the Dirt Road (Part 4) September - October 2005
and Hazel Bresner
Arrived in Albuquerque, New
Mexico following a long tiring journey from Manchester via Chicago. Albuquerque
airport must be unique in its features – pseudo New Mexican decor. Crashed out
in our hotel. Picked up our rental car, Chrysler, and explored downtown
Albuquerque including the historic Route 66. The centre of Albuquerque is very
historic and picturesque including a large number of Adobe style buildings. Lots
of shops selling Native American turquoise jewellery, dream catchers, etc.
Travelled north to Taos. Went
through Jemez Mountains and Indian Reservations. Strict privacy is required when
within the Indian Reservations – no photographs or video. Saw lots of weekend
bikers on Harley Davidsons on route. Stopped at Soda Dam and skirted Los Alamos
and arrived at Taos. Booked into a Hacienda style hotel.
Looked around Taos, very touristy
and commercialised, however, there is a Blues Club in town.
Headed south to Santa Fe
following the Rio Grande gorge, very spectacular, lots of good photo
Next day we explored the centre
of Santa Fe, similar to Albuquerque with Adobe buildings and Native American
wares. Santa Fe has links with the Wild West and the cattle drives as depicted
on many a western film. In order to make the best of the time available we went
on a guided tour of the Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Trail and saw the rail head
which was at the end of the cattle trail.
Travelled south to Albuquerque
through spectacular, semi desert countryside and even saw a number of Buffalo
herds. Outside of Albuquerque we went to see the rock petroglyphs. Overnight
stay prior to flying to San Antonio, Texas. We had some great Mexican food
during our week in New Mexico.
San Antonio the city where Robert
Johnson first recorded in 1936. Headed to “The Alamo” for a photo shoot. The
Alamo has been reconstructed as a tourist attraction within a park. Temperature
about 92C and very humid.
The main entertainment area
within San Antonio is found on the Riverwalk. The San Antonio river has been
diverted into a loop within the city with flood locks, etc., to prevent flooding
of the city. The Riverwalk has been developed into a tourist attraction with
lots of bars, cafes, restaurants, shops and entertainment. Took a guided boat
tour of The Riverwalk which helped to orientate ourselves within the city.
Before we left the UK we were told that a Blues Club was near the Alamo but
could not find it, even after asking about half a dozen people including the
Picked up rental car, Ford, and
headed north on Highway 35 skirted Austin and headed for Wortham and found Blind
Lemon Jeffersons grave at Wortham Negro Cemetery. This is indicated by a
“Historic Site” marker about a mile out of town opposite the road leading to the
cemetery. Overnight stay in Fairfield.
Headed off to Richards and
located the Longstreet Cemetery where Texas Alexander is buried. As with most of
the grave sites there is no grave marker.
Next on the agenda was Navasota
to find the grave of Mance Lipscomb in the Rest Haven Cemetery. This site has a
modern grave marker. Took photos.
When in Navasota we caused quite
a stir because most of the people we came into contact with had never met anyone
from the UK before. They were surprised that we had heard of Navasota and
travelled several thousand miles to visit. They stated that people in Houston,
approx 50 miles away, had never heard of Navasota.
Continued our journey north with
an overnight stay in Huntsville. Headed off eastwards on Highway 21 along the
trail that the Native American Indians and early white settlers had used when
heading to the west. Lots of markers on route indicating Native American
villages and burial mounds and one of the locations were Davy Crockett and his
troops camped while on route for The Alamo, a park is planned at one of the
locations. Passed through some very old, in American terms, towns including
Alto, Augusta and Nacogdoches. We were thinking of heading to Shreveport but
were told that accommodation would be in short supply as evacuees from New
Orleans and the Gulf Coast had been housed there.
Change of plan and headed for
Texarkana along 59 North. Overnight stay in Marshall.
Set off towards Little Rock,
Arkansas and finally onto Forrest City our home while attending the Arkansas
Blues & Heritage Festival, formerly the King Biscuit Festival.
It is cotton harvesting time in
the Delta with large cotton bales lining the road-side. These are large cotton
bales, about the size of a small house. The Cotton Gins are working to capacity.
Spent a day in Helena visiting
the Delta Cultural Centre and spent some time with Sonny Payne, DJ of the King
Biscuit Time radio show. Visited Gist Music Shop and spent about an hour talking
with the owner about music, life and everything. Had some great down home
cooking for lunch at Bullocks on the corner of Frank Frost and Missouri Street –
excellent food. This is the location where John Hammond played Come On In My
Kitchen in the documentary The Search for Robert Johnson.
