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Annual Road Trip to the Mississippi Delta
by Keith Murphy

Episode 3 - Even Williams bourbon in Reds - Sean Apple and the All Night Long Blues Band in Ground Zero - Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Brinkley - Pabst beer sign in Little Rock

© Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.After leaving Helena, we scoot back to Clarksdale to enjoy a nite of great blues music at the Ground Zero Blues club. We first check in at our El Patel Motel, and then head on over. We arrive at 7 pm, but learn that the music doesn’t start until 8 pm. I tell Doug, that there is a historic blues club, called Reds, nearby, and maybe we can catch a beer there and then return in time for the music at the Ground Zero. Doug, who is the most agreeable traveling companion I have ever had, simply replied, “Cool, man!”

© Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
© Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Reds Blues Club, Clarksdale, MS © Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

We find the club, but it looks like it has been condemned and is falling in. Yet, there are a couple of cars parked out front, so Doug and I carefully made our way to what appeared to be an entrance door. I pushed on the door which was unlocked, and suddenly came face to face with four grown ... I said ... grown ... black men. They were sitting in the middle of the room around a table decorated with a half-full fifth of Evan Williams. I managed to say a rather weak, “How Ya’ll”.

Next thing I know we are sitting with these guys, one of whom is Red, and listening to and telling more BS than you will ever hear at a VFW. Technically the club was closed this particular night, and it was just Red and three of his friends ... relaxing ... and a more hospitable group I have never encountered. We laughed, talked, and drank for about an hour in this real live juke joint, with these black men of the delta. I remember four things in particular that were said by Red or his friends:

1. “Don’t worry, I run this place, and nothing is gonna happen to ya while I’m around”. (?? That was real reassuring!)

2. Ya’ll brought some of that good ole Georgia shine wif ya, didn’t ya?”

3. “I once had Pinetop Perkins play the piano against Jerry Lee Lewis, and Pinetop smoked ole Jerry Lee. I had four cameras filming, and none of them could keep up with Pinetops fingers as he hit up on that ole piano”.

4. Red said that business was a little slow, but that he had the river to his back (Sunflower River) and the graveyard to his front (large cemetery in front of Red’s), and that he had no choice but to make it.

We finally get out of Red’s after promising him faithfully that we would be back on Friday nite to hear T-Model Ford, a legendary bluesman, now in his 90’s, who will be performing in this old juke joint. If you are Internet savvy, you can find lots of info on T-Model Ford, the bluesman, and also there are videos of blues being performed at Reds, just look up Reds blues club Clarksdale to pull up a number of Internet and YouTube entries.

We got back to Ground Zero about the time the band started. www.groundzerobluesclub.com The band was Sean Apple and the All Night Long Blues Band (you can find them on the Internet). This band was great, especially the big harmonica player who couldn’t stop dancing. They also brought up a lot of other guest performers, including Josh Razorblade Stewart, and a lady singer, queen of something, and a lot of other people, including three sisters, age 8, 11 and 13 who sang and played instruments and brought the house down.

© Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
© Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, MS © Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

We saw the co-owner of the Ground Zero, a man called Luckett who co-owns the club with black actor Morgan Freeman. We left around 1 a.m. and retired for the nite.

Thursday morning, we are up bright and early and take off for Little Rock, Arkansas. I had purchased a 4ft by 8ft Pabst sign on Ebay, and needed to pick it up in Alexander, a little place outside Little Rock. We started out cross-country with the intention of picking up interstate 40 near Brinkley, Arkansas.

Between Helena and Brinkley, we encountered duck and goose hunting country. Lots of flat grain fields, flooded fields and flooded woodlands, and thousands of what I think were Canadian geese flying around and sitting on the ground. We didn’t see any hunters, and we learn later that the hunting season had just ended the last of January.

We stop in to drink coffee (it is a cold and dreary day) in Brinkley at Gene’s BBQ and Family restaurant. There we discover two things: First, the ivory-billed Woodpecker and Second, the nice waitress from Romania.

ivory-billed woodpeckerIt appears that there was a magnificent bird that inhabited the big woods of Arkansas for ions of years, until the bird became extinct as a result of logging operations, sometime during the first part of the 20th century. Then, in 2004, after 60 years, someone saw the ivory-billed woodpecker near a section of virgin woods outside of Brinkley. The search was on by naturalists from around the world.

A bird once thought extinct, actually lives! This restaurant, was the meeting place for a lot of these scientists, and Gene has decorated its walls with artist’s drawings of this splendid bird. (You can also order an “ivory-billed cheeseburger…it’s on the menu). There have been a number of videos and photos taken, but yet no absolute proof that the bird still lives. Recently, someone offered $50,000 to anyone who could actually prove that the bird lives on. www.ibwo.org

Later, Doug told me that he thought he saw one of these birds smushed into the grill of a freightliner we met on the highway, but I think he was kidding.

Our waitress was a lovely young lady with a strange accent. We inquired, and it turns out she is from Romania, and was working on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean when she met a handsome young man from Brinkley. You know the rest of the story.

We boogie on to Little Rock, retrieve this wonderful sign that will be displayed over my juke joint at Cooters, and we head back east on I-40 to Memphis. The IBC is in full swing, and we plan to be on Beale St this night.

To be continued.


Episode 4 - New and Old Daisy Theaters in Memphis ... 2024 calendar in Abe's diner in Corinth ...
                Coon Dog Cemetery in the North Alabama hills ... soul food in Courtland, Al

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