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Strummin': Remembering Duff


Roger Truesdale



Jerry Lee "Duff" Dorrough passed away Wednesday in Ruleville. He'd had a tough last year or two. He fought the good fight. 


Some 30 years and 150 pounds ago, more often than not, on Friday and Saturday nights you could find me upstairs at the George Street Grocery in Jackson -- my favorite bar for a lot of reasons, the least of which being that one of the managers at the time was a friend of mine. 


Lucky for me, I never had to pay a cover charge to hear some of the best entertainment in the South. It's where I learned that white boys could play Robert Johnson and Son House tunes, from traveling pros like Roy Book Binder and Spencer Bohren. 


My manager pal told me there were some boys, called The Tangents, from up in the Delta making some good noise out at a club on Lakeland Drive. They were bringing them downtown. Naturally the word "Delta" peaked my interest. I had visions of the Reets, Joe Frank and The Knights, Gants and Tim Whitsett's Imperials (Jackson, I know, but how could I not mention them?). 


The night The Tangents took the stage I knew they were special. They had this blues/rock/swing sound pounded out by players that could have held their own in any band in the U.S. -- Jim "Fish" Michie on piano, Charlie Jacobs on sax, Bob Barbee on drums, Steve Morrison on bass and this lanky kid who wore duct taped cowboy boots on guitar, Duff Dorrough. You could hear his growing-up within a stone's throw of Dockery Farms in every note he played. 


Duff made every guitar lick look easy. He played liked he was cruising down Highway 61 in an Electra 225 with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on. He sang with that same laid-back ease. 


Duff and I weren't friends, actually nothing more than acquaintances. I'm glad that I had the chance to chat with him ever so often. He was a super nice guy who would take time with guitar-playing wannabes like me, to explain a lick or how they came to add a song to their set list. 


I renewed my acquaintance with him at a Thacker Mountain Radio broadcast in Oxford some years back, where he was the leader of the house band, The Yalobushwhackers. Need-less to say, I was flattered that he recognized me from back in the day. When they played you could close your eyes and still hear a little Tangent magic, compliments of Duff's guitar playing. 


Not much more than a year ago I was in the Walmart over in Grenada, shopping for shoe strings, of all things. I bumped into bass player Raphael Semmes who was "home" from Jackson seeing after his dad. Raphael has played with everybody in Mississippi. He left for a while to "make it," but came home. (I always heard that he didn't because he got homesick, rather than the "talent" thing.) He told me that Duff was in the University Medical Center in Jackson, not doing so well.  


Sadly, he was right. 


The last time I saw Duff was at a high-class social affair at the Greenville Country Club a few Christmases ago. Duff wasn't playing that night; like me, he was a guest. We had a long chat while standing there all scrubbed up and looking nice in our tuxedos. We were a million miles away from that smoky bar upstairs over the George Street Grocery. For some reason I glanced down at the floor. Duff was sporting a pair of well-worn rough out cowboy boots. I guess we weren't that far after all.


Roger owns Bayou Management, Inc. and is also a semi-pro guitar player.


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