accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Georgia blues musician Precious Bryant has died at 71

LVkickoff0119a_preciousTalbot County musician Precious Bryant, circa 2005. She died on Saturday, Jan. 12. Photo: Axel Kustner / Big Hassle Media

Georgia blues singer Precious Bryant has died, according to a report from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. She was 71.

Back in 2005, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran this tale of a visit with the Talbot County musician.

At home with the blues

If y’all don’t mind, Precious Bryant would like to get some kerosene

By Nick Marino

On the winding drive from Buena Vista through Talbotton, the paved road carves through fields of blond grass, and the land spreads into something resembling wilderness.

The blueswoman Precious Bryant lives here in this Middle Georgia countryside, at the end of a gravel path lined with pine straw.

Precious — everybody calls her Precious — has lived in this part of the world all of her 63 years. She used to stay in her grandparents’ log cabin, but it burned down long ago. So now, in the very same clearing just a pebble-toss from her cousin Junior, she resides in a weather-beaten trailer, which is where Amos Harvey and Jake Fussell recently paid her a visit.

They had both visited many times before — Harvey is her manager and producer, and Fussell (the 23-year-old son of author and folklorist Fred Fussell) has known Precious since he was a boy.

By the time they parked Fussell’s van, Precious was already out on the lawn to receive them. Her wig was off, her teeth out.

She is a small woman under any circumstances, but against the background of trees and sky that surround her home, she seemed shrunken. She was wearing a blue cap, a gigantic denim jacket that swallowed her torso, rolled-up jeans, white socks and brown lace-up shoes.

She raised her arms for hugs.

Hugging Precious feels like holding a baby bird. Her personality, however, is anything but fragile. Precious is the kind of old-fashioned Southern woman whose hard country life has made her flinty.

The third of nine children, she picked cotton growing up, and she has said that when she got tired of picking cotton, she’d go pick guitar. Her uncle, bluesman George Henry Bussey, mentored the young musician after she began playing at age 6.

Precious walked to school as a girl. As an adult, she has walked to get water or something stronger. For a time she drove a ‘65 Chevrolet, and when it would catch fire under the hood, she’d smother the flames with a pillow. Today she no longer drives, having poor eyesight and no car. But she still has her guitar and her voice and her grown son, Tony, with whom she lives.

Though she was recorded in 1969 by the Atlanta field researcher George Mitchell, she didn’t deliver a full-length solo album until 33 years later on the Atlanta label Terminus Records. On Feb. 1, she’ll release her second, “The Truth, ” a set of lilting blues about fighting, cheating, praying and dying.

Precious sings convincingly about pain and poverty — the lead song on her first album is “Broke and Ain’t Got a Dime” — and she has a wicked sense of humor. On her new record, she sings about murdering her chauffeur. She also takes a pass at the sly Dorothy LaBostrie lyric, “you can have my husband, but please don’t mess with my man.”

Bearing gifts

When she was younger, she worked odd jobs and gave small performances close to home. Now a widow and a diabetic, she lives off a government check plus the money she makes touring (which she does infrequently) and recording. She’s one of the last important Southern blueswomen still working, still living the life that gave her the blues in the first place.

Her home is modestly decorated. On the refrigerator, Precious keeps her own autographed publicity photo safely preserved in a plastic sleeve. Above the television are two more black-and-white shots, one each of Precious and Tony performing.

Everything in the room is well-worn except for the gleaming silver TV and a DVD player, gifts from her label chief, Jeff Bransford. Precious and Tony spend most days watching the tube.

Knowing this, Harvey and Fussell came with gifts of their own: a four-DVD set of “The Beverly Hillbillies, ” plus DVDs of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Dragnet.” They also delivered a 250-minute phone card (so Precious could call her sisters long distance), a magnet depicting the R&B singer Little Willie John, a lunch of black-eyed peas and fried chicken from a Talbotton greasy spoon, two six-packs of beer from the corner liquor store (which sometimes stocks Precious’ music) and the biggest gift of all, a greeting card stuffed with $20 bills.

Precious lifted a sofa cushion and tucked this last gift safely underneath.

Everyone took a seat and chatted about touring plans for the new record. Precious and Tony, who plays bass, will appear in a handful of Southern towns in the coming weeks, which is fine with Precious as long as she doesn’t have to board an airplane or a train.

Right decisions

After catching up on business, Precious addressed her visitors.

“I tell you one thing I need y’all to do for me before you leave, ” she said. “And that’s take me to the store so I can get some kerosene, so it can be warm.”

