In the summer of 1976, Patsy Sims traveled to Mississippi to interview Preacher Edgar Ray Killen about his role—then only suspected—as the organizer of the killing party of three civil rights workers (Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman). She believed him to be a leader in the White Knights of Mississippi, an especially virulent chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. For the interview they sat alone in a motel room in Meridian, Mississippi, where she asked him, point blank, if he’d ever killed anyone.
Gospel belongs to God and the blues is the Devil’s business, and here the blues takes the form of Son Thomas, whose spare bottleneck slide strips the tradition down to its roots. Son’s been sculpting figures and heads and skulls from clay gathered in the nearby hills for just about as long as he’s been playing the blues, which is to say: all his life.
When I was six years old, I shot a man. People think I am joking when I say this, as I do occasionally, if prodded, in a group that wants to talk guns or hunting or the excesses of the rural South. It has been nearly twenty years since I discharged a firearm or spent any time in a deer stand or duck blind, yet I am considered an authority on such matters, since I live among people who are not.