Jerry Lewis Barrett: Alleged Gun-Toting, Crack-Dealing Bootlegger Reminds Us of Epic Houston Blues Tale

Yesterday afternoon police in Tyler raided the East Locust Street home of 56-year-old Jerry Lewis Barrett. They say they found crack, prescription pills, a short-barrel firearm (possibly a sawed-off shotgun) and evidence of bootlegging. (Just what constitutes evidence of bootlegging we can't say: whiskey and boots, maybe?)

Barrett was charged with drug possession in a drug-free zone, possession of a prohibited weapon and bootlegging. And we'll just go ahead and write it down here -- we likely wouldn't be posting this here were it not for his spectacular mugshot.

Barrett's wild mien puts us in mind of a story late Fifth Ward blues impresario Ivory Lee Semien once told my dad, and that my dad later passed along to me.

It revolves around D.C. "Wine Head" Bender, an East Texas-bred guitarist who worked the streets and jukes of 1950s Houston with his cousin Lightnin' Hopkins and Smokey Hogg and others.

While he could be suave when dressed for the stage, when he kicked back at home Bender had a wild appearance, Semien told my dad. He would let his coiffed hair go natural, and he was said to be somewhat cross-eyed. What's more, Bender's nickname was no misnomer. (Although his last name was: it was actually Bendy, not Bender.) DC liked to take a drink.

One day, Semien told my dad, Bender was at home in Fifth Ward, nipping on a bottle of Wild Irish Rose and cutting up a backyard-raised chicken in his kitchen. Needless to say, it was messy work. Bender was up to both elbows in bright red chicken blood, the big butcher knife slipping around in his hand as he worked.

Suddenly a knock came at the door.

Bender set the chicken down, walked over to the front room and opened the door. It was the HL&P man looking for money on a bill that had gone past due.

The electric company man was in for a shock, and no money would change hands on that day.

"Johnny, you should have seen that bill collector when DC opened the door," Semien told my dad. "There he is, all nappy-headed and wall-eyed, covered in blood, a big-ass knife in his hand. That bill-collector just took off!"

Here's Bender singing "Woke Up This Morning"...

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