Spent time in Bubbas Blues
Corner. Bubba, the owner, is very knowledgeable about the local blues seen and
is one of the MCs of the King Biscuit Festival. Met up with one of my email
contacts for blues grave research, just by chance. Visited the festival site.
Thursday 6th to
Saturday 8th October the start of the Arkansas Blues and Heritage
Festival prior to arriving at Helena we stopped at Wal-Mart and bought two
camping chairs as these would be needed over the weekend for the open air
The festival is free with one
main stage and several small stages scattered around the town. Street performers
are also along the main street. Due to the nature of the scheduling we couldn’t
get to see all the artists over the weekend. The following is a sample of the
performers seen over the weekend. The music started at midday and finished at
midnight. The stage crew were very efficient with only fifteen to twenty minutes
between sets. We saw more performers than those listed below but space and
memory of the event do not allow a full listing.
- John Alex Mason, acoustic
blues on a wooden bodied National. Played selection of originals including,
Let It Rise and What Are You Hungry For?, and standards including, Kokomo
Blues, Walking Blues and Shake Em On Down.
- AJ and the Two Tone Blues
Band. Started with Juke and maintained a consistent quality throughout the
set. This band were winners of the Sonny Boy Blues Society competition.
- Diunna Greenfield with Bob
Margolin on bass guitar and John Deltorra Richardson on guitar who has
recently won the best unsigned guitarist award. A mixture of original and
standards such as If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day and Built For
- Mark Salling and his Band. A
very talented multi-instrumentalist – vocals, harp, sax and keyboards. They
played a set of original songs.
- Sam Carr’s Blues Band played
a mixture of Chicago and down-home style blues.
Bob Margolin with Hubert
Sumlin and Mookie Brill. An excellent mixture of Muddy Waters and Howlin’
Wolf numbers. Excellent guitar solos from both Bob and Hubert with Bobs
Muddy Waters influenced slide guitar making the hairs on the back of my neck
stand up. Diunna Greenfield joined the band for a few numbers including It
Hurts Me Too and Built For Comfort. Spent some time with both Hubert and Bob
before they went on stage, they both said that they enjoyed playing the
Maryport festival and that the event was something special.
- Billy Branch and the Sons of
Blues with Carl Weathersby. An enjoyable set consisting of a mixture of
originals and standards – Killing Floor, Stop Breaking Down Going Down Slow.
Cedell Davis. A recent
stroke has left Cedell incapable of playing guitar however his band provided
a competent backing for Cedell who was also having difficulty singing. A
young female relative of Cedell got on stage to encourage Cedell into
singing and it worked, he would not even stop when his band had packed up to
- Walter “Wolfman” Washington.
The laid back guitarist set comprised of funky New Orleans style blues. In
fact he was too laid back and some of the audience were getting restless.
Paul Gerimia played a set of
acoustic blues on six string Gibson and a twelve string Stella guitar. He
mixed original material with a range of classics including Blind Willie
McTell’s Statesboro Blues and Charlie Patton’s Pony Blues.
- Bobby “Blue” Bland. This
excellent singer took us on a journey through his career including such gems
as, St. James Infirmary, Ain’t No Sunshine, Further On Up The Road, Everyday
I Have The Blues, Stormy Monday, Drifting Blues and Reconsider Baby.
- James Cotton with Rico
McFarland on guitar. Prior to taking the stage James Cotton was awarded the
2005 Sonny Award for services to the blues. Song played included Blow Wind
Blow. This harp legend was in fine form.
- Reba Russell. This strong
voiced female singer entertained with mainly original blues songs and
ballads plus standards that included Electric Chair Blues.
- Little Charlie and The Night
Cats. Excellent West Coast swing from the masters of the genre. Rick Estrin
and Charlie Baty swapped instruments with Rick playing guitar solos and
Charlie playing some really fine harp. Dump That Chump had the usual
audience participation. The encore included Hideaway merged into a Texas
style shuffle, Peter Gunn Theme and the James Bond Theme.
- Otis Taylor played an
eclectic set of original material with Otis playing both guitar and harp.
- Anson Funderburgh & the
Rockets with Sam Myers. An excellent set of Texas style blues including
Double Trouble and I’m A Pawnbroker. Sam Myers, resplendent in his red suit,
blew some fine harp especially on Who’s Loving You Tonight.
Robert Jr Lockwood and his
Big Band. A jazz influenced set by Robert Jr, excellently played on his
twelve string guitar. Songs included The Way You Do The Things You Do, Ain’t
Nobody’s Business and Got To Find Me A Woman.
