Great times in Mississippi!
by, June 4th, 2009 at 08:59 PM (554 Views)
(This duplicates a thread which I made a few days ago, but which has fallen into oblivion. I'm currently trying to figure out how to make this blog display. So far it seems to go nowhere, though I already posted it...I'll try again.)
I was en route to the JUB meet in San Antonio, still three days in the future.
This is not the first time I've been pleasantly surprised by something that happened to me in Mississippi. In my experiences, Mississippi seems more likely than most other places, to produce pleasant and unexpected surprises. Little did I know that magic was in the air that night.
Back in March, on ebay, I bid on (and won) a Vaudeville-era comedy 78RPM record. A few days later I got a message from the seller that somebody wanted to get in touch with me, and ask me some questions.
It turned out that, what I had won, was a rather unusual variation of the record. The "somebody" was asking if there was a way that he could get it from me (he had bid, but lost) - he offered me a trade that I was happy with, and we both benefited from it. I couldn't help but notice how this guy in the Mississippi Delta area set up and conducted the trade in a very friendly and professional matter.
Fast forward to planning the JUB trip. Part of the itinerary, regardless, was to go to New Orleans to do some research en route. From Illinois, using I-55 in Miss. for part of the route is an obvious choice, and it occurred to me that I was going nearly right through Greenwood where this guy was located.
My thought was "Why not see if I can visit him?" We communicated by email, and it was actually during the trip that I called him, and we talked. He said I could come on ahead tomorrow, and he gave me directions, and I said I'd be there around 6PM. I was running a little bit late, because I actually got to Greenwood more than an hour early and I decided it was a good time to do a huge pile of laundry (four washer loads), which shot me past time to about 6:10. He asked if I'd be OK with a very short visit, because he had a live blues music gig to go to - and he asked if I wanted to tag along. I was like "Yeah, SURE, I'd be crazy to turn down something like that."
It turns out this guy wasn't just "some obscure seller on ebay" but actually a guy who has done as much to preserve Mississippi blues as anybody who has ever lived. We had a GREAT conversation during the truncated visiting time, and I was entirely astounded by the voluminous music research he's done independently. He was heavily involved in releasing the Depression-era blues cuts by Robert Johnson, which (in original form) is considered among the rarest and most valuable music ever produced anywhere in the world. He showed me like more than a foot of shelf space devoted to the Vaudeville act (Moran and Mack) that I had bought from ebay, and I always thought they only had 6 or 7 releases. He has helped make the B. B. King museum in Indianola become a world-class success and music-tourism destination. I believe also that he has much involvement in Ground Zero, a world-renowned Blues club not too far away in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
The live music was a private gig for the National Radio-TV service from Belgium; there was no admission as such. They came over from Europe and they're putting together a documentary about Mississippi Delta blues music. The music took a while to start, because the Belgians were partying at an upscale restaurant in Greenwood, so I was sitting around with my new-found friend, the entire band (including a cousin of B. B. King), and several more people involved in this endeavor, just hanging out and talking about stuff. Just before the music started, a caravan of cars drove up, and it turned out to be a bunch of students from Loyola University in New Orleans whose school had recently let out, and they were doing music tourism and hoping to "get lucky." I'd say they did, because they somehow got wind of this gig.
Then the music started. And these guys were GOOD! At one point one of the wives got on the porch, and she belted out a couple great soul tunes, and I was virtually in awe. This was the PURE AND AUTHENTIC Mississippi Blues experience - even down to and including the performance venue itself. Was this in a ballroom or something? HELL NO!!! This was at an old rural wooden, tin-roof SHACK, well outside of Greenwood in the country on the "Tallahatchie flats" - outdoors on the front porch - precisely how blues was MEANT to be experienced. Before the Loyolans came up, we were all sitting inside the shack, which inside is fully outfitted in 1940's Delta decor. (Yeah, SOME things have been added - such as air conditioning, LOL.)
And the night was calm, clear, and perfect. The stars up in the sky were SCREAMING for attention. But sadly for them, much of the attention was diverted elsewhere.
At one point I had to use the bathroom, and the only way in or out was right through the middle of the band. My thought was "Oh wow, I'm WALKING THROUGH Midnight Train to Georgia"!! (A couple other people had already done the same thing, so I knew it was OK.) When the band later got more bluesy than soulful, and were playing songs by people like Muddy Waters and The Howlin' Wolf, I knew precisely where the ROCKIN' EPICENTER OF THE KNOWN UNIVERSE was. And I was right at ground zero. [I'm sorry, Clarksdale, that I "stole" the name of your club to describe this, LOL.]
All good things eventually have to end, and eventually everybody disbanded, the band and their entourage departed (presumably to their respective homes), the Loyola U. crowd left for places unknown, and the Belgians stayed in the series of shacks there. Yes, it is actually a functioning motor court (a precursor of motels), and people come to town and rent a shack and stay there.
Greenwood, Mississippi treated me well, and it's one of the most pleasant surprises of the decade. It turned into hella more than the anticipated short meeting and visit - I was so breathtakingly clueless as to what would transpire. Greenwood is now added as a repeat destination, someday. I hope to visit this guy again. And, unless they're filled up, I intend to stay in one of those cool shacks.