MONDAY - 12th May 2008
Down Highway 61 from the
Welcome Center near Lula to Clarksdale is a driver's treat - very few
cars and a highway that winds through the Delta for miles, cotton fields
to the left and cotton fields to the right seemingly never ending until
suddenly we were approaching Clarksdale. Fortunately I remembered the
complex road system to get to the
Shack Up Inn at Hopson Plantation -
turn left off Highway 61 and its first right - and would you believe we
missed the turning and had to do a Uee (embarrassing!).
Christine was a bit shocked
when we arrived at the apparently 'dilapidated dump' we had booked
(Christine's words). Alan thought it was very atmospheric! Checked
into the lobby which was like walking into a very antique antique shop
but had the warmest of greetings from Bill Talbot who was plainly checking us out by telling us that he
can suss people out straight away and anybody wearing pressed linen
trousers was likely to be a pain in the ass by complaining about
everything. We think we passed the scruffy test because he gave use the
keys and was very friendly. Told us that Robert Plant and Elvis
Costello had stayed here and was effusive about how nice Robert Plant
was when he’d stayed during the mixing of his album with Alison
Krauss. Tragically for Alan, we had missed by two days the unveiling
ceremony for the latest Mississippi blues marker at Hopson which was
attended by Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and sundry other greats and
goods of the blues world.
Arrived at the
'FulliLove' Shack, not really knowing
what to expect, but found a surprisingly spacious and reasonably clean
room with microwave, air con heating tin shower and sufficient room for
a dining area. However the mod cons were secondary to the extraordinary
mixture of furnishings and fittings from every possible era and
lovingly adorned by
gifts from previous residents. The curtains were yards of fabric, the
crockery was a mixture of plates and dishes with 2 cups. As for
cutlery - forget it. We had 2 teaspoons, two forks and a bread knife
between us. But it didn’t matter as you can spread marmalade with the
end of a teaspoon and don’t need knives if you eat food the American way
with only a fork. However there was a welcome supply of hot water with
a pressure that United Utilities should heed (note for non-UK readers:
United Utilities is a UK
electricity company that also supply water and gas). Old dolls, boxes,
number plates, coins adorned every nook and cranny. Outside on the
porch were two garden chairs and the most fantastic old wooden
gramophone from, we think, the 60s, with the original turntable rusted
almost beyond recognition.
On the first night, Alan’s
unerring instinct led us to the bar which hadn’t been mentioned on the
website or when we arrived. Apparently it only opens when the owner’s
day job allows him to get here so they choose not to advertise it to
avoid disappointing people. The bar is the most amazing eclectic
collection of junk and possibly antiques from the last century whether
it be barber’s shop chairs, posters, farm machinery and equipment,
carts, statues, etc etc.
The shacks are all original
sharecropper shacks, but not native to Hopson Plantation. They were imported from
within a 50 mile radius of Clarksdale. Wait a minute.. why don't
we let Bill at the Shack up Inn tell you all about it....
We have lots of photos of the
Shack Up Inn which I'll be posting here soon - give you a better feel
for the incredible atmosphere there. Wonderful!
Went to Walmart in Clarksdale
for essentials (alcohol and food - in that order) which the lady at the
Visitor Center had warned us was only small. Damn site bigger than
Tesco in Carnforth, UK. They even sell funeral wreathes. But they don’t
sell newspapers and when we wanted raingear (which as true Brits you
can't do without - even if we didn't wear it for the next 4 weeks) we were
directed to the sports department. Bought a nifty plug-in speaker for my
iPod to blast the Shack-up Inn, only to find you could just about hear
it on full volume (hmmm).
TUESDAY - 13th May
Thunder and lightening to
start with; delayed us slightly – very impressive but not for driving in.
Went north up Highway 61 to
Lula – to show Christine how you can step back in time! Lula is a
wonderful small 1930s town where time has stood still - a treasure. We
had heard about an old mural on a wall in the old Washbucket Launderette. When we
got there we found (like many of the buildings in Lula) the launderette
had closed down - all the windows and door were boarded up, but kindly Irene,
who owns the building and the general store next door, opened
it up for us. Irene's nephew, introduced to us as 'Nephew', was agog that we’d come
'all the ways' from England to see murals on a wall in an old battered
launderette - and he didn’t even know they existed!
