Even standing amidst a carpeted landscape of cotton and soybeans with only a field of sunflowers as his audience, Lucious Spiller is at home singing the Blues.
“Playin’ is playin’ really, whether it’s busking or like a thousand people.
“I just pretty much relate with everybody,” says the 56-year-old bluesman. “I am an international, universal kind of guy. I ice skate and swim. The blues, music... is in my family DNA.”
Childlike at-heart, Spiller began communicating his musical language at a very early age, and can’t quite describe his gift.
When asked to drill down into the mystery, he looks bewildered and frustrated. From his perspective there is no separation in his soul between his own identAity and the place that music dwells.In 1981, at the age of 18, Spiller attended Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark.
“I started out in music. But they can’t teach me anything I didn’t already know. So I became an art education major”.
By the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Spiller was playing bass and touring with Johnny Kilzer.
“He played the acoustic guitar. I started writing songs and I picked up acoustic (guitar) playing from Johnny.
“I never hung out with young cats my age. I was touring with the guy who wrote ‘Texas Flood’, Larry Davis, and through him, I got to meet Albert King, Fenton Lee Robinson, Calvin Leavy and all these cats, you know. Eyes open, ears open. Shut your mouth.”
Having travelled all around the world, Spiller has only lived in Clarksdale for the last two years.
“It’s pretty much the new epicenter for blues in the world. We have bands on a daily basis,” Spiller said. “That’s why I’m glad I came here. There’s a different audience every night.”
It was in a documentary filmed in Clarksdale called “True Delta”-- released in 2012 -- that highlighted Spiller during the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival. Before which Spiller admits, “I was virtually unknown. They had me playing on the old guys stage with players, most of which that have passed away. They were pretty much passing the torch.”
“To tell you the truth, the Sunflower is an older venue, it’s been around longer. Juke Joint is a newer blues crowd. The Sunflower has been established longer. It don’t matter if it’s one person or 100,000 people; I just really feed off of people,” Spiller said.
“What I am doing is taking the old and dusting it off, adding my own flip to it; dusting off the old and making it new…..making it Lucious.”
It’s a magic he coins as “Spillerfication”.
“He plays what he feels and feels what he plays,” Jones said. “It’s never the same.”
Jones said Spiller’s music “genuinely touches people.”
“What they are feeling come out in the music, they never even thought about. It’s a whole relationship, that type thing,” she said.
Currently, Spiller is working on a studio album, “Still Paying Dues” and his album “Live, Vol. 2” will be coming out this fall.
Spiller sells his albums and merchandise directly. Fans can go to his Facebook page for ordering via Paypal or find Spiller at his shows. According to Jones, they don’t like iTunes or other digital means of buying a song.
“Breaking up an album is like cheapening a body of work,” she said.
Spiller says money is not an overriding factor.
“It’s about making sure your soul’s alright. It’s when you start to thinking you got more than enough, it’s when it all flies away. If I was worried about money, I would have quit a long time ago. Money don’t matter. Is your soul alright?
“I am not trying to be Eric Clapton, you know. More money, more problems. You see.”
This summer, the couple designed and taught a weeklong camp program called “Field of Blues: Express yourself.” The camp combined art and music. The two hour-per-day, weeklong intensive camp experience inspired some of the 30 girls, ages 9 to 14, to write and perform songs for their parents.
Spiller and Jones hope to expand the reach of their camp experience.
As for the legacy of the Clarksdalian transplant that seems to embody the blues to the core of his soul?
To quote “Sunshine” Sonny Payne, of KFFA, during a 2009 broadcast of the King Biscuit Radio show in Helena, Ark., and after listening to the “Spillerized” rendition of Calvin Leavy’s “Cummins Prison Farm Blues:”
“He’s giving you a dose of the authentic blues. You gotta live it before you play it, and he plays it.”