February 7, 2016: Heading back home and suffering jet lags
It is strange, being in Missississppi for just two weeks makes you don’t want to leave forever. We had a hard time saying goodbye and we felt like we didn’t want to go back to the country we live in. In the Netherlands we can imagine ourselves we have a “good life” (though I am not pretty sure about that anymore over the last 15 years), and although Mississippi is poor, we felt in some way that the people are more easy going, and that there is a lot of hope and happiness.
The flight back home was long but pretty ok. It was nice to see a warm welcome from our parents and family there at the gate.
We are suffering from a bad jetlag for almost a week right now but we are happy to look back on two fantastic weeks.
Thank you Memphis and thank you Mississippi for the wonderful times!
Bo and Vera.
February 6, 2016: BB King Museum and Blues Corner Cafe, Indianola, MS
When in Mississippi, everything goes slow. And that counts for us too. Don’t plan a lot of things to do on one day, you won’t make it. This would be our last day in the USA and we planned to go visit the BB King Museum in Indianola. Going for coffee while doing the necessary WIFI obligations, keeping in touch with home, we went over to the newest lunchroom in Clarksdale: The Yazoo Pass. It is kind of weird to see the beautiful, hipster-like entourage of this place, it’s fancy lounge couches, and pretty tables in such a dilapidadet place like Clarksdale. It is however good to see there is development and I am sure within the next 10 years a lot of things will change in the city. Hopefully the city council will be aware of the cities’ history and will try to preserve it’s authentic atmosphere. The coffee is good there though!
Then it was off to Indianola again to visit the BB King Museum. This museum is an absolute must see! It gives such a clear insight in the man’s life and work. It is set up with great accuracy and holds a lot of information. We were absolutely struck and moved by the stories that tell the life of a young black man working on the fields, trying to survive the streets and finding his way in a by whites dominated culture, to be divided by segregation, confronted with racism, hate and violence. We both had tears in our eyes going through some sections of the museum hallways. The place is a great tribute to his life and the lives of the entire black community in the USA, and I will never forget going there. In the small yard behind the museum we found his gravestone, and I can’t express how I felt being there. BB was one of the greatest of all Bluesmen and he will forever live on in the minds of everyone in Mississippi and around the world. Everywhere you go in Indionola you can still feel his presence.
As we promised to Ronnie and Betty we then crossed the railroads that divide the town into two sections. There is mainly a black community living there and the people are just great. You will find good southern cooking, affordable beers and we were warmly welcomed by Ronnie and Betty again. Of course I took the guitar and played a set for an enthousiastic audience that late afternoon. We had a great time at the Blues Corner Cafe and we talked with Betty and Ronnie for better part of the evening, telling us breathtaking stories about BB King’s funeral, how they got to meet him and become close friends, how Betty sang in the choir at his funeral, how Ronnie cooked for him at the Home Coming Events, and so much more incredible stories. Ronnie and Betty, it was great meeting you and we will surely come back again to pay you another visit! You guys better get that B&B ready! 😉
Driving out of Indianola we sat in the car speechless, overwhelmed by so many impressions. We had dinner at Airport Groceries, a great restaurant just outside of Cleveland. By the time we got to Clarksdale we found out there were some great bands playing there but we didn’t get to see them. We were done. A great trip had ended and we needed the sleep for our flight the next day. What an impressive day it has been. We slept like babies that night.
February 5, 2016: Visiting Robert Johnson’s graves.
This day we wanted to do a lot of traveling and see all the magnificent places in the deep delta. It didn’t quite turn out how we expected because we had a hard time trying to find Robert Johnson’s grave…
Trying to find any of Robert Johnson’s graves can be a bit of a pain. We were lucky enough to carry some good travel guide books with us: “The Blues Highway” and “Blues Traveling”. These books can (sort of) show you where to go. From Clarksdale we drove about 90 miles south to a small village called Quito, and although we had a hard time finding the burial place itself, it is still a wonderful drive through the state of Mississippi. We finally arrived at where the first grave would be, next to a little wooden Zion Church building with a small graveyard. There is a simple gravestone here, marked: “Robert Johnson – May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938 – Resting in the Blues”. Nobody knows if this is the real grave site. The stone was put there decades after he passed away. Although this is very close to where the Three Forks club was, where he was presumebly murdered, reports from eye-witnesses tell a different story.
There is another presumed gravesite, also near a little baptist church, just before driving into Morgan City. We found it and the gravemarker looks more like a memorial stone than an actual grave. It is inscripted with lyrics from one of Robert’s songs and the titles of his complete recoreded repertoire. Still not his real grave? No one knows for sure and it is all part of the mystique hanging around the legend of Robert Johnson.
We were happy to rent a car equipped with a GPS and this is what you are going to need when traveling Mississippi looking for the “holy blues grounds”. Just north of Greenwood MS we found what actually (would) be the real gravesite. Reports say: “Rosie Eskridge was twenty-two years old when her husband, Tom, dug Robert Johnson’s grave in the cemetary of this church, to which Eskridge still belongs. She does not remember the exact spot, but she knows it is near a big tree…” This eye-witness had no financial gain for saying so, and it seems her story is true until someone comes forward with other evidence.
