It was a sizzling day in July like all summer days are in Florida. My wife, as beautiful as she is, released me from my domestic responsibilities for a few days to go on a solo trip. I needed to feel something real in this world, you know? I needed a taste of something new, something raw.
With this new found freedom, most dudes would go to the beach, or party it up in Vegas or maybe even California. But not me. At least his time.
I went to the Mississippi Delta to find heaven.
Now… myself, a huge blues lover, was thrilled to be off to where it all started…alone. I wanted to taste the true America, real America, the authentic America. I wanted to smell the fertile land that the seeds were planted many years ago that blossomed into the most beautiful sound known to man. I wanted to get drunk on its history. I wanted to feel the sorrow and the poverty. I wanted live out the poem.
So I did what the great Hunter Thompson recommended, yes sir, I bought the ticket and took the ride.
So my ass flew into Memphis, rented a car, threw Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 revisited in the CD player and was off. I lingered around Memphis for a few hours stopping in at Sun Records where Elvis, Johnny Cash and the amazing Howlin’ Wolf got their start. It was an unbelievable place for a music lover to be in.
The secretary’s desk is still in the same spot when a little teenage Elvis walked in and asked to sing a song. The legendary microphones are still in place. It was quite incredible.
After I left Sun Studio, I drove down the legendary Beal Street pondering the old days of the 1920’s when gamblers, prostitutes, train-hopping vagabonds and moonshiners was its ambiance. Nowadays it’s just a little too touristy for my taste, so I drifted southbound.
I was in blues heaven. This is the place, I soon realized, where my soul meshed with the soil. It was where I decided one day I would retire and die. This dreadfully beautiful land was me all the way.
The delta region is like looking through the window of time to an era not corrupted by superficiality and materialism of modern life. It’s charmed by its old-fashioned white churches, corner barbecue joints and barren taverns. Summertime is filled with Magnolias in full bloom and old farmers selling fruit out of their 40-year-old pickup trucks. Kids run barefoot through green fields and the railroads run endless.
As I continued my drive along the highway, I was enthralled by the vast cotton fields and at the same time reminded of slavery. I just couldn’t imagine, man. So much beauty and freedom and the same time so much hatred and oppression. But I’ll tell ya man, if there was any upside at all to slavery, at least one can say it wasn’t completely fruitless. The hard life of these beautiful souls created the most genuine hypnotic sound folks have ever heard. Just like Ole Brownie McGhee once said, “Blues is not a dream. Blues is truth.” It’s a sound laced with candid lyrics and a devilish hunger, a hunger for something that cannot be defined. A hunger for something more. Something better.
And of course, as with most art, the moral crusaders of the time ultimately labeled this truth the “Devils Music.” But little did they know, salvation is found in embracing the misery of truth rather than overlooking or denying it. The delta musicians of the time embraced this harmonious truth with ferocity. Their songs will live on forever.
So I keep on keep’n on southbound to the town of Clarksdale, Mississippi. I finally arrive and check into The Shackup Inn Beer & Breakfast. God bless this dingy paradise. It’s a legendary cotton plantation speckled with sharecropper shacks throughout. It also has a bar, antique tractors and rusted out classic trucks all over the land. It’s a little glimpse of the plantation life from the forgotten yesterdays.
As their own website explains “As you sit in the rocker on the porch, tipping a cold one while the sun sinks slowly to the horizon, you just might hear Pinetop Perkins radiatin’ the 88’s over at his shack. Perhaps, if you close your eyes even Muddy or Robert or Charlie might stop to strum a few chords in the night.”
At night I walked around the plantation like a confused wanderer with moonlight as my only guide. I drank my beer, smoked my cigars, dreamed, loved, raged and laid down on the hood of a rusted out Ford with weeds growing up its side. The stars were bright this night. The eerie wind howled from a distant hill that brought along with it the hum of a locomotive. You could smell the mystery and the history with every breeze.
At the end of the night, greatly buzzed on beer and life, I fell asleep on the front porch listening to a gentle strum of a guitar in the next shack over.
The next day arrived and I kept on blues traveling like a demented nomad. I couldn’t believe that I was actually roaming the same fertile soil as Son house, Charlie Patton, Willie brown, Skip James and the legendary Robert Johnson rambled on.
So I did my own kind of rambling, visiting old bluesmens grave sites, pouring out whiskey (while taking a shot) and reading all the notes left behind. This is where it’s at, man.
I never felt more alive lingering on the back roads of these small towns in the Delta.
The vacant store fronts, depots, and abandoned juke joints occupied all these sleepy towns.
I wandered along trying my best to support the poverty-stricken economy. I bought lunch at little barbecue dive pits, bought some blues memorabilia at small shops and drank beer with the old black farmers on weathered benches in front of crumbling gas stations. I listened to stories of hard times and saw the prejudices these men have endured in their bloodshot eyes. These were hard men who have lived hard lives but are now content, unlike the rest of the comfortably despondent country.
These men knew life.
The climax of the whole trip was going to Po Monkey’s Jook Joint. It’s one of the only active jook joint’s left in the whole country. It’s appropriately located out-in-the-country along a dirt road aligned with massive magnolia trees. The place looks like an old abandoned wood shack and sits battered and bruised on a beautiful piece of land.
Willie Seaberry (aka Po Monkey) is the owner of this fine establishment and it’s the place he calls home. I pulled up and parked across the street so I could take in the astonishing sight.
As I walk up the wood rotted front porch steps, half-buzzed with an ass pocket of whiskey, I embraced he old fellow who met me at the door.
Po Monkey is quite the character. He had a exotic purple suit on (he changed suits 8 times in the course of 3 hours) and a friendly smile that made you feel welcome, you know.
As I entered the shack I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The dark gloomy place had plywood floors and fabric ceilings that hung very low. It was subdivided into small rooms that gave it a kind of homey feel to it. The barmaid was an older woman who sat on a dirty cooler that contained the $2 beers I drank all night.
I plopped down in a chair right next to a wonderful robust black queen.
She ended up telling me cool stories all night about the area and was ultimately curious about how such a “cute white boy” ended up here. I told her I belong here, that’s why. She gave me a high five and said “damn right you do.”
After the live music started playing, the hefty black queen gave me an intense look and asked “you wanna lil tug of some corn whiskey?”
I guess that was my reward for being a “cute white boy” so how could I refuse?
“Why yes ma’m, I’ll take me a pull.” She then reached into her large, jam-packed bra and pulled out a pint of that brown water dripping with tit sweat, unscrewed the lid and handed it to me.
Hell I didn’t care.
I’m living like a savage in the delta, so I took two deep swigs and gave it back to her. The venom hit me hard. It pulsated and elevated my spirit to a whole new intensity. I was ready.
So there I was…booz’n it up, dancing and jamming to the phenomenal sound of live blues. I kept admiring how Po Monkey floated throughout the joint flirting and dancing with all the women and taking a seat on all their laps. He was the coolest.
When I arrived back to my shack at the end of the night, I turned on the T.V (that only plays blues music) and fell into a whiskey induced slumber with the sound of old souls singing in the background.
I gotta tell you man, life was fine in the Mississippi Delta.