A lifetime of music
by Faith Strong
The Bolivar Bullet
Music and the Delta. The two words are synonymous with each other. So is Mississippi Marshall and the sound of the Blues, even though he plays all types of music. Marshall Hopper, or “Mississippi Marshall” as he is known on stage, has been in love with music since he was a young boy. He was raised in Bolivar County, but lives in Tallahatchie County today. The moniker “Mississippi Marshall” was actually given to him when he was in the military.
“When I went into the military I was 17-years-old,” he said. “And, I talked like the typical southern boy from Mississippi. I think I’ve had a really thick southern drawl since I was born. So, I earned that nickname.”
Hopper has always loved music and has been intrigued by the Blues since he was a child, listening to that style all the time. However, he started playing country music first.
“Sort of a folk-style country music,” he said. “My father, Ellis Hopper, was from Cleveland and he was a guitar-slinger there. I actually started playing drums for him when I was 11-years-old. I played all the little juke joints up and down Hwy. 61 with him until I went into the army. My dad taught me three chords. So from there, I’m pretty much self-taught.”
When Hopper went into the Army he was stationed in Uijeongbu, South Korea. It was 1978 and bands were being formed at that time and became really popular with people and the new commander they had.
“I started playing drums for a rock band,” he said. “We did a lot of Led Zeppelin. I realized that music was really based on old Blues tunes. When I was six-years-old I had learned to play guitar, but never really took it seriously. But, I did when the guitar player who played for the band in Korea got sent back to the states and they needed a new player. I could play, but not as good as some. But, on our military compound we didn’t have a lot of people who could play guitar, so I did it. I began to study Jimmy Page of Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and bunch of others. It took me back to the old Blues roots and I just found a whole new appreciation for it.”
In between playing music, Hopper was also a chief of security in the private prison system. He retired from that job but continues to play music as much as possible.
“I’ve always played music, even when I was working my other job,” he said. “And, I play anywhere around the Delta that I can these days. My grandson, Grayson Ackerland, plays bass with me usually. When he’s with me we are known as “Mississippi Marshall Deluxe.” We do a little bit of all kinds of music, but basically we’re a Blues group. We do a lot of the old B.B. King stuff, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, things like that. And, I write and do a lot of my own material too. I also have recorded three self-produced CD’s and I’m currently working at the DMI (Delta Music Institute) on a new album.”
Hopper is a two-time International Blues Challenge Semi-Finalist and a Mississippi Music Foundation award winner. He said that music gives him unbelievable joy and connecting with people, especially his audience, is really satisfying.
“My job is to make my audience feel good about coming to my show,” he said. “When the crowd is in to what I’m doing, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling Everybody is enjoying themselves. I love what I do and I believe that true musicians never quit. As long as they can wheel me in somewhere, I’ll play.”