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Hundreds of 'race' singers have flooded the market with what is generally regarded as the worst contribution to the cause of good music ever inflicted on the public. The lyrics of a great many of these 'blues' are worse than the lowest sort of doggerel - Talking Machine Journal, February 1924, plucked from Stephen Calt's Barrelhouse Words

Author Topic: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi  (Read 2348 times)

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Offline lindy

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Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« on: January 03, 2004, 11:16:44 AM »
A great night in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

I made the drive up there from Nawlins cause I knew Robert Belfour was gonna be there.  Most of you already know about the Ground Zero blues club in Clarksdale, lovingly remodeled to look like a juke, plywood dance floor, 25 different brands of beer for sale, 3/4 of them with a name ending in "Lite."  I had my heart set on barbecue all the way from the Louisiana border but had to do with the fried catfish plate and hush puppies.  No chicken wire protecting the players from the crowd, but they might reconsider that since one very drunk young Mississippi redneck tried to climb over the barrier for who-knows-what-reason while Belfour was playing "What's Wrong With You?"   

Belfour was amazing, like you said JohnM, he must be at the height of his powers right now, just thump-thump-thumping away with that thumb on "Breakin' My Heart," "I Got My Eyes On You," "Pushing My Luck," and "Old Black Mattie."  That was pretty much it, he did a 7-song set and got out of there to make room for the next three acts--Paul "Wine" Jones followed by T-Model Ford followed by a young white guy named Jimbo Mathus who, I'm told, used to be with the Squirrel Nut Zippers but gave up the high life of alt-rock to move to Mississippi and start a power trio a la the North Mississippi Allstars.  An entire evening of 1- and 2-chord grooves, Belfour by himself and Jones and Ford each with their own drummers who played a snare, bass, hi-hat and ride cymbal and that's it--two power duos. Not a bad lineup for $10. (For another $5 you got a plate of grits and eggs and bacon and a plastic cup of champagne at midnight.)  I got a good look at Belfour's left hand while he was playing Old Black Mattie and watched him use his pinky and ring finger to do those triple and quadruple pull-offs that make the core lick sound like it does. I've been messin' around with those ever since.  Not much else to say beyond that, the players kept laying down groove after groove, the dance floor was full of people two-steppin', everyone working up a big sweat, everything smelling of smoke and beer and deep-fried fish and cornmeal.  When Jimbo and his band started playing the younger crowd took over and started jumpin' around and falling on the floor, the place started looking like Ole Miss against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. I stumbled back to my room at the Uptown Motor Inn, a true blues motel if there ever was one, only thing missing was a flashing neon light outside my window. I listened to local kids racing their big 'ol pickup trucks around town as I fell asleep.

The couple who run the Cat Head art/CD/bookstore down the street from Ground Zero definitely have the fever, and really want people to travel to Clarksdale to enjoy the Delta Blues Museum and to get a feel for the blues heritage of the area.  They did their best to lure out-of-towners to enjoy the blues on New Year's Eve in Clarksdale.  It must be frustrating on occasion, delta time being what it is.  They booked a band to play in Red's Lounge (a nasty-smelling juke on the edge of downtown) on Wednesday afternoon from 1-5; I walked into the place at 3:00 and the band hadn't started setting up yet.  Walking around town and sticking my head into cafes, antique shops, and what have you, it's pretty clear that there are those shop owners who get the idea of using the blues to attract people to downtown Clarksdale and those who say "I have no idea what they're trying to do over there with that music stuff."  Two miles from Delta Donuts on Highway 61 there's a strip mall that calls itself the Blues Shopping Center, but it doesn't have a music store. 

There are some locals who are jumping at the chance to pass down the music.  A guy who calls himself Big T spends one night a week teaching a bunch of high school students how to play delta blues.  They've organized a student band, and held an open rehearsal on Thursday night at a local cafe.  When the weather is warmer, I heard they move their instruments to a gazebo right next to the Delta Blues Museum so tourists can hear them practicing their Muddy Waters licks after seeing the cabin that Muddy was born in, which has been completely reconstructed inside the museum.  And WROX--the station of Early Wright--has been revived, and is playing a lot of blues.  It had some transmitter problems that kept it off the air during my visit, but like lots of other small-town stations, it's trying to survive as a niche operation with the help of the web: www.wroxblues.com.

I took the great circle route home, driving through Sledge, Senatobia, Galena and the completely empty town square in Oxford (it was 1/1/04) before heading home. I took my first-ever look at the Mississippi hill county where all that good music I heard Wednesday night came from, really pretty country.  I'm debating making the trip one more time at the end of January from the 2004 Blues First and International Blues Challenge being put on by the Blues Foundation in Memphis, but I'd have to miss a couple of Mardi Gras parades to do that.  Check out www.blues.org.  They're holding a contest for the "World's Best Unsigned Blues Band," with a bunch of acoustic acts in the fray.  Ground Zero has booked Sam Carr for that Saturday night.

