It’s long overdue. That’s how I would describe the success Leo “Bud” Welch of Bruce is experiencing right now.
All of the notoriety and modest financial gains of the past few months are immaterial to Bud. The most meaningful development from all this attention poured on him since the release of his “Sabougla Voices” CD with Big Legal Mess Records is the never-ending opportunities to perform.
“Vencie drives the car and I get to play and sing,” Bud said with a grin wider than the Mississippi Delta.
Vencie Varnado, a Calhoun City native and military veteran, is Bud’s manager, chauffeur and whatever else he needs. The two-some depart Wednesday for Europe. Vencie said they fly from Philadelphia to Munich where they will rent a car and drive to Verona, Italy for Bud’s first performance.
Sitting on the front porch of his small, one-room apartment beside the Bruce Piggly Wiggly, Bud said he’s looking forward to the trip he could never of dreamed of. “People love to hear the Blues and I love to play ‘em,” he said.
I wrote my first of many stories on “Bud” more than a decade ago. I loved his stories of growing up in the 1930s in a family of 12 children in the Sabougla area. He played his first guitar at age 12. It belonged to his cousin R.C. Welch who warned him to stay away from it, so Bud sneaked around and taught himself to play on it while his cousin was away.
Among the earliest songs he recalled playing was “Navajo Trail” after seeing Roy Rogers play it in an old Western. His first time to play on stage was at Sabougla Grammar School and he would later become a fixture in area churches. While he loved to sing, he was always fascinated by the Blues.
“I believe in the Lord, but the Blues speaks to life, too,” he said. “Blues has a feeling just like Gospel. They just don’t have a book (the Bible).”
His early Blues playing days were at Otis McCain’s 3-day picnic in the Horsepen Community, a few juke joints around Grenada and the Cotton Bowl and Blue Flame in Carroll County.
He moved to Bruce as a teen to find work in the sawmill industry but still played frequently in front of local cafes where people would drop change in the hole of his guitar.
Through the years, Bud had opportunities to sit in with Blues legends John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and B.B. King, but he never found acclaim for himself, just the reality of getting back to cutting wood to earn a living and playing the Blues when he could.
Now at age 82, Welch is getting the acclaim he deserved years ago. Efforts are ongoing to get a state-approved Blues Trail marker in his honor placed in Bruce and he continues to play regularly in some of Mississippi’s best known Blues Clubs in between touring all around the country and now the globe.
But there’s no bitterness in Bud that his musical apex is coming so late in life.
“I just love to play,” he said gripping his hot pink guitar. “I’m going to keep on playin’ as long as I’m here.”
Follow Joel McNeece on Twitter @joelmcneece