- Drinks Small from North
Carolina produced a set of mainly standard acoustic blues songs on a metal
resonator guitar injected with a good sense of humour. Songs included Mojo
Hand, I Feel Good and Things That I Used To Do.
David “Honeyboy” Edwards
supported by his manager on harp and a Robert Johnson look-alike on guitar. Honeyboy was spellbinding with his anecdotes and songs which included
Catfish Blues, West Helena, Standing In The Corner, Who’s Loving You
Tonight. However a power failure cut short his set.
- Mark Hummell the great harp
player was joined for most of his set by harp player James Harman. At one
time Mark had a total seven harp players on stage at the same time each
taking a solo in turn.
- Irma Thomas the Queen of New
Orleans soul entertained with a set of songs spanning her career. Her
spellbinding performance included You Can Have My Husband But Please Don’t
Mess With My Man, Hip Shaking Mama, Breakaway, Loving Arms, Time On My Side
and Simply the Best.
- Bobby Rush and his band
provided a top class chittlin circuit revue complete with dancing girls. A
great way to end the festival. Great entertainment but not for the faint
hearted or easily offended.
There were numerous kiosks and
stalls selling Deep South cooking – ribs, catfish, tamales, chicken, corndogs,
etc. – delicious. There was no trouble or drunks spoiling a great weekend. Loads
of Harleys on the Saturday night, lots of chrome. Everyone was there to picnic
and enjoy themselves, us included.
This was probably the best Blues
Festival that we have ever attended. Top class blues with no blues-rock in
Travelled into Mississippi and on
to Cleveland for the night. We couldn’t find any accommodation near Helena or
Clarkdale during the festival period. If anyone intends to go to Helena during
the festival make sure that you book your hotel/motel early.
Sunday 9th October
Travelled to Clarksdale for the
Clarksdale Mini Festival at Cathead Record Store. Artists seen included.
Chickan. guitar and vocals plus a guest female keyboard player performed a
set of original songs, some surprisingly about chickens. Super Chickan plays
guitars made from old oil cans.
“Honeyboy” Edwards with his manager on harp. This performance seemed more
intimate than the Helena performance and was a treat to witness. After the
set I managed to have a conversation with Honeyboy for about twenty minutes
discussing his early life, playing juke joints and the 1930s and his
association with the early blues performers.
Brock. This big, imposing harp player dressed in a sharp cream suit and
matching hat played a selection of Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Read
songs supported by a small band. Songs included Smokestack Lightnin’, Meet
Me At The Bottom, Hoochie Coochie Man, Nine Below Zero and Big Boss Man.
During Got My Mojo Working Big George was rolling around the floor singing
and blowing harp.
Williams harp player support by Bill Perry on guitar. An excellent set of
covers including C C Rider, I’m A King Bee, Arkansas Boogie, Bring It On
Home To Me and Talk to Your Daughter.
We couldn’t stay to the end of
the Clarksdale Mini Festival as we had been invited to Pinetop Perkins
Homecoming Party at Hopsons Plantation.
What a great time we had at
Hopsons with Pinetop sitting near the stage grinning from ear to ear. The
entertainment was provided by a number of blues players from the Helena event
jamming in a free and easy manner. The house band included of Bob Margolin,
Mookie Brill, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. They were joined at various times by Mark
Hummell, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, Michael Burks and Big George Brock. The audience
were treated to mostly the Muddy Waters songbook. An amazing afternoon and
evening. As a guitar player I was instructed to put my name on the jamming list
but I didn’t get to perform. It would have been an experience.
Spent a few hours exploring
Cleveland and then drove to Leland. The same thing seems to be happening to
Leland as with other small Delta towns. People are leaving the towns and the
centres are decaying. More buildings are closed than when we were last here just
over two years ago.
Continued to Greenville where we
spent the next few nights. Spent some time at the old historic area of Walnut
Street. Plaques of famous local bluesmen have been set into the sidewalk in
Walnut Street. However, if you are not looking down you probably miss them as
they are so unobtrusive. A Blues Club is situated on Walnut Street which has
live blues music most weekends. Over the levee and on the Mississippi River are
a string of casinos.
More authentic blues clubs are in
Greenville on Nelson Street but these are not recommended unless you have a
local guide for safety.
We travelled south to Hollandale
to meet up with an old friend. The centre of Hollandale seems to be in decline
like a lot of Delta towns with a number of juke joints on the Blue Front
demolished and the area left empty.