While waiting to refuel her space heater, Precious had been heating her home by turning on the stove.

Rather than use her newly received cash, Precious went into her room to get some of her own money. On the way out the door, Tony revealed that his son, Andrew, was recovering from a recent stabbing.

“It was about a girl, ” he shrugged. “That’s all.”

Everyone seemed to agree that that’s usually the way it happens.

The van headed up the gravel road and onto the pavement, with Precious sitting shotgun and giving directions to the D&D Food Mart. From the back seat, she looked like a load of blue laundry with a head.

D&D turned out to be a general store selling onions, potatoes, wine, movies, kerosene and bait. Near the front door hung two stuffed and mounted squirrels. By the freezer case was a stuffed fox holding a Miller Lite can in its outstretched paws.

On the ride home, the van passed a horse, and someone asked Precious if she ever thought about moving to the city. She said no, that she’d lived in this part of Georgia all her life.

“They used to have billy goats out here, too, ” Tony said.

“A lot of people say goats have good meat, ” Precious answered. “But you can’t let the meat touch the hide.”

Then Harvey told a story about eating barbecued goat at the late Mississippi bluesman Otha Turner’s annual picnic. Harvey took one bite, found a hair poking through the white bread and decided he’d had enough. Everyone seemed to agree that was the right decision.

The group walked back inside, and Precious turned off the stove.

Harvey asked Precious if she felt like playing any music, and she said that she did not.

So talk turned to soap operas and the “Hillbillies” set, and to her cousin Junior’s ferocious-looking dog, also named Junior.

“When I go over there, I have my piece of iron with me, ” Precious said. “He’s not gonna bite me.”

Soon it was time for Harvey and Fussell to go, so Precious and Tony rose to dispense their frail hugs — Tony hugs just like Precious.

Then everyone said goodbye, and Fussell pulled away, rolling over the gravel and past Junior the dog, who gave chase for a while and then relented as the van moved toward the pavement and the pine straw turned back to blond grass.

10 comments Add your comment

DebDoes

January 13th, 2013
3:47 pm

Very well written piece…it’s a shame no one knows how to write at newspapers any longer. I miss those days.

Johnny Hicks

January 13th, 2013
5:02 pm

Beautifully written, Nick! A fitting commerative piece for a blues legend in her own right.

Katha Stuart

January 13th, 2013
5:40 pm

Precious was an amazing talent who will be missed. The Fussell/Harvey family, of which I am proud to be a part, as well as so many others who appreciated that talent, are certainly in mourning today. Here’s a link to her recording of “The Truth”.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=evSmGl2XD4c

FM Fats

January 13th, 2013
6:09 pm

Thanks, Shane, for the reprint. And thanks to the Coulter clan and George Mitchell.

Johnny Pierce

January 14th, 2013
6:36 am

This story was very well written and made me feel like I was sitting around the yard chatting it up with Ms. Precious. May GOD bless her soul..

Blues Professor

January 14th, 2013
9:28 am

Precious was one terrific blues woman. Join me on WRFG 89.3 FM this coming Wednesday morning (6:00 – 8:00 AM) and as I play selections from her CDs “The Truth” and “Fool Me Good.”

Patrick Best

January 14th, 2013
10:34 am

Thanks for re-posting. Really enjoyed Nick’s writing and learning about Precious. Wish I could have met her.

Vivian Hood

January 14th, 2013
3:02 pm

I am Precious neice I would like to Thank everyone for the wonderful comments being written about my aunt. She was very funny and loved music. She will be greatly missed by our family, friends and fans. May her spirit continue to live through her music.

Germaine Mitchell

January 15th, 2013
10:12 am

What an amazing woman Ms. Precious was. I am a close family friend of her neice Vivian Hood…and would have loved to hear Ms. Precious play guitar and sing. Thank you for the article and sharing her story. My condolences and prayers are with the family and friends of Ms. Precious.

fernanda edge

January 16th, 2013
11:03 am

I am a friend of Precious and Tony,and I will miss her dearly.I would always make sure they had everything they needed and provided them transportation when available.I could’nt go a day without having them on my mind.I love them dearly. I have all of her CD’s and have been playing them eversince I got my hands on her “good gospel and blues”.And I mean that woman could play her guitar to the fullest.I added her picture in my photo album back in 1995,for I knew then she was a very special person within the heart of many.I have one special VHS that I will always treasure.I miss you Precious “Biddy” and rest in peace,you have left a permanent scar here,and you’ll never be forgotton.