Memphis Minute - December 20th
I envisioned taking a stroll, maybe having to beat through some bushes or tall grass, then finding his grave, screaming out “A-HA!” listening to one of his songs, and sending a picture. But when I found Rose Hill Cemetery off Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, there was a tree uprooted and broken by a recent storm laying in front of the gate. That should have been a warning. The first obstacle in my search, but not the day this mystery began.
When Will Shade returned to Memphis he had an idea. He gathered musicians with various talents so he could form a “jug” band like the ones he saw and heard in Louisville Kentucky. The group had a date set to record but Shade thought something was missing. He heard a young musician from Decatur Alabama playing and singing in a bar in 1928, liked what he heard, and invited the man to record with the band, which was elastic in its membership anyway. The young man provided vocals for that session’s “On The Road Again” and added his guitar for the classic “Lindberg Hop” and others. But that is not the day this mystery began.
Today, the small graveyard is peaceful and maintained. But Rose Hill Cemetery has a terrible past. Along with evidence of other crimes, in 1994 three murder victims were dumped there - evidence shows they were buried alive under a casket. These events sparked action from neighbors and local Cane Creek (MBE) Church. In 1979 bones were found above ground, funeral homes were fined, and the cemetery owner was murdered. All part of Rose Hill’s story, but not when my mystery began.
I met T. Dwayne Moore, Executive Director of Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, on another day in another cemetery at a ceremony for another Memphis music legend - Frank Stokes. That’s what Moore and “the Fund” do - locate and mark lost graves of musicians who had an impact, though many are not widely known, and help preserve or save the cemeteries they’re in. We got back in touch some months later, and then he asked me to attempt to locate a grave, which led me to mentally mark a grid and walk the cemetery the way I used to train post-incident recon teams to do - and my initial research. But those days are not where this mystery began.
On this day, I reflect on small success - finding some stories and the grave of the young man’s Mother at Rose Hill - and the failure of finding knowledgeable contacts and lost records. On this day in 1965, the day this mystery began, Charlie Burse, longtime partner of Will Shade in the Memphis Jug Band and bandleader of the short-lived Memphis Mudcats, died of heart disease in Memphis and was later buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.