Saturday, October 9, 2010

where america's music was born

before i get to the unbelievable story of the mississippi delta, i have to stick in a few photos of where i was the morning before hitting the mississippi blues highway - breaux bridge, louisiana.  crawfish captial of the world.  i was just so glad to be out of that dirty microtel i couldn't get on the road fast enough.  yes, folks, i was up by 7 and on the road by 8!  i don't even do that on work days.

and oh, forgot to say that in the filthy interstate microtel, i was talking to my mom on my cell phone, and a stack of newspapers caught my eye.  i wandered over and grabbed a usa today and as my mom is saying something like "oh, i am so glad you have checked in and that everything is fine" i read the cover story which was about 400 some odd unsolved interstate highway murders of women!!!!!!!  it said something about there being 20 suspects and that it has been going on for years and that the suspects are mostly long haul truck drivers!!!  good god.  of course i had to tell my mom.  and she said "i sure hope dad isn't reading that."  and i am wondering if you all (oops i mean y'all) got a laugh out of it at work b/c dan barry usually buys usa today.

okay, so here is breaux bridge.
full of antique stores and funky little cafes and shops.

and of course the bridge.   notice the crawfish painting.  they have a big crawfish festival every year.  is it spelled crawfish or crayfish???  anyway, you know what i mean.

nothing much to say about that one.  except i don't advise trying to actually buy ice there.

the view from the bridge.  bayou teche again (same as runs through the other cute town w/the evangeline oak.)

more of town's charmy funkiness.
i have really connected w/the south and its weirdness.  i feel right at home.  until i can't understand what people are saying.

the blues highway!!!!  i took route 61 also known as the blues highway or mississippi blues trail into mississippi and all the way up its western side to clarksdale.  the highway runs from memphis to new orleans and was the typical route for many blues musicians to their gigs along the way.  i learned a lot about juke joints.  i have so much to say about the blues i could do 10 entries on it.  but let me try to be concise and say it was a real eye opener to learn that many of these stellar musicians with a very unique style of playing and singing were of course not recorded b/c they could not get record deals.  some of the best blues players EVER were not recorded until 20-30 years into their careers!!!!!!  they played in juke joints (small neighborhood bar type places) and even the "famous" ones were on what was called the chitlin' circuit b/c it was very difficult for black people to travel in the south.  (couldn't use stores, bathrooms, hotels, etc.)!!!!!  MAN it has been a draining few days learning so much about the disgusting racism and segregation and indignities that i had only a vague idea about.  black people travelled w/coffee cans to urinate into.  !!!!!!!!!  SH%$# i am crying for the 16th time today so more on all that later.  you knew it was comin' folks - i am in the south and doing blues trails and civil rights sites so there is going to be a lot of imparting what i have learned!!!!

you would be absolutely amazed at how many blues legends came out of the mississippi delta!!!!!  which is really not that big of an area.  i would venture to say every single one of them.  i mean it is no joke to say the blues was born there.  one of the theories is that the segregation was so severe that black people were left completely alone in their own communities and were virtually untouched by outside musical influences and worked together to come up w/a distinct style.  and then worked w/eachother honing their styles and techniques.  also, the landscape and the feel and the miles and miles of cotton fields evoke a particular feeling.  one writer commenting about the blues phenomenon of the area said the delta did not make the blues, the delta IS the blues.  and obviously the economic hardship and history of segregation had a lot to do with it.

SO, the blues highway itself was not quite what i expected b/c there weren't many towns along the way. lots of open highway.  there was a restaurant shaped like a giant lady where the skirt part was the restaurant and a big head and torso sat on top.  didn't get a picture.  but did get a picture of the general store which was so run down i thought it was closed.  but then saw other cars there.  it is right near where the "teddy bear" came to be.  see below.

i met a lady there (keeping up w/my practice of talking to tons of strangers every day) who is from indianola - home of the bbking museum - and she convinced me to go there and gave me directions.  all the while calling me "baby".  it was great.  "you got all DAY, baby."  "it is just but 1 o'clock now - you got the whole DAY."  "you GOTTA see that museum, baby!"  "and it is not outta your way to clarksdale - you just gonna DETOUR, baby."  she was awesome.  and i am so glad she convinced me.  and pointed out her blue buick regal in case i met up w/them up the road b/c they were heading back there too.  only when i realized how little traffic there was did it make sense that she did that!  she asked me where i was staying at one point and i told her clarksdale.  then about 10 minutes later she asked me again so i thought she meant where where.  so i said the shack up inn.  "there are shacks."  as soon as it was out of my mouth i realized the strangeness of telling a black woman older than me who grew up and still lives in the mississippi delta that i was here from new york and going to be staying in a shack.  iyyyyyyyyy.....

