© Copyright 2000-2011 Alan White - All
We thought that we would take a different approach this year and include a number of days doing the tourist thing and visit a number of areas of the USA as well as continuing the blues search.
Bad news when we arrived in Chicago, my baggage was missing. I didn’t see the bag for the month that we were in the USA. Thank God for Wal-Mart and other stores.
During our time in Chicago we attended the 20th Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park. A lot has been written about this years’ festival in various blues magazines; however, we were disappointed with the “main stage” evening line-ups considering that this year was the twentieth anniversary and 2003 being “one hundred years of the blues”. Unfortunately the weather for this years’ event was poor, thunderstorms and heavy rain plagued the weekend. It was an experience watching Otis Rush performing in a thunderstorm, everybody got soaking wet.
Artists seen over the weekend included Otis Rush, Phil Guy, Campbell Brothers, Mose Allison, Larry McCray, Easy Baby & Eddie Taylor Jr., Otis Taylor, Charlie Musselwhite, Cookie McGee, Steve Arvey, Roy Gaines and Lurrie Bell
We even bumped into Eddy Clearwater, who remembered us from Burnley. We had a good discussion about the blues scene in Chicago and were invited to his club in town.
Toured the blues sites and clubs during our stay.
Also during our time in Chicago we visited Lee’s Unleaded Blues Club on the south side of Chicago on Saturday night. I had the pleasure of jamming with the house band, Johnny Drummer and His Band, during the early hours of Sunday morning.
We also met up with our blues friends Steve and Andy from the UK.
A major jazz and blues city during the twenties and thirties. One interesting place to visit is the Museum on 18th and Vine in the historic jazz district. This is a museum dedicate to jazz and blues and black culture. We spent some time looking for the location stated within the song Kansas City - “Standing on the corner of 12th Street and Vine”. This was a failed exercise as the area has been redeveloped and this location no longer exists. Took Amtrak to St. Louis.
Touring the city including Leclades Landing, The Arch, Riverboat Cruise and just chilling out in the sun. We went to the top of The Arch, 630 feet high, good views of St. Louis, four minutes to get to the top and three minutes down. History of the development of the American West was displayed in an underground museum under The Arch.
Toured through Missouri visited Meramec Caverns (360 feet underground) where Jessie James hid out after a train robbery. Then on through Oklahoma (including Pawhuska Tallgrass Prairie Reserve were they have a Buffalo breeding programme). Headed for Tahlequah – Cherokee nation where we visited a museum and Cherokee village. Tour through Arkansas including Little Rock and Pine Bluff, then into Mississippi to Greenville, our home for the next five nights. The aim is to attend the Highway 61 Blues Festival at Leland on 14th June.
The day before the festival we decided to check out the festival site and what Leland has to offer. The Highway 61 Blues Museum is worth visiting as the exhibits are related to local blues musicians, including Johnny and Edgar Winter.
Whist we were photographing the Blues Murals in Leland a CBS film crew appeared to record a preview of the blues festival. They were intrigued that strangers who spoke English with foreign accents were in town. When we explained that we were in town to attend the blues festival they insisted that we be filmed looking at the murals and I was interviewed to explain the reasons for us being in Leland. The edited interview and the footage of Hazel and I walking passed the murals was broadcast on the local news channel.
Met up with local photographer, Roy Meek, who gave us an insight into the local blues scene and local characters. He has a good selection of portraits in his studio of local and national blues artists.
Highway 61 Blues Festival, Leland, Ms, 14th June 2003
This was the fourth annual Highway 61 Blues Festival and was dedicated to the memory of Jimmy Reed and as such most of the artists played at least one Jimmy Reed song in their set.
The festival site was located near the railroad in Leland and consisted of two concert stages. The main stage where all the acts performed in generally a full band format, and a smaller stage for a more stripped down rootsy performance. The smaller stage was known as the “Scratch Ankle Stage”, we wondered why it was called that but when the ants started biting the toes and ankles we knew why! We spent most of our time at the “Scratch Ankle Stage” with the occasional venture to the main stage. The MC lent us two folding chairs for the day, he turned out to be the local district attorney T George Kelly.
