Arkansas Blues and Heritage and Delta Trip – Part 1
Posted on: Sunday, Oct 18, 2009
Arkansas Blues and Heritage and Delta Trip
This is the informal report from one of the bluesinthenorthwest.com blues pioneers on the trip to the Mississippi Delta region. Day one was a long day with a 5.30am pickup and flights from Manchester to Amsterdam then Amsterdam to Memphis. The long haul flight was very full so not much opportunity for sleeping. Finally we arrived in our Memphis hotel about 20 hours after leaving my house.
Once again I was amazed at how quiet the downtown areas of US cities are; hardly any cars and hardly any people. After a freshen up, we headed out to eat and really the only choice is the legendary Beale Street. Beale Street is the most commercial aspect of a trip like ours, with bars set out to attract the tourist and frat boys.
We chose B.B. Kings right on Beale. The place was quite full unlike some of the other bars that day; remember that this is a Monday night we are talking about. Entertainment was from a local band and Beale Street regular Preston Shannon. Over a handful of excellent beers and some southern food we enjoyed a selection of pop, rock and blues covers. The band were tight but really not that bluesy, the bass player was like a black version of big Carl from Wrexham and had waaay too many strings on his bass, Just like in the UK, the bar favourites went down the best — 6345789, Mustang etc. with a few dancers at the front.
While I admire the effort put in to Beale Street to make it a centre for partying, all based on the blues, I find it a shame that it seems to be the lowest common denominator that reaps success- not an authentic blues experience but enjoyable all the same. So an early night for the lads at a budget hotel downtown.
Day 2 started with breakfast in a nightclub; I have been in nightclubs in the morning in the past but I’ve never had the chemical fluorescent juice and bad coffee that comprise the standard free breakfast in the southern states.
On the journey to Jackson we stopped a few times. The first stop was in Holly Springs, an attractive little town around the main square. Just 50 yards from the square was Aikei Pro’s the maddest shop I have ever seen. It is clear that it used to be a record shop but now there is so much junk (for sale?) outside and in that you can’t actually get through the door to see the records. Our enjoyment of the store was added to by the local drunk guy yelling unintelligible racial abuse as we were clearly in a “black area”, unsurprisingly, nobody but the drunk guy seemed to know or care.
Next stop was Avalon, MS but we did not attempt to visit the grave of “Mississippi” John Hurt as the ground was wet and we knew that the track up to the grave was difficult. We did visit what most people accept as being the real grave of Robert Johnson outside Greenwood MS. The grave is at the Little Zion Baptist Church and the area is now famous for me for having the keenest and most vicious mosquitoes that I have ever seen. Those monsters were just looking for good quality English blood but seeing as I had doused myself in repellent they had to settle for some Welsh blood instead.
Next stop was Bentonia MS to visit the Blue Front Cafe, the juke joined owned by local bluesman Jimmy Duck Homes. The juke was closed but luckily Jimmy was outside in his vehicle and was able to chat for some minutes and pose for a picture or two.
We stayed the night in Jackson MS the state capital just warming up for the upcoming state fair that was to be held just a few metres from the hotel we used. Clearly we were looking for some blues that night but none of us had been to Jackson before and did not know the scene very well. Pete Evans knew of a new blues club called 930 Blues Cafe.
As the club was not far from downtown and hence the hotel we decided to taxi so we could all enjoy a refreshing beer. On arriving at the club we found it closed so we asked the driver if there were other blues clubs close by, his answer was a clear “No” but he did offer to take us to a country bar that I hindsight would have been a great idea. Having turned down the country bar, we expressed our desire for a nice restaurant where we could enjoy a few beers and have a good steak, back in the taxi we climbed.
Our driver was not the most culturally aware person that we met, on the journey: when he found out we were European he told us “I tried myself one of those German beers one time, man – that stuff was nasty”.
On arriving at the recommended restaurant at 8.15 we were amazed and incredibly disappointed to discover that…
1. It was temp’rance and had no beer
2. It was a buffet – and a poor one at that
3. They did not have steak
4. They closed at 9pm
So of the five criteria for enjoyment…close enough to walk, good food, good music, a beer, and open. We managed a crappy 0/5.
<to be continued>