on my way to the bbking museum, this is what i saw

cotton, cotton, cotton.   i could not believe it.  it stretched for SO far - both back away from the road and along the road.  and it was just blowing around the fields and the road.  i didn't expect it and it blew me away.  it seemed so beautifully tragic - such a harsh symbol - i could not separate it from its cruel history.  and i was amazed at the actual plant.  it seemed so much more painful than i imagined to actually pick it b/c the stalks were very brown and scraggly looking.  i don't know if you can tell from this photo how far back it goes, but it is astounding.  and the bales were GIGANTIC.  and covered just at the top w/plastic.

so onto bbking.  riley b. king.  "blues boy" king shortened to b.b.  i love him even more than i did before after touring the museum!!!!  what an extraordinary man as well as musician.
and what a huge influence on american music.  period.  i honestly don't think anything in rock would be as it is w/o him and the blues.  he had a tragic upbringing but triumphed over it all and is not only a great performer and blues ambassador all over the world, but is considered by trained musicians to be an absolute master musician.

he actually thought for a while in the 60s that his career was over.  his popularity had waned and he didn't really know what he was going to do.  and suddenly he played the fillmore in the 60s and the hippies went crazy.  he had a resurgence of his popularity reaching a lot of white audiences and the rest is history.

i have GOT to see him play live.   he does a homecoming concert free in mississippi every year.  for many years he did 300 gigs a year!!!!  his guitar is named lucille after a woman 2 men were fighting over in a juke joint and set it on fire and he escaped w/his guitar and named her that then!  i can't say enough about him.

the museum is only 2 years old.  and super high tech.  i played a blues solo w/him in this guitar-hero-esque "studio" w/headphones!!!

he had a huge red bus and sometimes they'd pull into a gas station and not be able to use the bathroom.  good god.  so he started saying "i am not going to put 131 gallons of gas in this bus unless you have a working bathroom for me and my musicians. " (b/c the gas sta. people would say the bathrooms were "out of order".) and he started getting them.  

he is known for being a consummate professional who doesn't drink or do drugs or allow it by his band.  and for always wearing a suit and tie and being a gentleman.  and being an incredibly hard worker.

i bought some things in the gift shop.

the museum is in the town where he got his start playing on the street and in small clubs.  (juke joints i should say.)  and it is near the super small town where he was born.

i pretty much had the museum to myself.

now onto my lodging for the evening - clarksdale, mississippi's shack up inn!

 this is the lobby!!!!
really, do i even need to say more?!?!?!

my shack was on the other side of these railroad tracks.

 next to the lobby (but attached) is a stage, bar, sitting area, etc.  it is an old cotton gin mill.

 sitting area on other side of church pews.

love it.

i got super confused when i got to my shack, b/c the woman who checked me in said i had a neighbor (a former partner of the owners) and his shack was "attached" to mine.  where he lives.  and she said "i will give him a call so he knows you are coming."  so i got to mine, and my bathroom has a door on the other side as if it is shared, and the back door is wide open, and the fridge is stocked w/all sorts of stuff.  so i was like "oh, S%^&, what did i sign up for?  does shack up inn mean you are literally shacking up w/someone??" i was so confused.  so i go back outside where my neighbor is w/all of his friends and i go "um, excuse me, but i feel like i am in your house, so um....what, um, what are the ground rules?"  and his friend goes "you get naked at midnight and come outside."  and i go "i am going to have to see the lady in the lobby about that."  and the actual owner guy laughs and says "NO, you are in ERIN's shack! i have my own!" so now i am picturing some erin person coming home in the middle of the night.  or i am also picturing aaron???  i must have looked confused so he said something about it not being erin's shack ANYMORE and i go "what's w/all the food in the fridge?"  and he goes "ah, just leftovers."  and the friend says "me and so and so are sleeping up in the loft."  and i again go "i really gotta talk to the lady in the lobby about that too."  and again the owner says "haha".  oh boy.

my sitting room!  could it be any better?!?!?!  i guess only if bb king was there w/lucille.  


 super comfy bed w/super soft and nice smelling sheets.  much better than microtel.

very eclectic decorating style this erin has.  or aaron.

complete w/tin roof.  glad it didn't rain.

drove to town to see live blues at a place called ground zero.  supposed to be great.  morgan freeman is a part owner.  got downtown and holy cow it looked like the land that time forgot.  it was pretty rough and tumble, no streetlights, sort of desolate, i was in shorts and a hot pink t-shirt, i was really tired to the point where one beer would have knocked me out, some wacko sped up behind me and then whizzed around me, i saw a bunch of broken bottles on the street....and i totally chickened out.  i am so mad at myself!!!  but i just couldn't do it.  so that, ladies, is the danger of travelling alone.  you miss the best live music you will most likely ever hear.

fair warning:  tomorrow, more blues!!

1 comment:

  1. Good call on the going home. Goodness, I hope you are packing some heat.