real rich farmer, black farmer in Osceola. Nick Thomas. And there was a lot of sons, lot of boys and they were real tearaways man. Anyway he got my old lady pregnant, she had me, he split and my uncle and aunt, my mother's sister and her husband raised me. And my mother moved to Saginaw, Mich. So that was my parents. I was still a few months old when my mother moved. I never knew my father though I knew his brothers and things, my uncles, I was never really interested in him. I don't know where he moved to, I think maybe Detroit because everybody went up North somewhere. My uncle and aunt I always knew that they weren't my mother and father, in other words there was no hiding it or nothing like that. I knew everything, they brought me up very good, told me exactly what was happening.
I don't know a great deal about the history of my family on my mother's side. I know that they were from Greenville, Miss. some of them anyway. They had a portrait that used to hang in the house of my great grandmother, she was a Seminole Indian and I know they come from Mississippi. My mother's name was Ollie Booker.
Any relation to Charley Booker?
I don't know anything about my family on my mother's side. I could have been but it's something I never did delve into. My mother used to come back once a year, holidays and things to see me. 'When I joined Ike and started travelling, played Saginaw, all my folks on my uncle's side, they were all in Saginaw. Saginaw was the place for my folks. So, when I went there, it was like a homecoming although I knew nothing about Saginaw. My uncle's name was Isom, Willie Isom. They called him Shag. That was because he had really shaggy hair and the Isoms, they were really great people. That was on my mother's sister's husband's side, who was acting as my father. It was like a homecoming playing Saginaw. It was as if I was playing Osceola, the kind of reception. They nicknamed me Popeye as a kid. That's what they used to call me. I suppose I had tight eyes. If you're short, they call you Slim. If you're slim, they call you Shorty. My mother lives in California now.
So what got you interested in music?
Well shit let me see now, we would have music classes in school but you know it went in one ear and out the other. What it was as a little kid I can remember as far back as I can go. My uncle and aunt they were very much you know music, what do you call it when somebody supports music, you know local bands and things? They really dug it. That's how I come to know Albert King and people like that, old blues piano players. They bought a piano and used to have parties and things at the house. Albert and cats would come 'round man and play the piano and guitars and I used to sing along with the 78 records. Man, they used to have a collection. Wow, if I'd known then like I know now I'd have been a rich man!! They had like Walter Davis, Big Maceo. They had all them records man. Tampa Red and all that shit. When I was a little tiny kid man I used to listen to them. I used to play them. I used to really dig 'Going Down Slow' and Walter Davis. I used to like 'Detroit Blues' by Tampa Red and all them kind of things. I weren't much more than a toddler but I could remember the words, I used to learn the words man. It was great. I used to sing along with the record player.
Although they bought a piano I wasn't all that interested in learning to play it. I was interested in singing more than anything, I didn't care about playing although I could pick out tunes. Even at the earliest age I can remember I always wanted to write the songs that I sang. Although I learnt the songs off the records and stuff I used that as a guide to teach me something new. I would go to the piano, I learnt how to play the piano, I would be trying to pick out new melodies and thinking up new words.
Continues in Jimmy's own words on NEXT PAGE