In 1986, Berbon "Bubba" Sullivan opened Bubba's Blues Corner on the south end of Cherry Street in downtown Helena-West Helena to sell blues records and ephemera.
In Blues Corner's heyday, Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant was known to pop in to peruse the selection. Phillips County native Levon Helm was a frequent visitor and held a book signing there for his 1993 autobiography "This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band." Fans from across the country and from as far away as Europe and Asia have gone to visit the small store off to the side of the now-closed This Little Pig Antiques, which was run by Sullivan's wife, Kathy.
"Everybody would come in," Sullivan says. "People would just show up from around the world."
The mustachioed, 80-year-old Sullivan grew up in the community of Wabash in south Phillips County, where he heard bluesmen Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lockwood Jr., and others who performed on the King Biscuit Time radio show on Helena station KFFA.
"They would come around on a truck and play at all the stores and advertise King Biscuit Flour and Sonny Boy Corn Meal," he says. "That's how I got into the music."
Sullivan is a founding member of the Sonny Boy Blues Society and helped organize the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival, which started in downtown Helena in 1986, and where Lockwood, who died in 2006, was a regular performer. Sullivan serves as the main stage master of ceremonies during the festival.
He is the subject of "The Blues Never Die," an evocative, loving article by Rhonda Shook for Spin.com -- http://arkansasonline.com/1122papertrails/.
"Bubba Sullivan has lived long enough to have accumulated some incredible stories, and when he mentions music legends, he's not name-dropping; he's just sharing an experience," Shook, associate professor of Communication and Theatre at the University of the Ozarks, says in an email. "He recognizes his place in history and the importance of his stories, but he isn't smug or boastful. He's genuinely grateful for the life he's led and the artists he's met along the way."
Nowadays Bubba's Blues Corner, just a few doors down from the Delta Cultural Center where King Biscuit Time still airs every weekday, is open by request. A sign on the door asks that visitors call Sullivan, and he'll come let them in.
The 100-year-old building is in need of work and a crowdfunding effort is underway to try to raise the money to fix it (see http://arkansasonline.com/1122paper for information).
"I've been real blessed," Sullivan says. "It's just amazing how Helena is so important to music. One of the members of the Kentucky Headhunters said to me one time: 'It's like walking on hallowed ground here.'"