Four old men in a Jeep
Posted on: Saturday, Oct 30, 2010
BLUESINTHENORTHWEST and WORTHENBURY GANG VISIT TO THE DEEP SOUTH otherwise known as
FOUR OLD MEN IN A JEEP
Four intrepid travellers from the region, Ken Shrill Pretty Peace, Pete Grandad Evans, Paul Three Fingers Taylor and Geordie Farmer Paul set out on October 2nd for Memphis. (After a few beers we may one day tell you how we got those nicknames but remember… what goes on tour, stays on tour!!!)
The weather was uncommonly hot and so after a sh-t, shave, shower and shampoo we set off to Beale Street to sample some blues and booze. Sadly we only managed to achieve the latter as Beale was like Wrexham on a Saturday night – absolutely bouncing. They were even forming queues and I.D.ing people before allowing them on the street – sod that for a barrow load of monkeys. Anyway salvation at The Flying Saucer bar – dozens of really good quality ales from all over America including sample trays of 5 x 300ml glasses.
Sunday morning and we decided to check out the excellent Rock and Soul Museum which really is a slight misnomer as it displays much more blues than the other two genres. A strong recommendation to any future travellers.
After an excellent lunch (requested by Shrill Pretty) we set off for Mississippi singing On The Road Again to excellent harp accompaniment from Shrill Pretty.
We had decided to take a leisurely start by just moving as far as Clarksdale just a couple of hours away and we checked in at our usual base The Comfort Inn but after a little checking out the venues discovered that the music we had expected at Red’s Lounge, the wonderful old juke joint, was not going to happen so a little stroll to the great local Mexican restaurant Atzimba was in order. Great food, great beer and great margaritas and lovely people.
Monday morning saw us Goin’ Up The Country singing the famous song named after the wonderful little blues club in north Wales, in search of Sonny Boy Williamson’s grave. Shrill Pretty a notable harp player himself had especially requested a homage visit.
The grave is situated just outside Tutwiler, where in 1903 WC Handy first noticed that a “lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plucking a guitar beside me while I slept” and singing a song “Goin’ where the Southern cross’ the Dog”. This unknown man is reputed to be the first recognised blues singer.
We easily found the grave right beside a cotton field which was about to be harvested so the thoughtful Shrill Pretty plucked a ripe boll to give to the other great harp player in the region, Johny Hewitt, as a little momento.
We journeyed on as the heat of the day rose, past the legendary Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman Farm, dutifully singing Willie Cobbs (whom we were to see 3 days later) great song… “Ain’t never done no man no harm”.
We went through to Indianola to the BB King Museum to see if the great man was there as was rumoured but as he was not present we took Farmer Paul to see Charley Patton’s grave at Holly Ridge. Also buried in the graveyard next to a very busy cotton gin are Willie Foster and Asie Payton, two lesser known but not insignificant blues men.
Our destination was the state capital Jackson, but as it was getting near lunch time and the dietary requirements of Shrill Pretty needed to be resolved, we stopped in Cleveland for some sumptious fried chicken, beans and slaw all washed down with iced lemon tea.
We moved down through Yazoo City, had another Shrill Pretty pit stop, and then called in to Bentonia to the Blue Front Café, the legendary old juke joint owned by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Jimmy is the last of the Bentonia, Skip James style of guitarists and we were to see him again a few days later but unfortunately he was not at his café that day.
We eventually hit the quite attractive city of Jackson bang in rush hour but with Grandad, the experienced veteran of many blues trips to the USA, at the wheel, a smooth arrival at our hotel was guaranteed.
Our aim on the first night in Jackson was to visit Hal and Mal’s bar where every Monday, the Central Mississippi Blues Society meets and jams. The house band is the King Edward band, formerly of the famous but sadly lamented Subway Lounge.
We turned up in anticipation to find that the society was hosting the acoustic competition to chose the act for the Memphis International Blues Challenge followed by a gig from last year’s overall champion, harp player Grady Champion so a great night was in store.
We were greeted with great warmth by Peggy Brown and Marcia Weaver of the society and given a choice table to enjoy the music. The four acts were very good with Chris Gill a worthy winner. Marcia then introduced us to Dorothy Moore of Misty Blue fame and we then joined her at her table. What a lovely lady who made us so welcome. Amongst other topics we discussed was our own Connie Lush whom is due to appear with Dorothy in the future in the UK.
Farmer Paul was really impressed with Grady Champion and then announced to us the phrase of the week…” he’s great this lad, and so talented. He’s even the local gravy champion!!!”
