29 October 2007


Lake Charles, Louisiana: 4,597 miles

Here's more pics:

Clarksdale, and for that matter, most of the Delta is pretty run down. Here we have two of the local landmarks: Wade's Barbershop, run for many years by a well known blues singing barber; and the former locale of Stackhouse Records, Clarksdale's most famous blues record shop, now defunct. Cat Head has taken over as the place to go for blues CDs in town, as well as information about local music venues and some very fine regional folk art.

Some places look like they couldn't possibly still be operating, but Bug's Place in Rosedale and Po Monkey's out a dirt road along cotton fields still crank out - canned, but blues - music and attract dancing crowds on some nights of the week. Po Monkey's is usually going on Thursdays and sometimes Sunday. Don't know about Bug's.

An orange moon was rising above the cotton fields across the road from Po Monkey's.

Melvin was sitting in a riverfront park in Greenville, between two casino boats, working up his courage, one cigarette at a time, to gamble. We were waiting around for the place we wanted to go to dinner to open. I walked into one of the casinos, won $70 at blackjack in short order, and we went to dinner.

Dinner was at the original Doe's Eat Place, famous for its steaks and tamales. It was originally a grocery in a black part of town, run by an Italian family. A friend of the family's - a white lawyer - took to coming around by the back entrance to have steaks cooked for him. Word got around, and eventually, the black customers kept coming to the front grocery for tamales and chili and other things, and the white ones kept sneaking in the back for steaks. Eventually the two sides got together and it's now one of the very best steak houses we've ever been to. As a matter of fact, the enormous t-bone that Eva and I ate has taken its place as the third greatest steak I've ever eaten.

After dinner, and after driving past Po Monkey's and ascertaining that, no, it isn't open on Saturday nights, we drove back to Clarksdale and went for a second night to Red's Lounge. There are several operating blues clubs in Clarksdale, the best known of which is Ground Zero that is owned by the actor Morgan Freeman. It's a big place with well known bands and has something of a House of Blues, faux feeling to it - but better. But better yet is Red's. It's the real deal. A run down - the roof literally caving in - tiny little funky place with mostly Budweiser and Heinekin in a nod to the outsiders crowd that shows up there. They have more down home, hill country blues, the sort that you find on Fat Possum records. The first night we saw T-Model Ford, an 87 year old bluesman who plays a very mean electric guitary mostly by himself. The second night, when these pictures were taken, it was Robert Balfour, another 80-something blues guy who really works wonders with his guitar, in a strange, sort of trancelike, heavy bass underpinnings, hypnotic blues kind of way. There was another guy who accompanied him on the spoons. And his nephew Arthur, who fancied himself a dancer. He was more of a staggerer, but entertaining nonetheless so long as you didn't have to sit next to him for long and listen to his ramblings.
Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much of a black crowd for blues. At least in Clarksdale. Both nights the audience was almost all white. Near as we could tell, the black bars in town were playing either modern R&B or Hip Hop. Sad, sort of. Still, a great time was had.

Even more, later.

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