Sunday, October 12, 2014

Traversing Blues Trail 61 to Clarksdale in Mississippi

A sleepy little town, bohemian as it can get without any unnecessary attachments, Clarksdale's corners and streets are full of graffiti. It was a place devoid of too many humans, businesses and other extras that cities carry. Many claim that Clarksdale, Mississippi is the birthplace of blues. Many Blues Musicians started here and traveled up north to Chicago etc to seek their fortunes. Since then it has been home to famous blues musicians like Muddy Waters and Son House and Blues festivals and gatherings for people from around the world.

Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club

 Ground Zero Blues Club covered in Graffiti

Clarksdale's eating places and bars like one owned by Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, have everything rich, fried and filling. Ground Zero Blues Club even had its ceiling full of graffiti and apparently Shaquillle O Neal's shoes were hiding from the heat of southern cooking. Clarksdale's blocks are dotted with plenty of Blues tucked in its rickety spaces; this is what Clarksdale is; it is one of those historic dots on the Blues Trail, the road that took many Blues artists from the south to the north where the music evolved from a blue hue to one of  burgeoning business. 

In Clarksdale, you'll find plenty stories from current generations descended from Blues artists and musicians. Riverside Hotel, somewhat a dark, sun-less place with its curtains down but nonetheless was full of life and beds where Bessie Smith and  Duke Ellington had slept while en route to other places. We found succor in hanging outside the hotel on metal benches with its owner Zee; here passing musicians like RazorBlade stopped, chatted and gave us their philosophy of life plus sold us some CDs; the CD-buying-business was repeated throughout the trip.

RazorBlade and Me
Barry, Zee, Me
Zee is perhaps the best of hosts a hotel can provide; we shared jokes and guffawed till it was time to leave. This is also the place where Herman the Hermit lived and took my husband for a visit to the great Mississippi River; we now have mud from the big river which we can easily pass off as exotic chocolate from some unknown lands. 

While in search of Blues, we found Clint Eastwood looming large on the wall of the city along with many others sans guns. 

Clint Eastwood and I in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Wall Paintings in Clarksdale
Wall Paintings in Clarksdale
I thought we had lost our minds and way when we arrived at a desolate area known as Shack Up Inn. With the darkness of the night, no lights and absolutely miserable looking conditions of the place, I was ready to entertain some ghosts. This was supposed to be sharecroppers' shacks during America's slave era. We were going to stay the night here, in shacks complete with sheets of tin as ceiling and black and white photographs of people from the 18th century, tissue paper stuck in holes in walls, other knick knacks stuck wherever prior visitors thought was good, and of course graffiti. We were kicked out after one night because a horde of Norwegians had booked the entire place for their Blues' Show the next day in Clarksdale.

Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale (we stayed in this shack)
With Lightnin' Malcolm, Musician, in Shack Up Inn
Thanks to Big Malcolm or Lightnin Malcolm, who jumped in our Jeep and thus became our first unofficial guide; big man brought us to Red's, a small dark and red place with some loud Blues. Big Malcolm is a Blues musician and we ended up buying his CD plus got some pictures and signatures with him. Stan Street, an artist and musician from NY did a performance while we drank beer and bought some art while hanging around his chic art gallery; Deaks played his harmonica while we bought his CD; Steve Kolbus, the effervescent Salesman, who seemed to be everywhere, talked us into buying some of his CDs as well! All in all, we from up North got thoroughly played into buying plenty of music, one way or another. 

An exhilarating performance was given by Watermelon Slim; this Blues artist clearly outdid all rock performers despite having a few teeth; we bought more CDs. From ones who didn't sell us anything were crazies like Herman, Custard Pie and beautiful Marge.

Clarksdale tricked us; it only looked sleepy!

Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale
Steve the Salesman/Musician
Private Session by Artist/Musician Stan Street, Gallery Ham Bone
OPEN sign is a joke: in search of food, exhausted
Iconic Crossroads of Highway 61 and 49
Crossroads of Highway 61 and 49
Iconic Crossroads sign of Highway 61 and 49, is what made my sis-in-law finally become overwhelmed with emotion. This is the site where allegedly Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil! We got thoroughly sold ourselves and promised to return there, again, sometime in life, when the Aussies come back for another trip to America.


  1. This is really good Joyce... I enjoyed reading this!

  2. Joyce, I'm already looking at flights! This is an absolute must on my to-do list for places to revisit. Clarksdale has totally captivated me and I cannot think of another destination that is as soul satisfying.

    1. I think next time we should stay more and maybe borrow Stan's extra room to live on those streets. Chicago's blues clubs no longer interest me :)