Sunday, March 13, 2016

Adventures in the South - Clarksdale, Part 2

After dropping off our car and bags at the Comfort Inn outside town, we got a cab back with the friendly local taxi driver.  “I had some folks from England ride with me the other day,” he said.  “They say you don’t got no churches over there!”
“Well, we do,” we replied.  “But they tend to be bigger, and there aren’t as many of them.”  This is undoubtedly true, given that in small southern towns like Clarksdale there seems to a church of some description on every other street corner, painted white and about the same size as a family house.
Once in town, we settled into the Yazoo Pass for some grub, but as they didn’t sell wine I
Al fresco cuisine in Sunflower Avenue
had to do a quick sprint round to the local off-licence for a bottle of vino.  Fed and watered, we then wandered round to Ground Zero for a drink, where a trio of old fellas were sat down on stage doing their thing, rather incongruously accompanied by a willowy young woman standing to one side, playing a small keyboard and shaking her tush.  Having given them the time of day, we decided to follow Roger Stolle’s tip, and so headed off to Red’s Blues Club.
Red’s is both literally and metaphorically “across the tracks”, in the sense that it is both the other side of the defunct railroad, and in the black part of town - not that the latter distinction meant much to us.  Strolling along Sunflower Avenue in the evening heat, initially there was no real sign of Red’s.  There was, though, a guy operating a dirty great smoking barbecue in the street, and when we asked after Red’s he jerked a thumb at a nondescript door and said “In there.”
As Steve Cheseborough notes in his guide Blues Traveling, “From the outside, Red’s looks like it has been closed for years.  But make sure to stop in on a Friday or Saturday night for excellent live blues in a super-authentic jook joint.  So authentic, in fact, that the place seems about to fall apart.  Insulation and ceiling tiles are falling from the ceiling, and it leaks when it rains.”
Well, it wasn’t raining when we were there, so no leaks were in evidence, but otherwise all
"Big A" gives it big licks in Red's Blues Club

of the above rings true.  Playing that night were Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and the Blues All-Stars, and although their set was mostly made up of blues standards from all points of the compass, rather than stuff specific to the Delta, they certainly delivered the goods.
So we were served up stuff like Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’ (admittedly the Wolf came from these parts), Jimmy Reed’s ‘Big Boss Man’, and Rosco Gordon’s ‘Just A Little Bit’ (aka ‘Teeny Weeny Bit Of Your Love’), but if the All-Stars on bass and drums were content to sit back and quietly take care of business, “Big A” was out there selling it, with a characterful voice and impressive lead guitar work.
With a long lead on his guitar, Sherrod was often out among the small audience as he played, cooking up an atmosphere and encouraging people to get up and dance, and punctuating songs with his catchphrase, “Wait a minute”.  It may not have been the most original set, but the feel of the blues ran through it like a golden thread, making it well worth paying a few bucks for one of his CDs.
When they took a break around midnight we reckoned it was time for us to make a move and get a cab back to the hotel, conscious of the longer drive we had planned for the next day.  This, it would turn out, was a mistake.


If you want to read ‘Adventures in the South’ from the start, here’s the Prologue. If you want to read more about Clarksdale, here’s Part 1.

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