Archive for the ‘Tenn-Ark-Miss-La trip Oct 2010’ Category
There’s a reason it’s taken me two weeks to organize our trip home from NOLA; writer’s block – I couldn’t figure out how to summarize it all, how to wrap it all in a neat little package and round it off with a pink (or should it have been “blue?”) ribbon.
‘Twas a Monday morning in New Orleans. Oh yes it was. (Doo wop! Doo wop!) The sun shone brightly as we fired up the GPS and found our way to Interstate 10, our exit route.
This, then, is the part where I confess a grievous senior moment/misstep/screwup as trip navigator. I missed Hattiesburg, Mississippi, one of the few places which can truthfully proclaim it was one of the delivery rooms where blues gave birth to rock and roll!
It was in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in 1929 that Blind Roosevelt Graves and his brother Uaroy (sic) Graves recorded “Crazy About My Baby,” described by Wikipedia as “a rhythmic country blues with small group accompaniment.” Seven years later (1936), the Graves Brothers joined blues piano virtuoso Cooney Vaughn as The Mississippi Jook Band to record “Barbecue Bust” and “Dangerous Woman,” also considered to be among the earliest rock and roll songs. (I think most, if not all, of these songs are available at Amazon.com.)
(from Wikipedia) “In July 1936 they (the Graves brothers) were located by talent broker H. C. Speir, who arranged for them to record in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, according to some sources at the train station although Speir later told Wardlow that the recordings took place in a temporary studio in the Hotel Hattiesburg at Mobile Street and Pine Street. For the session they were joined by local piano player Cooney Vaughn, who performed weekly on radio station WCOC in Meridian prior to World War II. The trio were billed on record as the Mississippi Jook Band. In all, they recorded four tracks at Hattiesburg for the American Record Company – “Barbecue Bust”, “Hittin’ The Bottle Stomp”, “Dangerous Woman” and “Skippy Whippy”. According to the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, these ‘…featured fully formed rock & roll guitar riffs and a stomping rock & roll beat’.”
Don, that there are two, count em, two Mississippi Blues Trail markers in Hattiesburg. One commemmorates the Mississippi Jook Band; the second the Hi-Hat Club which was a major stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit.”
The Hi-Hat is described by Mississippi tourism folks:
The Hi-Hat Club, which was built at this site in the 1950s, was once an important stop on the “chitlin circuit” for African American blues and soul performers. B. B. King, James Brown, Otis Redding, Ike & Tina Turner, and many others played to packed houses here. Owner Milton Barnes (1915-2005), one of Mississippi’s most successful African American entrepreneurs, also owned Barnes Cleaners, the Hattiesburg Black Sox baseball team, and several other night spots in addition to his own contracting business.
The Hi-Hat Club flourished during the heyday of the “chitlin circuit,” when most of the touring venues for the nation’s top blues, R & B, and soul performers were large African American nightclubs and dance halls. The Hi-Hat, one of the largest clubs in Mississippi, often drew crowds of eight to nine hundred, sometimes in excess of a thousand. As economics and audiences changed, the role of clubs like the Hi-Hat declined as the bigger shows gravitated to auditoriums and arenas, and by 1994 the Hi-Hat had closed its doors.
Meridian’s tourist industry has put on the dog for Jimmie Rodgers nostalgia seekers. The marker (above) commemorating Meridian as his birthplace, also includes a museum (closed on Mondays, which it was when we were there) and a big train engine. The second marker commemorates Jimmies contributions to the blues; it is located in “The Singing Brakeman Park” which also features a real train. Who could resist the attraction to hoboes and trainmen and blues yodeling, not to mention a life cut short by the dreaded tuberculosis! I’m surprised we could find our way through the teeming crowds of tourists on that October day (we saw no other touristy looking folk at either site).
Another night; another Motel 6 in Decatur Alabama, then home to Cincinnati then home to Lathrup Village MI!
Problem with good times is the bluesy mood that follows them. And so it is on this Monday, a kind of wistfulness as we pack Tranq and head back to Cincinnati and Lathrup Village.
Yesterday’s Crescent City music was as good as it gets. Mem Shannon, Shannon McNally and Jon Cleary – three superb musicians/entertainers held me in their thrall easy as pie. I wuz mesmerized, hynotized and baptized in the beauty of their musical manipulations.