OK, Happy New Year y'all, hope you get a chance to see all this good stuff on your own someday.

Lindy

Offline waxwing

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2004, 03:17:00 PM »
Hey Lindy,
Checkin' out Belfours left hand. Alright. Sounds like a good time. I play around with that great groove lick in E, John taught us, a lot.
Hey, have you been thinkin' about catching the annual celebration at MJHs shack in Avalon. Happens around the 4th of July. Neil Harpe usually has pics on his Stella site. I know Andy Cohen was there last year, John Sebastian the first year.  Hurt's granddaughter, I think, has had the shack commemorated as a Museum. Seems like a real grass roots event.
Keep the reports comin'.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline FrontPage

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2004, 05:41:30 AM »
Lindy - Jimbo Mathus played rhythm guitar on Buddy Guy's 'Sweet Tea' album that was recorded a couple of years ago in Xxford MS. I think the Zippers have either broken up or quit touring, but he's the guy. I believe Jimbo's originally from Durham, NC.

Wish I'd been there for that Robert Belfour gig - he gets quite a bit of time on my CD player, especially on long road trips. Thanks for the ring finger info - I could tell by listening that he bounces it really fast on those fill funs. Now I', going to have to listen for what he's doing with his pinky too.
Cheers,
FrontPage

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2004, 09:16:56 PM »
Hi Lindy,
Thanks for the report on your Clarksdale trip.  It sounds like a great experience.  I would particularly like to see Robert Belfour again.  How was your catfish?  When I was in Mississippi I went to a catfish restaurant, pretty upscale, on a beautiful lake outside Jackson, and the catfish was darned good there, though I'm pretty sure it was from a farm.  You should write an article and submit it to the Oxford American (not about catfish, but about music).  sounds like life down south is agreeing with you.
All best,
John

Offline lindy

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2004, 05:26:59 AM »
JohnC:

Thanks for the reminder about the MJH gathering, you'd mentioned it once a long time ago and I had it on my list of things to do during my time in the Deep South but had forgotten about it.  So many choices . . . people here don't let the heat stop 'em from getting outdoors in the summer for stuff like that.  There's a calendar that they sell locally that lists over 500 festivals in Louisiana alone, can't imagine how many others there must be in Mississippi.  But the MJH memorial sounds like an important pilgrimage to make.

JohnM, the catfish I et in Clarksdale was the best ever.  Even though I'd spent a lot of time in the south visiting relatives as a kid, I had honestly forgotten about the edict that if you can kill it and eat it, you can deep-fry it.  I've actually had a lot of very disappointing meals here in New Orleans because all the flavor of the fish/meat has been deep fried to death; somehow the cooks at Ground Zero have figured out the right temperature and timing so their fish come out tasty and dry.  Same with their hush puppies, which can easily turned into greasy glutinous mush if they're not done right.

And yes, the south is agreeing with me so far, I've been able to find a balance between work, practicing guitar, and hitting all of the great clubs here.  That balance is about to fly out the window, tomorrow is 12th Night, the "official" beginning of the Carnival season.  Even though the hardcore debauchery doesn't start until Feb 12 (12 days before Mardi Gras), there's plenty of minor parades and parties going on between now and then to keep me up way past my bedtime.

Lindy

Offline lindy

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2004, 12:48:34 PM »
Actually, another Mississippi travel story.

If you're going to Mississippi in the near future, pick up a copy of this month's Living Blues (issue #172, with a picture of B.B. King on the cover), it's got about 40 pages of names/locations of old jukes, new clubs, cemeteries, museums, and restaurants all over the state. The largest section is on the delta.? Between that and Cheseborough's book, I had enough leads to last a month, but I only had 5 days for this trip.

In Clarksdale I had dinner at a place called Sarah's Kitchen, not really a juke, but a rehearsal spot for a bunch of teenagers who are learning how to play electric Delta/Chicago blues under the tutelage of 2-3 local musicians. Sarah makes a mean plate of smothered pork chops, but you can only get them on Thursday nights, when the kids put on a public performance to show what they've been practicing.? I was blown away by one girl who looked to be about 16 years old, she has chops and then some, a little trouble with timing once in a while, but she played fast and clean, and her solos had plenty of original ideas that proved she's been listening to and absorbing from her elders.? Then I found out she isn't 16.? She's 12.? Twelve years old.? She's already been fronting the band I saw her playing with for a year. Her name is Jacqueline Gooch or Gouch, I saw it spelled both ways.? Someone in Clarksdale is so enamored with her playing that he named his club Jacqueline.? She was booked as the opening act for Big Jack Johnson at Clarksdale's Ground Zero club on Saturday, but I was gone by then.? My guess is that she'll be a road veteran by the time she does reach 16.? Remember, you read it here first.