The artists were mainly from the Leland/Greenville location and were of a high standard, with many great performances. Artists appearing included:
Pat Thomas – Acoustic Blues
Cadillac John & Bill Abel – Guitar & Harp duo.
T - Model Ford – Great delta blues guitar and hypnotic hill country blues.
Eddie Cusic – Great delta guitar blues.
John Horton and Band – Electric blues with a strong Albert King influence.
The Kattawar Brothers – Piano and drums, Jerry Lee Lewis style.
Steve Cheeseborough – Acoustic country blues.
Paul “Wine” Jones – Electric guitar blues.
Mississippi Slim – Gold suit, odd shoes and great politically incorrect blues songs, he certainly got the crowd going.
Bobby Rutledge – Acoustic Delta Blues.
Other acts watched on the main stage included:
Nathaniel Kimble – Soul singer.
Bobby Rush – Bobby headlined the festival and gave a great performance of his renowned revue. Dancing girls and a strong innuendo stage act. Great stuff!
There were some really good food stalls on the festival site. Had lots of Catfish and Cornbread, Corned Dogs and iced tea.
We were surprised that a number of people remembered us from our previous visits including Butch Ruth from Greenville and Roy Schilling from Hollandale.
Oh I almost forgot, I performed a short set of acoustic delta blues on the “Scratch Ankle” stage it fitted in well with the rest of the acts.
after the Highway 61 Blues Festival we visited Holly Ridge and attended the
Crawfish Broil and Blues Juke Joint at the Holly Ridge General Store. The stage
was a flat backed hay cart .We had a great day hanging out with T - Model Ford,
Eddie Cusic and families and listening to fine guitar led blues.
During our stay at Greenville we visited the following:
Nitta Yuma – We found the cemetery where Bo Carter was buried. As usual there was no grave marker.
Belzoni – Catfish capital of the world. Visited the Catfish Museum and Visitor Center
Cleveland – including Blues Hall of Fame
Quito, Morgan City and Three Forks – The locations of the two most well known Robert Johnson grave markers.
Native American (Mississippian) burial mounds.
At night we went to the famous, or should that be infamous, Nelson Street had a great meal in Does Eat Place. Choose your own steak up to three ponds in weight or a plate of giant prawns in garlic and lemon butter. Wonderful meal, would recommend to anyone visiting Greenville. Additional security was needed around the area of Does with a man employed to look after the vehicles.
Greenwood next and visited the Robert Johnson Museum owned by Steve LeVere. Found the Little Zion M B Church between Greenwood and Money, this is considered to be the actual burial site for Robert Johnson. It was a very peaceful church in the middle of nowhere.
Tried for the second time to visit Mississippi John Hurt’s grave just outside Avalon. The gravesite is up a steep dirt road in the woods. We parked the car to walk the last few hundred yards, then the heavens opened, another thunderstorm. Within seconds the dirt road was like a muddy river, we returned to the car, which was stuck fast in the mud. We had visions of sleeping in the car that night. Managed to coax the car out of the mud and down the hill. We are fated not to get to this grave, but we haven’t given up yet.
Drove on to Jackson visited Farish Street, the old historic part of Jackson and the location of H C Spiers store where most of the great blues men auditioned, including Charlie Patton and Tommy Johnson. Had breakfast in Peaches Restaurant, which has reminded unchanged unlike the rest of Farish Street, which is being demolished to create a two-block entertainment showpiece (like Beale Street in Memphis). Again no sense of history.
On to Bentionia, home of Jack Owens and formally Skip James. Found the Blue Front Café, Jimmy Holmes the owner made us welcome and we even jammed a few Skip James songs together.
Travelled out of town to find the Day Cemetery where Jack Owens is buried. In Bentionia we saw “Chain Gangs” in their green and white striped uniforms cutting grass and clearing the highways.
Onward to Canton, yet another heavy thunderstorm. From Canton were headed to Sharon to look for the grave of K C Douglas at Pleasant Green Cemetery, however, we found the church but as usual there was no grave marker.
