Storm slapped Red Tops sign off its stand

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 11, 2009

A case of a disappearing blues marker has turned out to be a study in stormy weather.

The metal sign honoring the famed dance-band group, the Red Tops, has been missing from its pole on Clay Street in front of the BB Club since Riverfest Saturday, April 19.

But was it stolen or blown away?

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“Riverfest had been called off but there was still a lot of activity that Saturday night,” said caterer Story Ebersole, who works out of the BB Club and noticed that Sunday afternoon that the marker was gone. “My first thought was that it was the wind, which was really strong that night, but that seemed like a stupid thought. I just couldn’t believe anybody would steal it, though.”

Ebersole called Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Bill Seratt, who went downtown to have a look.

“Looking at the post, at first I thought someone had used some kind of tool to cut it off,” Seratt said. “But you can tell it broke off, the edge is a little ragged and not smooth. There is no indication that it’s been cut.”

On investigating, Seratt discovered that two men living at The Vicksburg were walking home from Washington Street that night. The wind was so strong — “it howls through there like a canyon” — they were nearly unable to stand up. “As they passed the sign, they heard something hit the ground behind them.” Turning, they found the marker on the ground, grabbed it and took it for safekeeping to The Vicksburg where owner Mike Davis stored it.

The blues trail folks from the Mississippi Development Authority came to get it and sent it back to the foundry in Ohio to be recast, Seratt said.

It will be replaced at no cost to the city, he said.

“If wind really was an issue then obviously there was some kind of flaw in its original casting,” he said.

About 80 of the planned 109 Mississippi Blues Trail markers have been installed. Seratt said he doesn’t know of any others that have been damaged by high winds. “But some of these markers are in really remote places and a couple have been hit by farm equipment,” he said. “And the Robert Johnson blues marker at the Mount Zion Church in Greenwood was stolen, cut right off the pole.”

The Mississippi Blues Commission replaced that marker, and will reinstall the Red Tops marker when it has been repaired or recast, Seratt said. This time, they’ll orient the marker in a west-east facing rather than north-south, as it originally was. Then when the wind blows through the canyon of downtown Clay Street, it won’t be hitting a flat surface.

Placed March 28, 2008, with surviving Red Tops band members Louis Spencer, Jimmie Bosley and Rufus McKay in attendance, the marker honored the contributions of a group that had both black and white music lovers dancing downtown at the old BB Club, among other venues.

The group formed in 1953 as a 10-member blues, jazz and pop group and disbanded nearly 20 years later.

As described on the Mississippi Blues Trail Web site, the Red Tops “were the top band in Mississippi during an era when nightlife centered on the dance floor.”

Vicksburg is home to three Blues Trail Markers. In addition to the Red Tops, there is a marker honoring bassist Willie Dixon near the Vicksburg Convention Center and another commemorating Highway 61 as the blues trail on Washington and Jackson streets. A fourth marker will be placed in Marcus Bottom sometime this summer, Seratt said.


Contact Pamela Hitchins at