Mitchell spent nearly two decades locating, interviewing, recording, photographing and writing about some of the most popular, albeit sometimes obscure, blues musicians of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s – names like Blues Hall-of-Famer Eugene “Buddy” Moss , Lonzie Thomas (who Mitchell drove into a ditch), R.L. Burnside (who Mitchell found on a tractor cutting corn), Frank Edwards (lower right, whose career spanned nine decades and who died at age 93 while on his way home from a recording session with Tim Duffy in Greenville, South Carolina), Cecil Barfield (who would not let Mitchell photograph him because he was afraid someone would turn the photo face down and stick pins in it), and the legendary Will Shade, founder and songwriter for the Memphis Jug Band.
It started in earnest during the summer of 1967, when Mitchell borrowed a 35mm camera from the University of Minnesota and traveled with his wife, Cathy, and a Wollensack tape recorder to document blues musicians in Mississippi. After returning to Minnesota, Mitchell turned the trip into a master’s thesis that also became his first book in 1971, Blow My Blues Away. They had recorded legends Fred McDowell and Houston Stackhouse, and at the time unknowns R.L. Burnside and Othar Turner.
In the late ’60s and early 1970s, Mitchell worked as a reporter in Columbus, Georgia. Under the tutelage of the photographers at the Columbus Ledger, he shot the photographs that appeared with his stories. At the Columbus Times, he was a reporter, a photographer, and later executive editor. During that period, he produced his second book of photographs and text, I’m Somebody Inportant.
Mitchell then decided to become a photography teacher, and returned to the University of Minnesota where he studied photography, teaching in both the journalism and art departments. He taught photography in Atlanta at four high schools for a total of 25 years. During this time, he also authored five more books of photographs and interviews, and went on to record and photograph blues musicians throughout Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee both on his own and as a field researcher for the Columbus Museum of Art and on behalf of the Bureau of Cultural Affairs during the time he oversaw the Georgia Grassroots Music Festival.
Mitchell’s photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Columbus Museum of Art and museums in Sacramento, California and Utrecht, Holland. Over the years, at least 100 LP’s, EP’s, and CD’s of George’s blues field recordings have received critical acclaim, the most recent being The George Mitchell Collection, which includes a boxed set, available on the Fat Possum label.
ALL IMAGES © MITCHELL GEORGE