The Mississippi Sheiks grew out of a string band formed by members of the highly musical Chatmon family, who resided on the Gaddis and McLaurin plantation just outside the small town of Bolton, Mississippi. The father of the family was Henderson Chatmon, a sharecropper of mixed racial origins who had been a fiddler since the days of slavery. With his wife Eliza, he reportedly had thirteen children, eleven of which were sons who all played musical instruments.
From around 1910 until 1928, seven of them formed a string band known as the Chatmon Brothers, and they performed at country dances, parties and picnics. As Sam Chatmon related to Paul Oliver in 1960: “We started out from our parents-it’s just a gift that we had in the family. …I played bass violin for them, and Lonnie, he played lead violin and Harry he played second violin. And my brother Larry, he beat the drums. And my brother Harry, he played the piano you see. And my brother Bo (Carter) he played the guitar too and he even used to play tenor banjo.
On his landmark trip to the United States in 1960, Paul Oliver came across Bo Carter and recounted the following in Conversation With The Blues:
“Sharing a corner in the bare, shot-gun building on South 4th Street where Will Shade lived, was an ailing, blind, light-skinned man whom the occupants knew only as Old Man. By a lucky hunch I guessed he might be Bo Carter and the sick man brightened to hear his name.
At first he could hardly hold down the strings of his heavy steel guitar with its worn fingerboard. But he slowly mastered it and in a broken voice, that mocked the clear and lively singing on his scores of recordings under his own name and with the Mississippi Sheiks, he recalled incidents from his varied life and some of the songs that had made him one of the most famous of blues singers. Baby When You Marry he had recorded nearly thirty years before (OK 8888) in 1931 and in the years since he had worked on medicine shows, farmed and begged.”
As Carter related: “Well, we called us the Mississippi Sheiks, all of us Chatmons, cause my name’s Bo Chatman only they called me Bo Carter. We toured with the band right through the country; through the Delta, through Louisiana down to New Orleans… …Tell ya, we was the Mississippi sheiks and when we went to make the records in Jackson, Mississippi, the feller wanted to show us how to stop and start the records. Try to tell us when we got to begin and how we got to end. And you know, I started not to make ’em! I started not to make ’em ’cause he wasn’t no muscianer, so how could he tell me to stop and start the song? We was the Sheiks, Mississippi Sheiks and you know we was famous.”