Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Blues and more in Mississippi

We drove north out of Monroe, crossing part of Arkansas, and entering Mississippi at Greenville. A couple of years ago we searched for the blues marker for Jimmy Reed without success. This time we had another go and eventually found it. We continued on to Clarksdale, our base for three nights. There's a new bar in town called Levons where the Blues Doctors were playing and where we had a beer and later a meal. That evening we went to Red's to see Lucious Spiller. He's a fine guitarist but seemed to be playing for the tourists as he had a varied set, only part of which was blues.
Next day we toured around looking for more blues markers and found one for Junior Parker in Bobo and for Robert Nighthawk in Friars Point. There's also a marker there for Conway Twitty, whose parents ran a bar at nearby Moon Lake. We also found a marker for the Jelly Roll Kings at Lula. All these little towns are semi derelict as the population has left. In the evening we went to Cleveland for a free concert in tribute to John Lee Hooker by three fine young bluesmen, Marquise Knox, Jontavius Willis and Kingfish Ingram. They were note perfect on Hooker songs such as Dimples, I'm In The Mood, Boogie Chillen, Crawling King Snake and Boom Boom, and were joined on stage by Hooker's daughter Zakiya, who sang One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. Delta blues looks to be safe in their hands.
On Tuesday we visited some more markers, for Hooker himself in Vance and Sunnyland Slim in Lambert. We also made a return visit to Tutwiler, where W C Handy encountered the blues, and paid our respects to Sonny Boy Williamson at his grave. There are plans for a blues auditorium in Tutwiler. I wonder if it will ever see the light of day.
Things are looking up, however, in nearby Cleveland, where only the second Grammy Museum, after the one in Los Angeles, opened last year. It's an impressive place, with lots of interactive exhibits, but it seems to be trying to cover rather too much musical history in rather a superficial way. The John Lee Hooker exhibit which is currently there is good though. Connected to the museum are a series of concerts in the Bologna Performing Arts Centre in Cleveland. We were lucky enough to catch a concert by the great Aaron Neville, a man whose voice never fails to send shivers down my spine. Backed by just a pianist, he sang upwards of 30 songs, ranging from the Drifters to Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole, blues and gospel, even a touch of Bob Marley. The highlights, though, were the songs that really showed Aaron's exquisite voice to its fullest extent, including Ave Maria, Danny Boy, The Grand Tour, Louisiana 1927 (a real standout), Yellow Moon and, to end, Tell It Like It Is. Aaron has one of the most beautiful voices on the planet and on this evidence it is still very much intact.

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