Saturday, October 06, 2018

Travels around the Mississippi Delta

Leaving Cleveland we headed to Drew, where there is a blues marker on the Staple Singers, and passed Parchman Farm prison, which inspired many blues songs. From there we went to the university town of Oxford which, unlike most of Mississippi, is thriving and prosperous. There's a pretty town square with an English phone box at one corner and a recent addition is the brilliant End Of All Music record shop, with a great selection of blues and soul records, which has relocated from out of town. Continuing our quest for blues markers we checked one out at the university and  while there, we took a look at the statue of James Meredith. He was the first black student there whose admission was opposed by the state governor and other white racists and only admitted when President Kennedy sent in the National Guard. It was a key moment in civil rights history. Chatting to a post grad student we learned that Meredith is still alive and pays visits to the campus occasionally.
We moved on to Clarksdale and, after a meal at the Stone Pony, where a quiz was taking place, we went to Red's, still as basic a juke joint as ever, to see local bluesman Lucious Spiller. He's an excellent guitarist with a humorous approach who claims to be the nephew of Magic Sam. A good evening.
Next morning we walked around Clarksdale for a bit. It seems to be benefiting from all the blues tourists but most of the buildings remain empty and/or derelict. From there we headed in search of Emmett Till, the 14 year old black boy from Chicago who was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. We visited the courthouse in Sumner where his murderers  were acquitted by an all white male jury. They later told a magazine that they were in fact guilty. There's an interpretative centre there with details of the trial. Not far away, at Graball Landing, is the spot where Emmett's body was found. The sign marking the place was recently peppered with bullets and removed. The replacement has also been shot at. In nearby Glendora there is a small museum that Dave and I visited a few years ago but which was closed this time. We went on to the Tutwiler funeral home, now derelict, where Emmett's body was taken. When the casket was returned to Chicago it was opened, revealing the mutilation that had occurred, sparking anger and igniting the Civil Rights movement. In the evening we went to the Ground Zero blues club for a blues jam featuring Big A and Steve Kolbus and hosted by co owner Bill Puckett.
Friday saw us drive over to Helena, Arkansas, for a little bit of the King Biscuit Festival. It was a baking hot day so we were happy to spend it at the indoor Front Porch Stage where Bobby Rush kicked things off on good style with a solo set (no dancing girls). He was followed by PatThomas with some country blues and husband and wife duo Johnie B and Iretta Sanders with some Chicago blues including Wang Dang Doodle and Something You Got among others. After some straight ahead blues from Earl the Pearl Banks, a long time regular performer on Beale Street, we were treated to some superb soul/blues by Johnny Rawls. Johnny has played with many of the greats, indeed I saw him back James Carr when he played at Blackheath in the nineties, and is also a good solo performer. He has a new CD out called I'm Still Around and his 45 minute set included some real gems, including Red Cadillac, Turn Back The Hands of Time (on which he backed Otis Clay he said), I Say Yes, Can I Get It and Shake It. A great day at the festival which cost us nothing and to cap it all I bought a bunch of 45s for 10 cents each.
But if the daytime was good the evening was brilliant. We headed off to the Horseshoe Casino in Robinsonville to see one of the best soul shows I've seen in a long time  with a 90 per cent black audience who really got involved. First up was Carla Thomas, dressed in a black cat suit, who was in fine voice and who was backed by the cream of Memphis musicians, including Charles and Leroy Hodges and Thomas Bingham. She began well with Lovey Dovey and followed with several of her own songs including Something Good, No Time To Lose, a great song written by Deanie Parker, Sam Cooke's version of Little Red Rooster,  Baby I Like What You're Doing To Me, Let Me Be To Good To You and B-A-B-Y. After Take Me To The River she closed with a tribute to Denise LaSalle with Trapped By This Thing Called Love with a few bars of Gee Whiz. A fantastic set.
Then it was the turn of Latimore, backed by his own Chicago band, to really wow the ladies in the audience with a set which was both classy (his keyboard skills and voice remain excellent) and a little raunchy. He's an imposing man with a mane of white hair and matching beard and he kicked off with Bad Risk and moved on to Take Me To The Mountain Top, a personal favourite of mine. After some amusing chat he did an extended version of Stormy Monday, with some keyboard brilliance, then My Give A Damn Gave Out A Long Time Ago, She Took Me Round The World and the risque I'm In Love With A Big Old Pretty Girl. There was more sexy charm with There's Something About You and a song  celebrating the sexual prowess of older men called, I think, I May Be An Old Dog But I Know How To Bury A Bone (Bow Wow). Finally it was time for the song the audience had been calling for, Let's Straighten It Out, which was just superb in the hands of  the master. This was a superb set on a day that ticked all the boxes music wise. And there's much more to come. Photos will follow when I get home.


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