Here for the first time on
public view (probably) are photos of sections of the mural:
The only information I have about the mural is
that it depicts Bennie Jones, Sam Carr and Lonnie Shields and was
painted by Gwendolyn Cannon in 1990 (many thanks to Johan Spin, Dronden,
The Netherlands for the info).
We spent some time in Lula,
soaking up the quiet and the atmosphere - a truly unique place. Let's
hope it doesn't get spoilt with tourist trappings.
Mississippi Blues Commission Blues Marker
Irene and 'Nephew'
Beware of ghost trains!
Lula's very own 'Crossroads'
Downtown Lula at midday
Derelict Lula Lumber Co.
From Lula we headed
west on Highway 49, over the mighty Mississippi to Helena, Arkansas.
Just after crossing over the impressive river bridge you come to a fork
in the road. Turn left and you go to West
Helena, a thriving sprawling boring town, but turn right (the only way
to go) and you are soon in the suburbs of old Helena, a mecca for any
bluesman. Having been to Helena before I took a shortcut downtown to the
not so thriving Cherry Street. One of the landmarks on Cherry Street is
of course the
Cultural Centre visitor center, home of 'King Biscuit Time', the
world's longest running daily blues radio show, hosted by the legendary
"Sunshine" Sonny Payne, broadcast each weekday at 12.15pm on 1360 KFFA radio.
|We deliberately arrived at noon in order to meet Sonny Payne who
asked us to be guests on his radio show. I met Sonny and appeared
on his show some two years previously (with my good friends Max
and Rex Haymes) and he said he remembered the session
(although I doubt it!). We
had a good time on the show and of course I plugged the
website!! Sonny played a record for "Alan’s
lovely wife who is 73 and still playing with the boys" (??).
Christine is forty something! We kept a transcript of the
show for our memories.
Went to lunch at Granny D’s,
the only open restaurant in Helena with delicious home cooking – yummy,
it was really good for my tummy!
After a grand feast at Granny
D's we waddled up the road to the railway deport museum (actually it's
part of the Delta Cultural Center) to take a look at the exhibit “A
Heritage of Determination” which details the history of the Delta from
its earliest inhabitants, into early settlement, through great
Mississippi River floods. Then on the upper floor of the Depot, we had a
look at “Civil War in the Delta” an insight into Union occupation and
the Battle of Helena. All very fascinating
for Christine - Alan was getting tired! We then climbed up the levee to
take a peek at the grand old Mississippi. For the first time there was a tiny
bit of information about the Indian population in the Delta on a visitor
plaque. We were amazed at how much
the river had changed its course in the last 100 years.
Popped into the liquor store
which was full of hard liquor but no beer and limited wine. Again like
something out of the 30s with dusty wooden shelves. We inadvertently
bought a larger bottle of Maker's Mark Tennessee whiskey than we’d
intended, due to the (selective?) deafness of the owner. Anyway Alan
thought this was a bargain. Christine wasn’t to be outdone and ordered a
large bottle of Southern Comfort.
Drove down Highway 1 to
Friars Point, past the church demolished by Saturday’s tornado (more of
this later) and onwards looking for Stovall. Ended up too far
south and had to backtrack to Clarksdale. We later discovered that the Stovell road sign
on Highway 1 (which was
definitely there last time I visited two year’s previously) had
mysteriously disappeared (tornado? - unlikely as there was no other
damage in the vicinity - souvenir hunter? - unfortunately most
probably). We returned to Stovell and on to Moon Lake
(which was badly damaged by the tornado) the next day - again, more of
In Clarksdale we visited our
favourite Walmart’s again for fuel and
to gawp at the huge size of everything.
In the evening we went to Ramones
Restaurant, Clarksdale to meet my good friend Liza and her Mom. As
we didn't know the locality very well we arrived
early but Ramones closed for the evening! Liza arrived without her mother,
who was attending a convention somewhere in the US, and suggested a
Lebanese restaurant instead. We followed Liza in her car (a little
bit battered as usual) around Clarksdale until we stumbled upon the
restaurant. A family concern with no liquor licence. Mmm, not
recommended. Liza brought us up to date with her work at the Cleveland
Railroad Museum and her plans to go to Boston. We planned a day out
together on Thursday.
Back to the shack and tested
the Makers Mark and Southern Comfort. Alan had a smile on his face for
the rest of the evening. Christine just got merry.
To be continued
COMING SOON: ........
Vicksburg, where the 4th July has a different meaning