The day ended with an hourlong search all over hell and gone for some genuine Louisiana food nd when we found it (but none of us can remember the name of the restaurant) we scored a 9.5! Shrimp fried. Shrimp in sauce (roumelade?). Shrimp in gumbo. And enough for breakfast today, too. Food heaven’s entrance is Louisiana.
While CB and I rollicked and rolled to the tunes in Lafayette Park Square, Don caught a taxi and discovered wonders – music and otherwise – in other parts of the city, making me a tad envious, although he did bring me a pin for my hate, one of a fleur-de-lis, symbol of New Orleans, especially the New Orleans Saints football team.
Physically, I think this oxygen made it possible for me to manage the trip. Although it’s been unbelievably exhausting, the sights and music and sense of adventure and discovery have masked my own physical shortcomings, for the most part. I did have one fall, in Tranq, which created some hysteria (in me) and resulted in some bruised ribs. I feel this trip has been a marvelous gift to me and I can’t thank CB & Don enough for their help, encouragement and forbearance.
I gotta get off this computer and get myself showered and girded for the trip home.
McComb, Mississippi’s past is not the stuff to print on a big placard and wave it lustily over its collective head. It was among the most virulent segregationist communities in the South during the sixties.
It also is a major to music, blues and more. Bo Didley made his first guitar with his own hands in shop class in high school in McComb.
We left McComb for the Pelican State 25 miles or so down I-55.
Finding a handicapper motel room with a high toilet and two beds! There seem to be more hens’ teeth. For two nights we CGPed and phoned and sought and sought and sought, finally “settling” for no handicapper toilet. Such is life if your legs are a three wheeled electric cart named Junior, Jr.
Our “making do” last night (Thursday) is Best Western in the “Frog Capitol of the World,” Rayne, Louisiana. Still haven’t seen a frog here; I suppose they’re all captured and being held incommunicado until the Frog Festival next month.
And the reason for our sojourn on this side of the state: The International Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana! World’s Rice Capitol! My gosh! Unbelievable that two.. two.. count ’em.. two world’s capitols are located within 20 minutes of each other in the same United State.
Off to New Orleans today.
I can’t take long today. CB and Don think I should close my computer and get my butt in Tranq for a trek to Crowley, Louisiana, rice capitol of the universe.
Vicksburg for the day yesterday. Vicksburg’s National Military Park where granite markers remind us of the horrors of our infighting called the Civil War. Pause. Pause.
We should be so proud, I think, of the Andrew Jacksons of the world: enslaving a people; slaughtering indigenous Americans to the point of annihilation; fighting to the death the right to deprive people of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; then refusing to accept defeat and continue slavery for untold decades beyond that war under the banner of SEPARATE BUT EQUAL.
Not a lot of happy thoughts arising from Vicksburg, as you might notice if you reread my words and think really really hard.
The Military Park is home of the USS Cairo, a Union ironclad gunpoint that was sunk by Confederate mines in the Mississippi River near Vicksburg. 102 years later they recovered what was left of it and placed it on exhibit. Interesting.
Vicksburg is the birthplace of Willie Dixon, bluesman extraordinaire. Songwriter. Musician. Long associated with Chess Records.
And now we take our leave of Brookhaven MS, heading for further adventure.
One of the unexpected snags we’ve run into repeated on this blues sojourn is MEMORY. Either I’m senile. Or Don’s senile. OR both of us have crammed so much blues news and trivia into our heads that it now comes out in unpredictable dribs and drabs. We’ve made several trips through Mississippi’s Delta in search of… of whatever we’re looking for that we hope we will recognizer when we see it, but we are often unsure as to whether we’ve been here before! Aaaaa, the joys of ageing. Or is it that we’ve not noticed before how feeble are the chains that binds memories to our minds.
Add the fact that lots of small Mississippi towns look like each other with their downtown boulevard separated by a strip of grass where Old Glory grows from the ground along with a plaque marking another filling station on the blues highway. Old buildings on both sides of the boulevard bespeak of ancient prosperity – well, bustle, anyways.
Having discussed this out the ying-yang, we’ve come to the conclusion that unless both of us agree on the same memory, then we stop and spelunk. CB sits in the back of Tranq, watching and shaking her head!
Indianola has been embraced by B B King as his hometown, although he (and former Washington, D. C., mayor Marion Berry) was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, just down the road a piece. It’s where he holds his annual homecoming concert (and where a security guard absconded with all the photos Don had shot that evening, pointing to a “no cameras” sign while ignoring the dozens of flashes going off all over the fairgrounds).
