Joe Chipman of Manila has always been able to take a normal conversation or a new sight and create a song around the subject matter. Family and local history have always held an interest to him and writing songs on these subjects seem to come naturally.
(Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)
Chipman, a 1973 graduate of Manila High School, left the area soon after high school and served 15 years in the U.S. Navy.
As a young man in high school, Chipman taught himself to play the guitar and enjoyed playing and singing for his family.
He returned to Manila in 1994 and rediscovered Mississippi County and became interested in the history of the area's development.
"I had heard stories since I was a small boy from my grandparents and older neighbors but never gave it much thought until I began losing my grandparents," Chipman said. "I wish I had spent more time gathering information from them as they were part of a generation that survived hard times."
At the age of 50, his family started encouraging him to put some of his songs together for a CD. At first Chipman was reluctant, but the more he thought about it, he decided it would be a tribute to the lives of the people who settled this area.
He contacted Jeff Knowlton of Manila, and recording a CD became a reality.
"Jeff is a very talented musician who plays several instruments," Chipman said. "I went to him with the idea of putting together some of my songs on a CD. Without Jeff, this would never have happened."
Chipman and Knowlton worked together for a year or so in their spare time.
"Knowlton took my lyrics and arrangements and brought them to life with the music he produced," Chipman said.
Chipman credits Knowlton's unsurpassed musical talent for making the CD what it is.
Song topics on the CD include a history of cotton picking by hand, clearing the land for farming, surviving hard times, and a tribute to those who turned the area into a modern civilization.
Some of the songs are very personal to Chipman as the stories were told to him by his grandparents and parents. He narrates a bit of history preceding each song on the CD for a total of eight stories and 10 songs. He enlisted the help of six area vocalists to create a variety of voices for his songs.
Chipman's wife, Pam, is principal at Manila High School and former choir director. Mrs. Chipman served as choir director for 24 years at MHS. She suggested matching three of her former students' voices with songs she thought they could perform well. They included Knowlton, Billy Joe Warren and Daniel Hilligrass. Knowlton sings "The House Where We Were Fed" and "Hard Times." Warren sings "Roll On Mississippi," and Hilligrass sings "Cotton Pickin' Time in the Delta."
Chipman's uncle, J.R. Bradford, from Kentucky, sings the CD title song, "Taming Mississippi County." His longtime friend, Bo Jackson of Manila, performs "80 Rows of Cotton."
Chipman sings four tracks himself including his favorite, "Mr. Bradford's Daughter," a song about how his parents, Harold and Helen (Bradford) Chipman, met while picking cotton in the 1940s. He also wrote a part in the song for his mother to recite. Another favorite of his is a recitation honoring his grandfather Frank Bradford, as well as others who survived hardships during the Great Depression. He shows his humorous side in his song, "Every Stinkin' Pound," a memory from his childhood on his Grandpa John Chipman's farm.
Chipman admits as a boy growing up he couldn't wait to get out of the country and off the farm. As a man, he looks back on the memories and has a renewed appreciation for the way life used to be in the Delta.
"I didn't want the CD to be about me," Chipman said. "I want it to be something people can listen to and hopefully bring back some of their own memories."
He chose as a picture for the cover an old photograph of his Grandfather Frank Bradford plowing with a team of horses.
The CDs will be available in several local businesses including Pro Hardware, Today's Hair Salon, and Delta Drug in Manila, Barnes and Noble Book Store in Jonesboro, That Bookstore in Blytheville, and other locations throughout the area.
To order a CD by mail, send: Name and address and $10 plus $2 for shipping and handling to: Joe Chipman, P.O. Box 1395, Manila, AR 72442.