Born: January 9, 1901 in Byram MS
Died: February 12, 1970 in Jackson MS
One of the more obscure of the Mississippi Delta bluesmen, singer and guitarist Ishman Bracey recorded sparingly, traveled around the Delta region with fellow bluesman Tommy Johnson, and finally gave up the "devil's music" in favor of the church. Bracey's recordings are among the rarest in the blues world, and copies of several titles have never been found; as such, Bracey's catalog on 78rpm shellac is highly collectible and priced accordingly.
Traveling the Medicine Show Circuit
Born in 1901 in rural Mississippi, Bracey was taught blues guitar by Ruben Lacey. Sometime during the mid-1910s, Bracey began picnics, fish-fries, and juke-joints in central Mississippi, as well as performing on street corners for change. Signed to Victor Records, Bracey recorded several sides, accompanied by guitarist Charlie McCoy, in two 1928 sessions held in Memphis.
Bracey was known for his coarse, nasally vocals and the (then) unusual guitar technique of bending the strings to achieve the sound he desired. There is little evidence that Bracey performed much outside of the Mississippi Delta region, the guitarist often traveling with Tommy Johnson or Charlie McCoy and performing on the medicine show circuit.
In 1930, Bracey ventured to Grafton, Wisconsin to record several sides for Paramount Records. A year later he recorded his final tracks as part of a group called the New Orleans Nehi Boys with Kid Ernest Michall and Charles Taylor. Altogether, Bracey's recorded output consists of sixteen songs and a handful of alternate takes, making his 78rpm records much sought-after by collectors. Although listed in Paramount's company records, copies of three of Bracey's records have never been found.
Turning To The Church
By the late-1930s, Bracey had begun to sour on the lifestyle of the bluesman, and he begun turning to the church. Sometime in the late-1940s, he became an ordained minister, and turned his back on blues music in favor of singing gospel standards. When the early-1960s folk-blues boom led to the "rediscovery" of several artists, Bracey was among those former bluesmen that were "found," and while he had no interest in performing, or even talking about blues music, he did provide valuable information that researchers used to find the elusive country bluesman Skip James.
Recommended Albums: With less than two-dozen songs to his credit, Ishman Bracey (his first name misspelled as "Ishmon" on early record releases), as well as a handful of recordings backing up Charley Taylor, Bracey's catalog is pretty easy to follow. While often thought of in lesser terms than many of his contemporaries, Bracey's songs like "Saturday Blues," "Left Alone Blues," and "Trouble Hearted Blues" stand alongside any other Delta bluesman. Document's Complete Recorded Works (1928-1929) collects everything we have on Bracey, and provides an illuminating portrait of this underrated talent.