There’s an extensive B. B. King Museum in Indianola which pays tribute to its namesake in a dozen different ways, including at least that many videos. It would take me a couple of days to peruse everything carefully; however, I got a real good taste of it yesterday. Tickets are $5.
Then there was the emergency stop for Gold Bond powder to soothe me and rubber bands so Don can eat without his hair seasoning his sandwiches.
Don’t ask me what we’re “really” looking for in the corners and crannies of the blues-tinged Magnolia State, but this week we have joyfully joined the not quite teeming throngs of blues tourists in the quest for new insights and truths. Columbus Day was also a day of discovery from this traveling trio. We began at the Best Western Motel in West Helena, Arkansas, and ended up 8 hours or so later at the Super 8 in Indianola (of B. B. King fame).
Almost every community we visit is obviously not wallowing in riches. Poverty clings to these parts of Mississippi like kudzu to a hillside.
And there was more. A full Columbus Day. But I gotta run!
Sunday, the day of change from grand to grand, Helena to Clarksdale MS. None of us hardly missed a beat as we tried to beat the ground to death with our tappy tappy toes.
Wikipedia kinda casts an interesting light on our beloved high-spirited, free-wheeling blues behind-the-scenes in Clarksdale, Mississippi:
“In the past fifteen years, the Clarksdale community at large has come to see its blues heritage as a viable economic resource worth exploiting and initial resistance on the part of affluent white business owners has given way to recognition of the African-American art form as a valuable cultural resource that they could control.”
Seems kinda sad, doesn’t it? During the 15 years (for me) that we’ve been hitting the Helena-Clarksdale blues trail, we’ve seen lingering signs of those white arrogant business owners who would crush our music like a bug if it weren’t profiting them. Not often but also not very subtle. A sneer here and there. Members of the old boys network who obviously were coming out to play with inferiors when they said hello to our dollars in restaurants and other enterprises.
That said, yesterday (Sunday) was a beautiful day in Clarksdale. Musta been 90 in the shade, oiling up my old bones and making me feel like I’s 65 again!
The road between Helena and Clarksdale runs through gigantic cotton fields, some still heavily laden with their white gold, others bare, their treasures surrendered to huge color-coded bales of cotton strung out in straight lines across their widths.
(Wikipedia) “The invention of the cotton gin caused massive growth of the production of cotton in the United States, concentrated mostly in theSouth. The growth of cotton production expanded from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850. As a result, the South became even more dependent on plantations and slavery, making plantation agriculture the largest sector of the Southern economy. In addition to the increase in cotton production,the number of slaves rose as well, from around 700,000, before Eli Whitney’s patent, to around 3.2 million in 1850.”
And, finally, this, also from Wikipedia:
“Whereas previously (before the development of the mechanical cotton-picking machine by International Harvester) the (Clarksdale) area’s sprawling plantations were worked largely by an indentured African-American workforce, the rapid mechanization of cotton production made these underpaid and systematically exploited workers expendable. This change… accelerated what came to be known as The Great Migration to the north, the largest movement of Americans in U.S. history. The Illinois Central Railroad operated a large depot in Clarksdale which quickly became a primary departure point for many African-Americans in the area.”
All of which is a tad sobering, methinks, but, even though we sometimes feel like it’s guilty pleasure, our hardy trio (Don, CB & I) once again on Sunday found ourselves, delighted, enthralled, hugged, cherished and entertained to the hilt. If those rich white folks who hate blues and us except for the money were there, I’m here to tell you they wore excellent camouflage.
The tapestry woven by the blues folk is rich and deep and multi-hued. Jenn in with her brothers who are Big George Brock’s band; the fifty people who come by Tranq the van to wave or say hi (and whose names, if I ever knew them, are way out beyond the stratosphere of my mind); the guy looking like he’s looking to score with that blue-eyed young-un (not yet retired) over there; the guy who moves his little sportscar so we can park a little closer to the music (so I can listen from Tranq). Bonhomie reigns, for a minute anyhow!
From Clarksdale we joined the caravan of the still-unsated blues crowd to nearby Hopson Plantation for a gander and swig of the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming. (More irony here – Pinetop once drove tractor on the Hopson Plantation, the very same Hopson Plantation where International Harvester perfected its mechanical cotton picker which threw untold thousands of already-beleaguered folks under its wheels.)