Also in Jackson we visited the grave of Ishmon Bracey at Willow Park.
Travelled south to Monticello and Salem MB Cemetery (approx 15 miles from Monticello) and the grave of J B Lenoir. Continued to Meridian and the museum and grave of Jimmie Rodgers the “Singing Brakeman”. Overnight in Louisville.
Onward to Crawford and found Big Joe Williams grave in a field about two miles outside the town. A number of old juke houses still exist in Crawford.
West Point for the Howlin’ Wolf Memorial Statue. This was a wasted journey the statue looked like a cardboard cut-out but in granite.
Onward to Tupelo. Elvis Presley country. Overnight in Batesville then on to Senatobia and located the graves of Sid Hemphill and Rosa Lee Hill at New Salem Baptist Church. On to Good Shepard Church in Prichard still no grave marker for Willie Brown.
On route to Clarksdale we visited Tunica, Moon Lake, Lula, Friars Point and Stovall. When in Clarksdale we visited:
Riverside Hotel (615 Sunflower Avenue) – This is where Bessie Smith died in 1937. We spent some time talking with Frank Ratcliffe (known as Rat). He showed us all the rooms in the hotel including the room where Bessie Smith died.
Drove to Tutwiler – This town has declined in the years since we were last there. Most of the buildings in the town centre were empty and boarded up. However, the blues murals still exist near the railroad.
When driving passed the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman we saw some of the inmates in their green and white uniforms tending the roadways.
On to Merigold and located Winery Rushing. Once owned by Tom Rushing the sheriff mentioned in Charlie Patton’s Tom Rushen Blues. On to Glendora the home of Sonny Boy Williamson.
Stopped at Mount Bayou this was the first all black community of farmers set up in 1887.
Visited the Delta Blues Museum (again), Ground Zero Juke where we had lunch then to Cathead Store where we had a good conversation with Roger Stolle the owner. Visited Stackhouse Records spent a fair amount of time there.
Gravesites around the Clarksdale area include:
Bell Grove Baptist Church – Henry “Son” Sims one time fiddle player with Charlie Patton and Muddy Waters. No grave marker.
Shufferville Cemetery – Big John Wrencher, overgrown no grave marker found.
McLauren Gardens Cemetery- Wade Walton, no grave marker.
Helena, Arkansas, went down Cherry Street where the King Biscuit Festival occurs. Went into the Gist Music Shop and spoke to the owner of about an hour. Visited the Delta Cultural Centre where we were told that the King Biscuit Radio Show was about to be broadcast from Helena. The well-known DJ Sonny Payne was very welcoming and was very interested in our journey and he invited us on to the show for an interview. The show consisted of Sonny interviewing us and me playing a number of old blues songs live on the radio. He gave us a tape of the show as a memento of the day. Sonny then took us out for lunch. Once again thanks very much Sonny.
Back into Mississippi and headed north on Old Highway 61 to Robinsonville, the land of the casino. We went to see the exhibits at Bluesville at the Horseshoe casino. When we walked into the casino Hazel was gob smacked when she saw the lights and thousands of gambling machines. Bluesville blues museum was quite tasteful with some interesting exhibits, eg, guitars, stage suits, records, etc.
Tried to locate the grave of Fiddlin’ Joe Martin at Clack but Clack no longer exists. It has been concreted over like most of the Robinsonville area to make way for the casinos and highways. In the Robinsonville areas we located the Abbay & Leatherman Plantation (of Robert Johnson fame) and the Kirby-Wills Plantation (of Charlie Patton’s Joe Kirby Blues fame).
Walls has developed a lot since our last visit and a now a small town. Re-visited the New Hope Cemetery where Memphis Minnie is buried looking for the grave of her husband Earnest Lawlers – no grave marker.
Final night in Memphis. During this journey we have managed to cover a total of 2900 miles in our rented Pontiac Grand Am V6.
Surprise, surprise my bag of clothes was waiting on our doorstep when we arrived home, having been delivered the day before.
Photographs © Copyright 2004 Courtland
& Hazel Bresner.