Friday, February 26, 2010

Birney Imes Whispering Pines Big Joe Williams Song

Whispering Pines.
Photographs by Birney Imes. Foreword by Trudy Wilner Stack.
University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1994. 96 pp., 12 duotone and 54 full color, 11x8".

Birney Imes, irresistibly drawn to Whispering Pines, began his photographic career there and has returned since the mid-1970s to explore its "bulging assembly of decaying backwoods Americana."--the publisher. Referring to the place as "overwhelming" and "irresistible" he recalls that the "The `Eppie Eats' sign out front, the rusting cars, the hedge in the parking lot dividing the White Side and the Black Side, and the stuff--it was everywhere inside and out: coin scales, pinball machines, jukeboxes, lawn mowers, old campaign posters, newspapers, guns, cigar boxes, and beer signs" lured him like a charm. As perhaps no one else can, he has perceived and expressed through these photographs the extraordinary in the ordinary.

The Whispering Pines is a song by Big Joe Williams. It is always wrongly titled Whistling Pines. I want to set this straight. There was a roadhouse cafe near Crawford, Mississippi named Whispering Pines. Birney Imes made a photography book about the place. He first saw it in 1975 in its declining years. He photographed it and the people who frequented it over a period of many years and eventually published his book WHISPERING PINES. It is still available from the University of Mississippi Press and also on online used book sites. It is a really fine photography book. He also did another photo book called JUKE JOINT that is just as good or better.
Big Joe Williams' song Whispering Pines is quoted at the back of the book in the afterword.
In the post below you will see that the people who put out that CD Big Joe Williams The Final Years also titled the song incorrectly. It is NOT Whistling Pines. It should be Whispering Pines.
I used to go in this place starting back in the 1950s. It was then just another Mississippi roadhouse cafe. A place where someone could stop on Hwy45 between Columbus and Macon and get a Coke or a beer or have something to eat. Lit up at night the neon signs beckoned in the total Mississippi darkness.
I also remember they used to serve a Malt Liquor called Bulldog named after the nearby Mississippi State University mascot. Miss. State is located in nearby Starkville, Miss.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s this place was a clean restaurant and cafe.There was a large neon sign out front that said Whispering Pines. Another small one said Eppies Eats. Eppie was the owner along with her husband. They had pinball machines and a good jukebox.
But if you can get a copy of Birney Imes book Whispering Pines you will see that after the owners' wife died the place really fell into decline by the time Imes first found it and began photographing it in 1975. And ending with the publication of his book in 1994.
The Whispering Pines no longer exists except in Birney Imes' book and Big Joe Williams song.