Thursday, May 23, 2013

We have the Blues

We love music, especially the blues, so driving a bit of the Mississippi Blues Trail has been on our to do list for a while.  The trail has many stops in the state including a couple we saw in Natchez and Vicksburg.  The birthplace of the blues is the Mississippi Delta, really a huge alluvial plain, in the Northwest corner of the state.  The land is very flat and fertile so the land was the home of many huge plantations growing rice, sugar cane and cotton.  Because of the threat of flooding, 90% of the land was not developed until after the Civil War.  This area was inundated during the great 1927 flood and suffered some damage in 2011. The slaves and farmhands working the fields originated the music that became the Delta Blues and laid the ground for rock and roll. 
The intersection of 61 & 49 in Clarksdale is the place where legend has it that blues great Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his ability to play.
A few of the signs along the trail from Natchez to Clarksdale.  One story of the area is that a young John John Kennedy used to come to Clarksdale to listen to the music and would stay at the Riverside Hotel.  The hotel is a long, long way from Hyannis Port.
The Delta Blues Museum is a must see stop.  It has a great collection of blues memorabilia including the log cabin where the legendary musician Muddy Waters was born.  No pictures were allowed so check out the web site. 
You can't do a trip about music without hearing some, so for three nights in a row we bit the bullet and stayed up late.  The first night we did Ground Zero Blues Club that is partly owned by actor Morgan Freeman.  While the music and food were great it turned out to by more of a tourist destination than the real old time jook joint we were looking.  That said, it was still very cool.
Bill "Howl-N-Madd" Perry and the band were very good.  Here is a link to a short video I shot.
In Cleveland we stopped at Delta State University to see the life casting sculptures of local blues artists by Sharon McConnell.  Here is a link that shows her work along with photographs of  the musicians.  Make sure you read Sharon's bio on the link.  She became an artist after she suddenly went blind at the age of 27.
Near Cleveland is Dockery Farm, one of a couple of places that is considered the Birthplace of the Blues.  The farm was not established until 1895 and is still owned by the Dockerys, though none of them live there. 
An old gas station at Dockery Farms.  The blues have become such a big tourist business that protesters convinced the highway department to change their plans for a new road just to safe  this historic site.
For our next music experience we wanted to do a real jook joint so we went to Poor Monkey Lounge in Merigold. The word jook was indigenous to the Negro culture and was a place to dance, drink and gamble.  It is now often spelled juke. The old joints were out in the fields so the workers, who usually did not have cars, could get there. We drove out during the day so we could find it the next night.  The directions were turn off highway 61 where the 18 wheelers are parked,  go to the Y and take the dirt road, you can't miss it.
We returned the next night, it is only open on Thursdays from 8  to 2, and found an authentic jook joint experience.  It was not blues, but the DJ had the place rockin.  You can not imagine how many people they got inside that little place.  Here we are with the man himself, Willie "Po Monkey" Seaberry, who has been doing this for 58 years.  He lives in two little rooms in the lounge.
There were many more locals than tourists here, but it has just been added as a stop on the Blues Trail so that may change things a bit.  We have been to several neat bars on our travels, but this place is at the top of real experiences.  Here is a link to a short video I shot that shows what the place is like without a flash picture.
The Hopson Plantation near Clarksdale is another neat blues site.  The motel, Shack Up Inn, consists of old farm shacks that were moved from the fields and modernized enough to rent out as rooms.  They also have music in the afternoon, but we needed a nap so we could go out that night.
On Friday night went to Red's Lounge in Clarksdale for an urban juke joint experience.  Red's is right up there with Po Monkey's but with live blues rather than a DJ.  Once again the place was rockin.
The band was Space Cowboy & Blues Posse w/ Kingfish, the 14 year old guitar player and Hollywood, the 13 year old drummer.  I did not get the name of the bass player.  I do believe we have seen the future of the blues.  Kingfish played everything from Robert Johnson's Sweet Home Chicago to a Woodstock like Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner.  Videos were not allowed, but here is a link to a YouTube video I found.  These kids were fantastic. 
Three other locals, whose names I did not get, did a few songs with the band.  If you want a real juke joint experience Red's Lounge and the Mississippi Blues Trail is the place to go.
I just found this story in the New York Times about the Blues Trail and Juke Joints.

1 comment:

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

A really great post, now we have another place added to our to do list, but staying up late?