video: The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint YouTube
Photo: MCE Photography/Chad Edwards
For 59 years, Tommie Pruitt has quietly lived the life of a Mississippi blues man. From the Gulf Coast to the Delta and all points in between, he has traveled the back roads and the cross roads playing countless clubs and juke joints; from Mobile Street in Hattiesburg up through the Delta and from Mobile, Alabama all the way down to New Orleans. He has played with Bo Diddley, Ike and Tina Turner, and Ivory Joe Hunter to name a few. His fingers are deft and sure as they fly over the fret board of his electric guitar. At 74, he can out play and out last men less than half his age. He is a force of nature and those that hear him play never forget his name. Tommie Lee Pruitt was born April 17th, 1933 in Ellisville Mississippi. He has lived there his entire life. His father died when he was 3 years old. His older brother was a well known blues guitar player named Bill ‘Baby Ruth’ Pruitt. Bill was shot to death in Ohio after a gig one night in a case of mistaken identity. Tommie taught himself to play on a guitar he made from an old cigar box. He would listen to ‘The Blues Show” of John R. from Nashville on the radio late at night and copy what he heard. It was soon obvious that he was a natural talent. He began playing the clubs around Laurel and Hattiesburg in 1948 when he was just 15 years old. He and his band became the house band at the Star Theatre onMobile Street. The Star Theatre was a movie house with a stage down below the screen. Every Wednesday and Thursday night he hosted a talent show called “At the Parlor” where local and visiting talent could showcase their skills for money and prizes. He would catch the bus to Hattiesburg on those days. The other days he worked at R.D. Hollomans Grocery Store in Laurel. It was while he was working there that he met and married Verta Bell. He was 17 and she was 15 when they got married. They have been together ever since. His next day job was working for Al’s Pawn Shop in Laurel where he worked as a clerk. In 1953 a black man working as a store clerk was rare. He would also take trips to New Orleans to pick up diamonds for the shop. During this time he was playing in clubs around the state. Working at a pawn shop allowed Tommie access to good guitars and other needed equipment. In 1962 he began touring with the Five Royals playing guitar and singing. He played with them until 1969 when the band broke up. Since then, he has continued charm and entertain generations of fans here in South Mississippi, his home. His music keeps him young and thanks to the internet, people from around the world are coming to know and love this bluesman from Ellisville that locals have loved for nearly six decades.
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