The place is situated far away from highways, cities and towns and the silence is just overwhelming. The headstone looks like it is been placed not long ago but walking here can grab you by the guts and it feels like this is the right place. Hard to discribe but many people visting this place feel that way. I sat down near his grave and paid a little tribute for the man who has inspired me the most, in one of his songs, Me And The Devil:
You may bury my body
Down by the highway side
So my old evil spirit
Can catch the Greyhound Bus and ride
See the clip here: VIDEO
It had cost us a lot of time trying to find those graves and we were too late when we arrived at the BB King Museum in Indionola, so we decided to look for a nice Juke Joint to get us a beer. Driving through the pretty little town we visited the place where BB used to perform on the corner of Church Street and we came across the Blues Corner Cafe, owned by two very friendly people, Ronnie and Betty. The side wall of the cafe has a pretty mural, with old blues related paintings that really stand out. We had our beer and although we were planning to leave soon, we spent our time talking to the owners and locals for a very long time. They asked me to play some songs too and I was overwhelmed by the warm and enthousiastic reaction from the audience. We had great southern food at their place that day. We promised Ronnie and Betty to come back the next day, just to stop by after visiting the BB King Museum and perform a full set.
Back in Clarksdale that night, we went to see LaLa and her band perform in Ground Zero Club. Another great day!
February 4, 2016: Delta Blues Museum and Rock & Blues Museum in Clarksdale
The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale is absolutely worth visiting. It tells the story of the origins of the blues and anything related to the music and the city. One of the highlights is the shack (or what’s left of it) where Muddy Waters used to live in. It used to be out at Stovall plantation but ended up in this museum after a 5 year world tour. The museum pays a respectful tribute to the musicians that worked (and some that still perform) in and around Clarksdale.
The Rock and Blues Museum just a couple of blocks away is owned by a dutch gentleman; Theo Dasbach. He is a devoted Music collector and the museum is stuffed with old records and items related to blues and rockńroll. You will walk around in a timeline starting somewhere around 1920 until late 70ś. It is nice to see how the blues evolved and influenced so many musicians throughout the entire world. Little Joe Ayers was playing live at the museum so we were able to see him perform a couple of songs. We then talked to Theo a long time, it is fun to hear his stories and tales about his passion.
We had some nice Lebanese kibbeh and fried okra for dinner, and that night we went over to the Shack-up Inn to see Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons play. Two great voices and multi instrumentalists and winners of the 2016 IBC! Once again we enjoyed their show.
Another great day in Clarksdale! Back to our little shack to get some good night rest.
February 3, 2016: In the footsteps of Robert Johnson – Friars Point to Rosedale
Today we wanted to see the river and follow the footsteps of Robert Johnson. Heading over to Friars Point, a small harbour village alongside the Missisissippi River we stopped at a point where you can go over the levee and get right on the banks of the river. Shot some film here for the clip of Traveling Riverside Blues. Friars Point is mentioned in the song and we also shot some footage of me playing on the streetcorner where Johnson used to perform.
Following road nr. 1 south we were heading over to Rosedale, also mentioned in the song. We made some very nice pictures of the little town on the river and shot some more film. We had a drink at the White Front Cafe, and talked about the blues and the town with the friendly owner Barbara. It is good to see that the people in the Mississippi Delta are still proud of their rich heritage. Driving through the heart of the Delta (direction west) we then would visit places such as Greenville and Parchman (biggest jail in Mississippi and a terrifying place, featured in so many songs).
We had a late dinner (very tasty fried catfish!) over at Airport Grocery, a nice restaurant just west of Cleveland before heading back to Clarksdale.
February 2, 2016: At Ronny Drew’s and gig at Hopson Commissary
Surely one of the coolest guys we met is Ronnie Drew, owner of the Bluestown Music shop. This is the place where I got my Stella from, four years ago! It was great to meet him again. Going into his shop you can’t help yourself for staying there for about an hour or three, since he’s got so many cool vintage guitars and gear. I got to try most of them and we spent hours talking about the town, music and instruments. I finally decided to buy the ’98 National (NRP) “Delphi” resonator with Highlander pick-up installed. This is a guitar I always wanted to own (I almost got one in the Netherlands some day) and sounds superb. Ronnie is a very friendly and easy going fellow, I will surely pay him a visit again when we come back!
That night we had chicken and fried tomatos for dinner at the Hopson Commissary and I played a great show for the audience there. We talked with the owner Robert about the blues that night. This nice guy knows a lot about it and he told us some things we didn’t know yet. Appearantly there seems to be another plantation around Clarksdale, much older than Stovall and Dockery Farms, where there was music already… gotta check that one out. And he also told us that Henri Sloan and Charley Patton, might well have been the same person… Mysteries all over.
