Precious Bryant

Blues Pioneer's Deep Roots, Big Guitar

Precious Bryant. Photo by Jim Fiscus

Precious Bryant. Photo by Jim Fiscus

Precious Bryant is a homebody. For much of her life, the Georgia blueswoman has lived in rural Talbot County, at the southeastern edge of the Chattahoochee River Valley. At 63, Precious is dealing with diabetes and arthritis (“I done got old,” she sighs), yet—surprisingly—her career has hardly stagnated. In the last three years, she’s recorded two albums (Fool Me Good and The Truth, both on Terminus Records), performed at festivals in Europe and across the U.S. and written dozens of songs.

But on rainy days, Precious is content to hold court from within the confines of her four-room trailer, located at the end of a gravel road off state highway 208. She rests in an overstuffed chair situated between an air conditioner and a box fan, both running full-blast in an attempt to circulate the muggy summer air. Tony, her son, is in his back bedroom, and, with a houseful of guests, Precious is happy.

“I love it here,” she says over the noise of the television, gesturing toward the unbroken line of pine trees barely visible from a tiny window. “I love where I’ve been, but I don’t intend to move away from here.” She grew up in a wooden frame house “right on the same spot as this trailer. We had a big garden,” Precious says—“corn, ‘maters, peas, chickens and hogs.”

One of Precious’ earliest memories involves the family guitar, which probably belonged to her uncle, George Henry Bussey. “It was a great big ol’ guitar,” Precious says. “I couldn’t pick it up, so I had to drag it around. Finally I got so I could play on it a little bit.” When she was nine years old, Precious got an acoustic Stella of her own.

Precious Bryant in profile. Photo by Jim Fiscus

Precious Bryant in profile. Photo by Jim Fiscus

“The rest of my family would be out chopping cotton while I’d sit on the porch picking my guitar,” Precious recalls. A little girl in a man’s world, she was a fast study, picking up tunes from her father, Lonnie James Bussey, and her uncle just as fast as they could play them. “I got my theme song from Uncle George Henry’s ‘Staggerin’ Blues.’ I put my own words in,” she says, proudly singing the chorus. “My name is Precious, ya’ll, and you know I love my guitar,” she calls out loud and clear. “I play the lowdown blues/That’s what I keep my guitar for.”

In those days, the south Georgia countryside was full of music. Several members of her family played guitar or buck danced, and one cousin, Floyd Bussey, played bass drum with Ephram Carter’s fife and drum band in Waverly Hall, a hamlet just a few miles up Highway 208. “On Christmas night they’d go around to everybody’s house,” Precious recalls. “They called it serenading. I used to play with them, too. I beat that drum ‘til I put a hole in it!”

Before playing, Precious clamps a capo—which she alternately calls a “cappa” and a “capavise”—to the neck of her guitar. With plastic picks on her thumb and index finger, she plucks a thumping rhythm while her other fingers play the melody. Her sound owes as much to early rock’n’roll as it does the blues, as Precious rocks in an energetic style that belies her years.

“I was sick when we recorded, but listening to the CD, it doesn’t sound like it,” Precious says modestly of her latest album. She sighs, then adds, “I ain’t gonna be like I used to be, but I won’t let that keep me down.”

Listen to “Dark Angel,” a rollicking 12-bar tribute to the TV show of the same title, and you’ll get a glimpse of her former vigor. “I like those fightin’ shows, where they be getting down into a catfight. That Jessica Alba can take care of herself,” Precious chuckles. “I love that Dark Angel -I can look at that (program) all night!”

Strong women are recurring characters in Precious’ music. “She really respects it when women take charge, like in ‘Black Rat Swing’ and ‘My Chauffeur’ (included on Fool Me Good and The Truth, respectively)” her producer, Amos Harvey, notes. “It’s cool to see that in her music.”

Precious, however, expresses doubts when questioned about her feminist lyrics. “I sing ‘You Can Have My Husband’ on my new record, but I ain’t got no husband,” she demurs.

Precious' guitar. Photo by Jim Fiscus

Precious’ big guitar. Photo by Jim Fiscus

“The idea for it just popped into my head. Of course, I don’t play that song around the menfolks, because they roll their eyes at me.”

Precious’ newfound fame hasn’t seemed to change her. “Everybody tells me they want my CD, but I ain’t giving ‘em away,” she says dismissively. “They can buy their own copy!” Although she has been invited to perform at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and to return to Europe later this year, Harvey has had to turn down all long-distance offers. “Precious loves performing within a six hour radius of her home,” he concedes. “We’ve got some regional stuff booked, but like many older players, she’s not fond of flying.”

“I’m getting old, so I can’t do too much traveling although the good Lord may give me a little spunk,” Precious concludes. “Pray for me and Tony both, and we’ll be okay. Hasta la vista,” she says, ending, as always, on the upbeat.

 

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