The blues has eluded me all along the Delta, but Beale Street delivered. If my poker cards have been less than lucky, my blues seats set me up for some fine listening.
The trolley ride to Beale Street costs me the senior price of two quarters. For that I get to ride on an antique tolley, all wood and brass with leather straps. This is turn of the century experience compete with the bumps and the old bear bulbs blinking.
I hop out on Beale Street and see the the very first place, BB King's Blues City, is alive with music pumped into the street, and when I look inside it is not some record but a live blues group, the lead guitarman doing his slow bump through the crowd and playing right up to folks.
The place is packed, but the advantage of solo traveling is that one seat is always enough and there is just one left. It is at a small bar facing the musicians, the best seat in the house.
The guitarist is Carl Drew
and this is his band. He is 87 and still on top of the game. Even when he sings, the sounds are sweet and clear, like the voice of a young man. He plays perfectly in a dead pan. He has been doing this for 60 years.
When they break my lucky seats hits the perfect river card.
The female vocalist grabs the recently vacated seat next to me. She tells me that she can't always find a place to sit and we chat while she works up her next set on napkins. She says she used to bring a little book, but people kept taking it home as a souvenir. I hole the seat for her as she checks on some details with Carl. She signs my book and takes my name so she can sign me a song. Is there anything I like?
Well, I am partial to that 29 ways, and she says that she has already planned to sign that song, but she'll dedicate it to me.
And she does.
Joyce is called the diva, but she is pretty classic old blues. She is a woman build for comfort and not for speed, but she moves up on the stage and sounds fine.
She is very interactive with the crowd saying we are here where we can
“Eat good food
and talk loud”
“We wanna blues ya til we lose ya”
“I said hey, hey, the blues is allright.
Hey, hey, the blues is allright.
I said hey, hey, the blues is allright.
Hey, hey, the blues is allright.
allright (allright), “
“The sky is crying, look at the tears roll down the street
The sky is crying, look at the tears roll down the street
I'm waiting in tears for my baby, and I wonder where can she be?
I saw my baby one morning, and she was walking down the street
I saw my baby one morning, yes she walking on down the street
Make me feel so good until my poor heart would skip a beat
I got a bad feeling, my baby, my baby don't love me no more
I got a bad feeling, my baby don't love me no more
Now the sky been crying, the tears rolling down my door”
“I can't stand the rain, against my window
Bringing back, sweet memories
I can't stand the rain, against my window
Cause he ain't here with me “
She says that she has been in love with Carl Drew for five long years and sings “Chain of Fools”
“papa was a rolling stone
wherever he lay, that was his home
?? was his love,
And when he died,
he was alone.”
which are different from the classic lyrics, but told me I better make sure to leave this road trip at some point for Burden Lake
I chat a bit with the folks next to me who want to know why I am writing in a book. They are locals and give me some food suggestions including the second suggestion for the roll throwing place on the way to Caruthersville that Robin mentioned and this famous Memphis spot that they tell me I have to see just for the atmosphere even if I don't eat ribs again.
Then I take a walk up the street. It is like the French quarter in New Orleans except the music is more authentic. There the old jazz had been pushed out by new sounds. Here there still was mostly blues. Each place pumped the music out into the street and let you peek in to see the performers. I watched here and there and at the end of Beale street, I found my self in the middle of preparations for the St Patrick's Day Parade. So I walked around looking at the folks all dressed in green and the floats almost ready to do. A navy band was warming up instruments as were some bag pipers. Horses were everywhere.
Note that the drivers in Memphis carry dogs with them. I suppose that is good protection as well as company.
I did not stay for the parade, but headed back to the hotel thinking I might walk by the rib place and take a bit of a snack before my nap. What I found was the Flying Fish restaurant
decorated in wild fish, some with wings. They claimed to be a home for abandoned talking bass and the walls were crowded with old Billy Bob Bass on plagues.
There was a flying catfish in the front.
There were more fish decorations than I have ever seen in one place before. Ironically, most of them were bass although there was no bass on the menu and the catfish was the real local delicacy.
I had a bit of catfish and some pickled green tomatoes (they substitute for fries)
Then I went in for my nap.
I was able to watch the river for a while again on my way back
It was fine to have my hotel so near my destination. The nap just refreshed me for the night music and off I went again on the antique trolley.
While the weather threatened rain, we had seen none. I wore my frogtog just in case. I did not take my camera on my evening trip, not wanting anything to encumber me.
I wandered into a table outside where Ms. Zeno was singing to one guitarist
She was really funny and very raunchy. She was a heavy woman who maintained a shape. Her breasts were very large and she drew attention to them as the cajoled the audience and talk sex and sang blues. She was very funny. It was all blues for a while, but then she moved on to other music, still with a blues sound, “Sweet Home Alabama” and that did seem to satisfy the crowd.
Back at BB Kings I paid a five dollar cover to see a real classic blues fellow, blind Mississippi Willie who played old blues like
“I'm a cross cut saw, baby, drap me 'cross your wood.”
and told old stories in what he calls a soul stew.
“ Once in a juke joint there was this fine corn fed girl finer than a coke bottle, and I mean the six ounce and not the thirty two, and she was dancing with a woman' husband until the woman just had had enough.
Well, in those days, in those sawdust joints, a woman carried snuff in her lip, an ice pick and a razor in her groin.”
So the wife spits a line of snuff juice down the corn fed girl's white dress, and just when it looks like things are gonna get bad, in walks the coke bottle shaped girl's husband with a shotgun. The bouncer jumps in and tells him he can't have a gun there, and for his interference, he gets shot.
And then off he goes on another blues number.
Next I wandered into a low key diner like joint called “pork with attitude”
with three white guys playing washboard sounding music. Two guitars and a washboad/harmonica player. The harmonica was understated and not the in your face blues aggressive harmonica, just a whiff of a note or riff now and again.
The lead looked like an old folk singer with long hair and a fine Southern voice.
He played folky blues including a version of the Blind Blake song, “That'll never happen no more”
“This is a mean old world, try and live it by yourself.
This is a mean old world, try and live it by yourself.
Can't get the one you love, have to use somebody else. “
I was sitting at the counter having coffe and pecan pie when again on break over comes the main performer and sits next to me. Two lucky seats in the same day. So we told some stories of travel and I also got to overhear him talking about his new guitars, just inexpensive instruments on ebay. One he is thinking of buying is shaped like a heart.
I guess the harmonica fellow is more famous, Eric Hughes. He was in and out of the conversation. The bearded performer told about being in Albuquerque which he liked because he could see it from a distance nestled in the mountains. He was at bed an breakfast and stayed out all night because someone was buying tequilla. When they staggered in at there am the host told them they had to be up for breakfast and out by ten. He laughed that he would have rather had the sleep than the breakfast, but he had to be polite.
This fellow was raised in Mississippi and had a good strong accent. I liked his easy story telling manner and open friendliness.
Well, I wandered about the street just checking out the wild party atmosphere. I listened a bit to some of the performers but did not go in to another place.
I ended using my stamped hand to get in the BB King blues place again and listen to the band. It was loud blues with sax, trombone, trumpet and mixed with those pop songs that blues guys seem to like “Brick House” and “Ride Sally Ride” and lots of people danincing and having a good time. One young blond put on a great show dancing and using here hair in very sexy ways. So I stayed a while and watched and then I headed back about midnight on the old antique trolley.
I'll head out again today and see a bit more of Memphis after I check out. I won't get to post it, so I'll toss this in with a couple photos just for flavor. Today it is back to Tunica to see if I am only lucky in counter seats or if some good cards might fall my way as well.