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SOME” by 'Mississippi'Max Haymes
But time was passing all too fast, and we got to keep movin'-yeah! Crossing back over the Mississippi River, we headed south-destination Cleveland. As we left the 'Father of Waters' on Highway 49 this brought us to Lula, Mississippi just off the main highway; a few miles down the road. Celebrated by Gus Cannon on his autobiographical 'Jonestown Blues' which he recorded twice. First, in 1927 as 'Banjo Joe' with Blind Blake on guitar (Paramount 12588) and again in 1928 with Cannon's Jug Stompers (Victor 38629). Lula vibes hit us between the eyes! The whole town seemed to be on welfare, except a filling station with a single antique pump outside a shabby wooden repair shop. We gazed at the many semi-derelict buildings, with peeling paint, on the main street, and the red-rusty railroad tracks of the old Illinois Central. Together with a whole manifest (i.e. a chain of cars) of equally battered box cars which hadn't moved for decades; this whole take of Lula was surely identical (except for rust) to how it looked in the 1930s when Charley Patton and Bertha Lee were living there. Bertha Lee sang of this little Southern Delta town on her excellent 'Mind Reader Blues' (Vocalion 02650) in 1934 (see Railroadin' Some - Ch.3). While Charley Patton, King of the Delta Blues, injected some of the harshness of the drought which hit Lula in 1930, in his searing vocals and the heavy rhythms of his own and Willie Brown's guitars. Recorded the same year 'Dry Well Blues' (Paramount 13070) included these lines:
When I live at Lula, I livin', an' at ease; When I livin' at Lula, I livin', an' at ease. Lord, the drought come an' caught us, an' parched up all our trees.
Aw! I ain't got no money an' I sure ain't got no home; Lord, I ain't got no money an' I sure ain't got no home. Them hot weather done come in, parched all the cotton an' corn.
Just looking at the scene in front of our eyes, I could just feel the presence of Charley Patton there in Lula and the drought could have just passed through! An awesome experience with Lula, Mississippi imprinted on our minds.
We pulled back on to Highway 49 and eased on down the road, don't you know. Pretty soon we hit Highway 61 again and headed on down - always traveling south. With the sun in a shimmering blue Delta sky, we rolled along with the endless flat terrain of more fields of cotton, soya beans and a comparative newcomer (in the Mississippi Delta) in the form of rice. This is the heart of Blues country, good people and I want you to stop and listen to hear every word I say - mmm, mmm.
As we went by Clarkdsdale in Coahoma County, we saw the sign for Lyon, birthplace of the great Delta bluesman Son House; the main influence on Robert Johnson. Our Bluesmobile took us across the county line as we passed on down through Bolivar County and saw a turning for Alligator, Miss. What cool address that would be. Moving on down old 61' we hit Shelby and then Mound Bayou, the first successful all-black town in the Delta (see Sept 7th). More Charley Patton territory as we cruised through Merigold and then Renova, an old sawmill town which was also all-black; and finally arriving outside Molly's B&B at 214, South Bolivar Avenue in Cleveland, Mississippi. Time was around 4.00p.m.
On meeting Molly Shaman, our fantastic landlady, I was struck by her bearing and can best be described as a genteel Deep South version of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Plus Molly is so cool! She made us right at home in her glorious abode (built c.1900) which is a traditional white-painted wood building of two storeys with a real Southern balcony. Filled with cultural artifacts (her husband was a famous sculptor and Molly an artist) and with various themes in her four guest rooms, the atmosphere was just outa-sight!
Having unloaded our luggage and chosen a room each (I got the 'Oasis Room' and featured some lovely young ladies on the wall who were definitely not dressed for winter!) we sat on the wicker seats outside on the balcony sipping some cool liquid refreshments and digging the green environment under a deep blue Cleveland sky. Very shortly, the screen door opened and out stepped one foxy lady.
This was Liza Schnabel who was responsible for Alan, Rex, and myself being in Mississippi in the first place. A leading Southern historian with a Delta lineage going back to the Civil War, we all hit it off right away and then we met her charming mother, Eleanor. Talent definitely runs in the family and I had a dozen different in-depth conversations I wanted to conduct with this highly intelligent and dry-humoured lady.
But first, Liza said we were all going on a picnic they had planned down by the Mississippi River and everything was packed and ready to go! We took two cars with Ramblin' Rex and Pop-Pickin' Al in Eleanor's and I traveled with Liza. On the way down we turned on to a dirt road heading for the levee - only Liza realized after a mile or so we were on the wrong dirt road. This road, I have to tell you, was a gravel one about four feet in width ( with a serious drop on either side) and only a fraction wider than the car! I could see my shining white knuckles gripping my seat as Liza engaged in a 3-point turn!! (I'm kiddin', gal). But we got down to the riverside without any more ado and Liza and Eleanor laid out this beautiful picnic. This included chicken, corn bread, barbecue sauce, some delicious home-made jam, bottles of red wine, and I don't know what else. Good Gordon gin!
While we ate and drank, the dusk deepened as the evening drew on and there out on the Mississippi, heading south, a string of barges were easing through the muddy waters (which were really low after the extra dry summer) with a towboat (OK it was diesel-powered!). It was an almost surreal picture from the past ( in the heyday of the busy steamboat trades on the lower Mississippi in the 1910s and 20s) as the barges slid by with a garish green light on the front and accompanied by the only noise we could hear - a low-down moan of the towboat's whistle. That's the Blues! It was just in time as darkness suddenly fell and we all made our way back to town. After a couple (!) more drinks out on Molly's cool balcony taking in the Cleveland night air decorated with the 'song of the cicada', the three of us turned in - what a great introduction to this part of the journey of a lifetime - in the Mississippi Delta. And on the morrow we were going to meet famous blues collector Steve LaVere down there in Greenwood - man, this is too much!
Day Six: Tuesday, 5th September (Coming Soon!)Top of Page
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