September 27, 2005


Start: Philadelphia, Mississippi

End: Clarksdale, Mississippi

Miles: 183 miles

Route taken: Route 19 north to Route 12 west to Route 49W north, exit at Clarksdale

 

        This was part of the ride I had looked forward to since I left and was excited it had finally arrived.

        I was heading towards the Mississippi Delta and the birthplace of the blues.

        Blues music is one of the my favorites and I was going to be immersed in the area that saw the blossoming careers of legends such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and B.B. King.

        King’s hometown was on the way, off Route 49 in Indianola.

                                                                 
       
It is a small town and other than the sign greeting you when you enter town hasn’t done anything else to mark the legend’s contribution.

        “They were talking about building a museum,” said Charlie, a barber in town. “They haven’t gotten it started though, don’t know if they ever will.”

        The town is struggling, there isn’t much keeping it going and the town could probably use a tourist attraction.

        About an hour north up Route 49 is Clarksdale. At the intersection of Route 49 and Highway 61 is a sign marking the famous intersection where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil.

        Around the corner is a barbecue place named Abe’s. It is a tremendous little restaurant that has the best cue. It has been in the same location since 1934 and is simple, cheap and delicious.

        Since I hit town on a Tuesday night, there wasn’t much to do. The music doesn’t really get going until Thursday night.

        I was staying at a place called the Shack Up Inn. It is on a plantation, just outside out town and there are old sharecropper shacks to sleep in. They have air conditioning, but little else has been done to them.
                   

        Wood floors, tin siding in the shower, a big front porch to sit on in the evening, it was pretty cool.

        Bill, one of the owners, is a great guy, and he and some of the locals sit out in the early evening and drink and talk.

        “We are out here most nights, solving the world’s problems,” Bill said.

        I sat with them a spell and really enjoyed the company. They were all really nice people and gave me a lot of insight about the town.   

   

        When it got dark I got on the bike and rode into town. I wanted to see if I could find anything to do.

        It was pretty desolate. Ground Zero, the town’s big club was closed, as was Sarah’s Kitchen and Red’s, the other places for blues music.

        I found a beer joint open on Dr. Martin Luther King Road called Messenger’s and went in there.

        There was an old woman playing slots and no one else in the place. The bartender, George, was sleeping in a chaise lounge he has set up behind the bar. When I approached the bar he shot up, a little startled.

         I drank a beer and we talked about why the town was so quiet, even by Tuesday night standards.

        He thought it had a lot to do with the casinos that have been built up Highway 61 about 40 miles from Clarksdale.

        I asked him if anyone had any music and he thought there was one place down old Route 61 that might.

        When I showed up, the place looked pretty scary. There were crack whores walking up and down the block and the club had smoked windows so you couldn’t really see inside.

        I parked the bike and sat for a bit, then went to the door and stared inside. There were two big black guys talking and no one else. One noticed me and opened the door. I walked inside and there was an uneasy feeling on both of our parts.

        They probably thought I was going to toss the place with my biker outfit and I thought they could take about 4 seconds to beat the living crap out of me.

        It was that kind of strength that led to a sort of détente between us and after a couple of beers we all put down our guards and preconceived notions and had a good time. They even felt bad that I wasn’t hearing any blues music and turned down the television and put on a c.d. for me.

        I left a little after 11, thanking them both and shaking their hands. I didn’t see any blues bands, but I did meet some great people.