And so ended a great day and night which was made even better by some of the best local microbrewery ale we’ve so far sampled in the deep south and some of the best gravy that Farmer Paul has tasted!
Last year we tracked down Robert Johnson’s resting place (or at least the one thought to be the genuine one) so on day 4 we decided to track down his birth place.
The temperature was rising by the day and was now in the 90s however 1st stop was Crystal Springs, birthplace of the other famous Johnson – Tommy. We hoped to visit a Robert Johnson museum but sadly it was closed so we set off to the town of his birth Hazlehurst. All that we could find was a monument so statutory photos were taken though Grandad did get one or two looks as he was wearing a pink shirt, albeit a rugby shirt indicating that he really was quite tough! (Note from Editor – I couldn’t find any of the pictures of Pete looking tough in pink – so I had to use one of the pictures where he looks quite camp).
It’s doubtful that some of the rednecks staring at him knew much about rugby and with the memory of the episode of Top Gear in Alabama still fresh in Farmer Paul, Three Fingers and Shrill Pretty’s mind, a quick retreat back to Jackson was ordered.
Shrill Pretty needed sustenance so we stopped off at F. Jones Corner, the little blues bar we discovered last year in historic Farish Street where they cook the finest deep fried grits in Mississippi. Liquid refreshment was enjoyed with the young owners of the bar before we retired to our hotel to prepare for another heavy night of enjoying ourselves.
That night we sadly broke one of Shrill Pretty’s main rules of touring abroad – never visit a plastic Paddy bar. Having said that Fenian’s Bar was quite good and we sampled a new style of Guiness mix – not Black and Tan, nor Black Velvet or any of the other well known blends. This was Mississippi Mix – half Guinness and half water!!! It was terrible so after more sustenance for Shrill Pretty, different drinks were ordered and the night went quite well.
This was going to be Shrill Pretty’s highlight day – a visit to the Route 61 coffee shop in Vicksburg, certainly one of the best coffee shops in America. Vicksburg is a really lovely city and oozes charm. Another interesting stop was the art gallery of H.C.Porter. She is an artist who is commencing a project on producing highly exclusive works on 40 blues artists – check out www.hcporter.com
Leaving Vicksburg we decided to cross the Mississippi river into Louisiana which looked a little more run down compared to Mississippi. Lake Providence looked pleasant but after a couple of hours we returned to Mississippi at Greenville. Heading north on highway 1 we passed through Beulah (where the Crossroads movie was made) to another point of sustenance for Shrill Pretty, the White Front Café in Rosedale where Joe and his family make the best hot tamales in the south. The lovely ladies there remembered us from previous trips and made us feel very welcome.
We then took Farmer Paul to show him Bug’s Place an old juke joint where Robert Johnson apparently performed when a farmer from Beulah, on whose land the aforementioned film Crossroads was made, stopped to chat to us. His modest farm, 9,000 acres of cotton, still has the old oak tree from the film. ” It was a perfect tree before they arrived, but they made me chop a whole load of branches off to make it look old – dang thing went and died on me”.
He then took us to meet two friends of his including the mayor of this typical southern town on the side where the wealthier white folks live. Grandad commented on the number of dogs one of the friends had. We were slightly taken aback when he said – “Bit like south Africa – y’all know what I’m talking about”. At this point we bade our farewells to head on to Clarksdale our base for the next 5 days.
We dropped into Madidi’s restaurant which is owned by Morgan Freeman to reserve a table for Shrill Pretty’s next sustenance call and who should we see but Degsy, Simmo, Steve-o and Rat , four lads from guess where with nicknames like that? Right first time – Lipool.
Degsy and Steve-o are regulars at Worthenbury and Simmo and Rat have been in the past so the four then became eight.
Madidi’s has had an excellent reputation in the past but sadly the meal was not up to usual standard and so after Shrill Pretty negotiated a Yorkshire reduction in the price we wandered over to Red’s Lounge, the superb juke joint, to see Robert Belfour.
The Scousers were there and whilst Degsy and Simmo had been in the USA a week, Steve-o and Rat had arrived that day. A brilliant photo was taken of the latter two, jet lagged and asleep on their bar stools but it won’t be reproduced here… we wouldn’t want to embarrass the lads … or would we!
At long last the festival had arrived and a quick trip to Walmart to buy deckchairs, beer and water – absolute essentials to go with the already purchased cool box.