Continued on to Rolling Fork
where Muddy Waters originated from. A plaque has been erected in the centre of
town to commemorate Muddy Waters. A museum is planned but the organisers are
lacking funds. We talked to the local newspaper editor who was interested in our
trip to Rolling Fork and was surprised to learn that there is a large blues
following in the UK. They said that they would write a small article for the
newspaper – we’ll never know whether it was published or not.
On the return to Greenville we
visited the Bourbon Mall, an old plantation commissary which has been converted
into a restaurant, bar and music venue. This place has some interesting decor.
Called into Holly Ridge to the
New Jerusalem Cemetery to visit the graves of Charlie Patton, Asie Payton, Frank
Frost and Willie Foster. Continued on highway 82 towards Greenwood and then
north on highway 7 to Avalon and Teoc to find Mississippi John Hurts grave
something we’ve been trying to do for years but have been thwarted by number of
factors including bad weather. We eventually found the grave well hidden in a
secluded grove within a forest. Took some photographs and then headed off to
find the Mississippi John Hurt Museum. Eventually found the museum after
travelling along a number of unmade roads. How his wife could have raised 14
children in the house is a mystery.
On the return to we called into
Indianola to see the BB King Memorial Marker. A museum is in the process of
being constructed and should be open in 2006.
Belzoni, the Catfish Capital, was
our next port of call. The jailhouse, where Charlie Patton spent some time on a
vagrancy charge is still standing but derelict. The sheriff who was overseeing
the maintenance work being undertaken by convicts told us that Paul “Wine” Jones
had died a few days earlier – we saw Paul perform two years ago at Leland, he
was a heavy smoker and drinker – he was 59. Walked around the town to try and
locate a number of juke joints but most of them have been closed or demolished
including the Krazy Korner Cafe.
Headed off to Moorhead to see the
location where the “Southern crosses the Dog”. Rail tracks are still in place
together with the old railroad depot.
The Highway 61 Blues Museum in
Leland was our next stop. The museum is dedicated to local blues musicians and
contains a small number of exhibits.
Left Greenville and headed north
on Highway 1. Passed through Beulah and Rosedale and stopped at the Stovall
Plantation Store for lunch. Drove south to Clarksdale, booked into a motel and
headed into downtown Clarksdale parked up near Ground Zero and walked towards
Cathead Records. Surprise, surprise Super Chickan was performing outside Cathead
Records store. Sat and listened to Super Chickan for a while and continued on
our walking tour of Clarksdale.
In the evening we headed for
Ground Zero for a meal and some blues. Big T and the Family Band were the
entertainment for the evening. The band was really good with the guitarist
playing blues solos not blues-rock. The set consisted mainly of covers such as
Catfish Blues, I’ll Play The Blues For You, The Thrill Is Gone, Sweet Home
Chicago and Big Boss Man interspersed with a few soul numbers. A great night.
The next day headed into
Clarksdale for a photoshoot everything was closed being Sunday. Wade Walton’s
barber shop has been converted into a blues club.
Headed north on Highway 61
towards Tunica, called at Moon Lake, Lula, Dundee, Crenshaw and Sledge which has
a “Charlie Pride Highway”. Headed back to Clarksdale via Lyon.
Departed Clarksdale and heading
north towards Memphis for a few days prior to our journey home. Called into
Tunica and at Mhoon Landing saw a large barge navigating along the Mississippi
river. Called in at the Tunica Museum, built with Casino money, and was very
interesting - describing the development of the area from the time of
pre-history and the Native Americans through to the modern casinos.
We decided to stay in West
Memphis rather than Memphis itself near Interstate 40 (Route 66). Our motel was
only about fifteen minutes drive from the Memphis Visitors Centre.
We headed over the Mississippi
Bridge and into Memphis. Spent some time walking on Beale Street which has now
become a very commercialised area. This will probably be our last visit to
Memphis due to the way Beale Street is developing.
Had a tour of the Gibson factory
where they manufacture the semi-acoustic line of instruments. Played a few
guitars in the factory shop after the tour.
Had a trip into the countryside
around West Memphis and located to grave of Albert King in Paradise Gardens
All in all a superb adventure
considering that we don’t plan ahead, except the King Biscuit Festival. We also
had our fill of Southern Cooking especially tamales and catfish.
Time to save the pennies for our
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Down The Dirt Road (Part 1)
Down The Dirt Road (Part 2)
Down The Dirt Road (Part 3)
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& Hazel Bresner.
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