What a nice day we had!
February 1, 2016: In and around Clarksdale MS
Clarksdale MS is considered the heart of the Delta and the city where the blues was born. Everywhere you go you can feel the presence of the blues. There are a lot of clubs where live blues is presented on stage, when in Clarksdale you can see live music every day in clubs such as Reds Lounge, Ground Zero and Hambone’s. Around 80% of Clarksdale’s residents are black but the city is flooding with people from all over the world who come to Clarksdale to experience itś rich heritage. Around Clarksdale you will find the big company farmers growing cotton, corn and rice.
We decided to go see some of these farms, the places where black laborers used to work and sang their songs. The first one we visited is called the stovall Plantation. Muddy Waters used to work here and it is the place where he was recorded for the Library of Congress, by Alan Lomax and John Work. His cabin isn’t there anymore (moved to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale) but a blues marker shows the place where it used to be. Stovall is an impressive place and you can still feel the vibes of the old Delta blues about a hundred years ago.
Then we drove about 70 miles south on highway 61 near Cleveland to go see Dockery Farms, the place where Henri Sloan and Charlie Patton (the Father of the Blues) used to live. Son House and Robert Johnson lived there too and we consider this the place where the blues was born. The guys all learned how to play from Charlie Patton and Henri Sloan. It is a deserted but well preserved place on highway 8 next to an old gas station and baptist church and still looks in good shape. The sign in front of the massive cotton gin really stands out. It is an amazing site that gives clear insight about the life on a cotton farm.
It is heartbreaking to see the area fall into decay, it’s poverty and bad maintenance, although there is some development going on nowadays. Many of the original juke joints have disappeared, or are falling apart. But when you really try, you can still find a few that feature live blues music and serve good southern food. You can still feel the atmosphere and presence of the blues when visiting the deep Delta.
Heading back to Clarksdale that evening we went over to the Hopson Plantation, another old cotton farm, just south of Clarksdale which is now a place that offers shacks for rent to tourists. The old Hopson Commissary is turned into a cafe, features live music on mondays and serves some food.
Later that night we went to the Bluesberry cafe in downtown Clarksdale to have spaghetti and meatballs (the only plate they serve) and see Watermellon Slim perform. He is a great entertainer and it is fun to see him play. He likes the bottle though and it can affect the quality of his playing some, but we had fun watching him. Later that night we all jammed on stage before heading back to the Riverside Hotel to get some sleep. Our last night at the Riverside Hotel, the next morning we would go out renting a shack at the Shack-up Inn, part of the Hopson Plantation.
January 31, 2016: ESCAPING THE BIG CITY
Wandering around in Memphis for a week can be quite overwhelming. The busy crowds in the streets, the neon lights on Beale, the focussing on the IBC16 contest, the long walking distances, you can imagine we slept like babies that night. The next morning we checked out of the hotel and took a cab off to the airport to rent us a car. We’d go south, direction Clarksdale MS, home of the Blues!
Taking highway 61 south, it is kinda weird to see the environment change once you drive into Mississippi. It is wide open and you can see the farmlands stretching out for miles where the cotton would grow in the summer. Some old shacks and barns which are overgrown by ivy and moss give it an atmosphere which immediately makes you think of stepping back in time about a hundred years. Old rusty cars and tractors are left forgotten beside the roads and once you get past Robinsonville you can see the signs of restaurants advertising for that good southern food: Hot Tamales, Crawfish, Catfish and Gumbo.
Getting into Clarksdale you will surely run into “The Crossroads”, the intersection of the two Blues highways: 61 and 49. It is marked with a sign that has three huge blue guitars on it which will immediately make you think of a Blues capitol of the world. Clarksdale is nothing like a capitol, in fact it is a poor city, like most of the places in Mississippi. The houses look old and in bad shape and although there is a lot of development going on in the city, you can still see the abandoned buildings and stores here, weathered and worn out.
The famous Riverside Hotel is such a place. This used to be an old hospital where Bessie Smith was taken after she was in a bad car crash but couldn’t be saved by the doctors. Turned into a hotel in the forties this place really breathes the atmosphere of the old Delta Blues men, and often gave roof to people like Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and many old blues legends staying there. We booked a room (Sam Cooke’s Room), for two nights.
That afternoon we walked into a small coffeehouse called Levon’s. They had a backline set-up for that evenings band to play when they saw me come walking in with my guitar slinging on my back. They asked me to play a few songs and so I played there better part of the afternoon. That was cool!
In the evening I opened the show for The Muleman at Reds Lounge. The owner of the place called Red is a very nice guy and I was happy to see him again after four years. The place didn’t change a bit and he still didn’t fix the roof! Opening up for The Muleman was a great thing to do and later that night we’d all jam together and have some fun!
It surely feels good to be back in Clarksdale. The people are friendly and very relaxed and my goodness the weather is great (can walk around in t-shirt)!
Tomorrow it’s off to explore the Delta!