I'd heard a rumor that one or more of R.L. Burnside's kids had opened a club in Holly Springs, so I headed up that direction, stopping off at Oxford and the Ole Miss campus on the way. I entered the main library just as the first humongous drops of an incredible storm started falling, there were tornado warnings all over the state.? I felt no fear, the library was built in the marble blockhouse style of the 1940s and 50s, built to last until the next Confederacy. The third floor is home to the university's Special Collections, including the Blues Archive.? Like lots of university libraries, this one is filled with old, heavy, beautiful wood-and-glass display cases filled with some of the collection's pearls: Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson 78s, lyrics to a Bukka White song written in his own hand, a cancelled check made out to the first Sonny Boy Williamson, stuff like that. The librarians went out of their way to show me around. To test the system I searched their online database for material on Furry Lewis, and they brought out a bunch of books, some old copies of Blues World (a mimeographed blues journal published by some British blues fanatics in the 1960s), and a folder with clippings from the Memphis newspapers, a Swedish blues journal, and Playboy. Check it out:
http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/general_library/files/archives/blues/index.html
They have a collection of records donated to them by B.B. King, and lots of videos of old TV performances by our heroes.? According to Cheseborough, they've got a videotape of Othar Turner and Jesse Mae Hemphill as guests on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. I've got to see that.

Holly Springs, 45 minutes north of Oxford, is one of the lucky towns in Mississippi, if you think that having a new highway overpass being built near the just-opened WalMart is good luck.? If you compare it with what's going on in dozens of impoverished small towns that I've seen on my trips around the state, the store and overpass are real blessings, lots of construction jobs, at least for the short term. But the scenario is the same as in rural communities all over: people are abandoning the downtown core for the malls. Downtown Holly Springs is where I found Aikei Pro, who runs a shop where you can buy 8-track players, stereos from the 1970s, cigarillos, bicycle parts, VCRs in various states of disintegration, soul records from the 60s, used tools, and cardboard boxes full of paper with stuff written on them that must have some value to Aikei.? Of the 300 or so square feet of space in his store, there's maybe 25 that are navigable: a thin aisle running along the outer rim, where he walks back and forth, talking to himself and moving around boxes and dead stereos, and 2 or 3 square feet in the middle, where you can gaze over his treasure.? If you want to turn around you have to keep your elbows tucked in so you don't knock anything over. Aikei is also known as Mr. Caldwell; his store is listed in Blues Traveling. He gave me directions to the Burnside club, to R.L.'s place, and to the home of Jesse Mae Hemphill, but he said that both of them are in poor health these days, and not as open to unannounced visitors as they used to be. He also told me that the Burnside Cafe? may close without even having a chance to make a go of it, the local zoning board wants to extend the town's development that direction, and they don't look too favorably on a juke with 4 junked cars rotting away in the parking lot. (It also has a late-40s model DeSoto with a big For Sale parked in front that looked to be in pretty good shape.)? I went to the club, it was about 6 p.m. on a Friday, doors locked, no one around, the people next door said there hadn't been a show there for a week or two.? But being a twenty-first century juke, it has a web page: http://www.jukejointmusic.com.? I checked out the page when I came home, I should've stuck around for another day.? But it looks like I'm gonna make another trip to Holly Springs for Fathers' Day the Burnside? and Kimbrough families will be holding an open party in nearby Chulahoma, everyone invited, beer and barbecue for sale.

I'm just rambling on here.? I saw a bunch of other interesting stuff on this trip, but I have to earn something to pay for the gas for the next one. Still below $1.90 in both Louisiana and Mississippi. In the next day or three I'll post something on the three blues museums I visited.

Lindy
« Last Edit: April 18, 2005, 02:56:44 PM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #6 on: June 02, 2004, 07:51:52 PM »
Thanks for another great installment, Lindy. Keep 'em coming.

Offline Richard

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2004, 07:55:37 AM »
Love it.

Just to add
Quote
old copies of Blues World (a mimeographed blues journal published by some British blues fanatics in the 1960s


I found a couple of copies of that a year or so months ago, so what does that tell you  :P !
« Last Edit: June 03, 2004, 12:15:32 PM by richard »
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Slack

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #8 on: June 03, 2004, 10:39:27 AM »
Hear hear!

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2005, 04:47:25 PM »
Hi all,
I think our friend Lindy is an outstanding travel writer, and you might not have read these posts unless you were trawling deep in the Main Forum under the topic of New Orleans.  It seemed like a good idea to break these messages out as a separate thread so that more of you might read Lindy's accounts.  If you like these, there are more like them in the New Orleans thread.
All best,
Johnm

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #10 on: March 27, 2005, 01:08:14 AM »
Thanks JohnM a great idea. I had missed them and glad to have this corrected.

Boots

Offline Deadeye

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Re: Lindy's Travels in Mississippi
« Reply #11 on: April 04, 2005, 03:10:54 PM »
The last post of his was in June of 2004.

Did he make it to the John Hurt fest..
It was a good one. I was there.

Deadeye
Greenwood, Mississippi

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