Helena is a 35 minute drive from Clarksdale and it was with excitement the four old men set off listening to the blues channel on the Jeep’s radio. Imagine therefore the bizarre situation when three Welshmen and a Yorkshireman driving a Jeep through Mississippi in 2010 on the way to blues festival in Arkansas suddenly get blasted out on the radio by Benny Hill’s 1963 single The Piccolo Song. It got even more bizarre when Grandad remembered and sang all the lyrics! (Note from Editor – bizarre ain’t the word – I was quite scared).
Old George, the African/American on whose garage front we always park our car was there again in Helena “I knew you guys was coming so I reserved y’all a space”
We got our tickets and our press passes and settled in for a serious bit of enjoyment but only after Grandad bought his return ticket for next year – a quilt to add to Granny’s collection.
We also met up with Carl and Sandra from Wrexham, also regulars at Worthenbury and eventually the Scousers appeared so the four were now ten.
Also the gang from Jonesboro Arkansas whom we always meet up with were in the usual spot (four of them came to the Worthenbury Festival this year).
There are so many people there whom we have met in the past and the usual ritual of hugging and backslapping by old hairy-arsed hippies has to be completed. Also the usual “where do y’all guys come from” is repeated every hour when people hear us speak although this year it took a new dimension when a woolly socks and sandles, and flowery dressed girl from Wisconsin said to Grandad ” I jess love the way y’all speak – you sound jess like Crocodile Dundee”
“He’s bloody Australian” Grandad retorted ” I’m bloody Welsh, which for future reference is not a state in England!”
At the end of the day we left just before BB King finished his set to avoid the general log jam and also to avoid the state troopers who were keen on stopping every other car.
If there is one downside to the festival, it is the slightly intimidatory way these bull-necked, crew cutted, look at me I’m hard, law enforcement officers walk amongst the crowd during and after the festival – not needed amongst such friendly people in our opinion. (Note from Editor – luckily Grandad refrained from saying anything to the bull-necked gentlemen face to face).
DAY 7 and 8
See the music write up for these days along with the music of day 6.
It was getting hotter and hotter with the temperature reaching 95 degrees and so periodic visits for shade and air conditioned bars was needed.
The Scousers enjoyed the sun although they did look slightly worse for wear most days. Quote Steve-o ” Had an early night last night – got to bed at two theirty”
Give them their due though – they did know how to party and put the four old men to shame.
Quick trip down to Cathead store plus a sentimental visit to the loo for Shrill Pretty or Cathead Ken as they know him at the store. The rickety old “John” has never quite been the same … but remember “what goes on tour…”
We left Cathead to get an early good seat at Hopson’s Plantation for Pinetop Perkin’s homecoming jam. He worked at the plantation 60 years ago and every year they have a post festival bash for the grand old 97 year old who smiles and chats to people whilst signing cds.
Geordie Paul said to Grandad ” That bloke sat next to you doesn’t half look like Watermelon Slim” After a quick inspection revealed that his maxillary arches were edentulous (no top teeth to you non dentally qualified!) Grandad confirmed that the reason he looked like Watermelon Slim was due to the fact that he was Watermelon Slim!
What a character! We chatted and found that he has now moved down to Clarksdale. Statutory photos were taken and we found that he may be returning to play solo in the UK next year having recently dispensed with the services of his band.
The jam was superb yet again though Shrill Pretty Peace had left his harps in the hotel so could not take part this year.
Apart from Michael Burks again being superb, Lightnin Malcolm and Cedric Burnside yet again proved what a phenomenal act they are. I hope they can come over to the UK next year. Mind you, we were saying the same thing about Michael Burks last year…
The final curtain at the end of our trip was a visit to the Mexican restaurant Atzimba along with Scott Duncan ( the founder of Blueprint magazine) and Sue his wife and David Berntson and his wife from Tulsa plus a load of other guys for some yet more great food and beer and margaritas and a damn good sing song accompanied by Shrill Pretty and David on their harps. So good was the harp interplay between these two very fine musicians that even Bob Margolin stopped eating to applaud and the lovely Mexican waiters also joined in with the singing.
So yet again a superb trip with great memories, great laughs, great music and great friendship. It can only be summed up by “If you only ever can go to one blues festival, then it has to be the King Biscuit”… see y’all there again next year.
Pete Evans aka Grandad
( at this point, as writer of the account, I would like to point out that whilst I am a granddad, I am only 6 months older than 3 Fingers and 12 months older than Farmer Paul and the rumours about them having to put me to bed early with a mug of Horlicks are definitely not true). (Note from Editor – one night we did put him in bed with a 19 year old Mexican hooker – damn friendly those rugby players – must have been the pink rugby shirt).