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From London to the Delta: How a Matchbox Found at a Blues Marker in Tippo Sparked an Adventure

By Berry Allison
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZV-UVE0UXo

The Mississippi Delta has been the emotional heart of blues music for more than a century. More famous blues musicians have come from the Delta area than any other state or region. There are many music festivals held throughout the Delta to celebrate, to enjoy, and to preserve the music and the history of the Delta.

In 2005, artisan filmmaker, Paul Bernays of London, England came to Tippo, Mississippi to complete a documentary on Mose Allison. My husband, Tony, is Mose’s brother. We welcomed him into our home during his stay and filming. There is a sign at the post office inches off the property welcoming visitors to Tippo to enhance the documentary.

Tippo has been on the Blues Trail since 2012, with the establishment of a blues marker honoring Mose Allison. Many travelers come through looking for the Mose Blues Marker and get help from locals who help them get a picture. At the announcement of Allison’s death, visitors came and put two wreaths on the marker.

Many days in Tippo are slow paced, but there is always an adventure just around the corner. A trip to the post office can grant you a hug or some news, even an adventure.

In early June, as I entered the post office to get my mail I noticed a man I did not know who was trying to take a ‘selfie’ with the sign. I offered to take one for him and he delighted. “Yes, thank you so much.” He was from Seattle and his wife had approved of him taking a nearly monthlong travel across the country and especially through the Mississippi Delta. I presumed he was recently retired from years of work. He was camping in his suburban-like vehicle. Her said he had been to several of Mose’s performances and all of his tickets were autographed.

After getting a couple of pictures, I walked with him to the blues marker in front of the large store building now owned by me after Tony’s death. He wanted me to take some pictures of him at the marker. As we got to the marker, I noticed a large match-box on the marker foundation. On it was a picture of a young man and a note scribbled, “Please open.”

The matchbox with Maximum Martin’s album cover on the front. Photo provided.

The letter in the box was written by Joseph S. Furey in the first person of a young musician named Maximum Martin. Mr. Furey was a friend of Max. After doing a little research, I learned Joseph Furey is a travel writer from London. The picture on the box was of Maximum Martin who was a fairly young musician in London and part-time bustler (street musician). Max Martin and two other young men died of an overdose of a street drug within two weeks of each other at the same location.

Berry Allison with the matchbox she found on Mose’s blues marker. Photo provided.

Some investigation took place by Max Martin’s family regarding his overdose which was labeled entirely accidental. Joseph and Max were friends. Joseph Furey knew how Max Martin loved the music of the Mississippi Delta, and how Max always wanted to go to the Delta known as “the home of the blues” as well as rock and roll, jazz and the whole music history.

Now, here is an exact copy of the letter left in the matchbox at the Tippo Blues Marker:

“Hello, I’m Max. Maximum Martin, in fact (yes Maximum is my real name). You find me in a bit of a state, I’m afraid. Well, worse than that, really – I’m dead. I died last year of an overdose, entirely accidental.

It’s not all tragedy, though. I’m hoping to live on in some small way. Which is what this note is about.

My friend Joseph Furey is taking me on a tour of the Mississippi Delta, which – though I never got to visit it while I was alive – I’ve always considered my spiritual home. Of course the “me” in question is just this piece of paper, a memory stick (containing some songs and video footage) and the match box they came in, but I’m going to be getting around, and dropping in on a bunch of bars, juke joints, and sundry holy sites for blues pilgrims.

I’m told that Joe (@tempus_fukit) is going to be writing about our adventure – plus the blues, Mississippi and the nature of mourning – for publication later this year.

A Twitter account – @martin_maximum – has been set up in my name, so if you happen across one of my boxes, could you leave me a message? A nice one, if you can manage it. It would lift the spirits of my family and friends no end to know that I made it to the Delta after all, and that my story has been heard by a few friendly blues-loving strangers.”

I do know that a matchbox was placed on bluesman John Hurt’s gravesite in Avalon in Carroll County. One was also placed at famous blues bar and restaurant Ground Zero in Clarksdale.

So, now you have an example of an adventure that took place in Tippo, and I look forward to the next one.


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