Tag Archives: Ground Zero Blues Club

I Learned My Motto From My Dad in Clarksdale, Mississippi

16 Mar

During our foray into Clarksdale, Mississippi, my mom questioned where or not we should eat at the Ground Zero Blues Club. It looked a little rough around the edges, and she was not sure about it. I must admit that it looked different from what I thought it would.Clarksdale 4

However, my dad did not have such qualms. He wanted to go. Not because he thought the food would be awesome. Not because he thought we might see Morgan Freeman. As he said, it was because we could always say that we did it.

My dad has never said that he has a life’s motto, but I think that would be it. He has spent his life wanting to do as much as possible and wanting to see as much as possible. I have been lucky because he has had the means to do so and because he took me along. He also passed that motto down to me.

I can always say that I did it.

I waited a long time to get married and have a family. While my friends and acquaintances did the usual thing of settling down and making memories, I filled my life with experiences. Those experiences have included traveling to various places; listening to different kinds of music; immersing myself in art; and learning as much about the world as I possibly could.

I have differing tastes, and I am pretty sure a lot of people think I am strange because of it. There have been several posts written about the music of my iPod. Sometimes, I even think it is crazy with the variety of stuff that is on there. Some of it is well-known, and some of it is obscure. I do not even like all of it. It is there because I think it is interesting.

I feel the same thing about the world. It is a very interesting place filled with interesting people and interesting things. Something can be learned from all of it. Driving to Clarksdale, my dad and I were just as interested in the crop dusting planes and the fields they were spraying as we were the destination ahead. It is flat land and seemingly endless, but there is a lot interesting about it. The history. The people. The cemeteries we passed.

It was a new road for me, and I was glad that I drove it because I can always say that I did it.

That is why I saw Dave Brubeck perform. I wanted to always say that I saw him play “Take Five“.

That is why I drank wine at the Inglenook Vineyards. I wanted to always say that I was there.Honeymoon 016

That is why I saw Ray Price in concert. I wanted to always say that I heard him sing “For the Good Times“.

That is why I went to Clarksdale, Mississippi. I wanted to always say that I was there.

That is why I saw Luciano Pavarotti and AC/DC in the same venue during the same week. I wanted to always say that I saw both shows.

That is why I went into the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. I wanted to always say that I walked in.

Throughout most of my life people have considered my tastes a little strange. I like music that you cannot find on the radio. I like to travel to places that many people would not even consider. The same can be said for my choice in books, movies and other forms of entertainment. I like those things for the experiences because life should be filled with experiences.

I am not trying to make myself out to be some kind of great thinker who has figured out the secret meaning of life. I am trying to say that I learned something in Clarksdale that had nothing to do with its history.

I never realized what my motto was until my dad spoke it out loud. He stated it perfectly.

I can always say that I did it.

I Went Down to the Crossroad

15 Mar

I just returned from an excursion to Tunica, Mississippi with my parents. I gambled and lost. I ate a lot of food. I did not find any prostitutes. However, the highlight of the trip was a drive south on Highway 61 to Clarksdale, Mississippi, a town that I have been wanting to visit for a long time.

I only knew a couple of things about Clarksdale. It is one of the places that claims to be home to the crossroad where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in return for being a great Blues guitarist. The junction of Highway 61 and Highway 49 is marked by a sign commemorating the spot.Clarksdale 5

As I got out to take a picture, I wondered if this was the real crossroad. Then, I wondered why I was wondering about a place that claims to be the location of an event that is more myth than fact.

No matter what happened at what crossroad, Clarksdale has built itself as the center of the Blues universe because of that legend. It hosts music festivals and is home to our next destination, the Delta Blues Museum.Clarksdale 1

This is a cool museum with all kinds of interesting artifacts. It is also where I learned that there is more to the town’s legacy than a legend at a highway crossing. It is the birthplace of Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker and Ike Turner, who is famous for being the abusive husband of Tina Turner. Before that, he was known as the piano player on “Rocket 88“, which is considered by many to be the first Rock n’ Roll recording.

People who lived in Clarksdale include the aforementioned Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and W.C. Handy.

At the museum, I picked up a town map that marked all of the historic locations. That is when I found out that a couple of other famous people lived in Clarksdale.

Charlie Conerly, a hometown hero, was quarterback for the New York Giants throughout the 1950s. However, the biggest surprise was discovering that Tennessee Williams lived there as a child when his grandfather was assigned to a local parish.

The town is not that large, and it did not take long to find the historic markers. We started with the marker for W.C. Handy, known as “Father of the Blues.” The museum claims that is more to good marketing than actual influence.Clarksdale 2

Next, we drove across downtown to the Tennessee Williams Park, which sits around the corner from his grandfather’s church.Clarksdale 3

This is where I learned that Williams got some of his characters from people he knew in Clarksdale. Down the street sits the Cutrer Mansion, the home of Blanche Cutrer and her husband. It seems to me that there is a character in one of his plays named Blanche.

After taking a drive past the palatial homes in this neighborhood, we went back across town to the other thing I knew about Clarksdale. It is home to Ground Zero Blues Club, owned by Morgan Freeman.Clarksdale 4

Here are my parents in front of the Ground Zero sign.Clarksdale 6

The club served lunch during the day, but we were disappointed. It was not that great. However, the waitress did a good job. My mom asked a lot of questions about Morgan Freeman, and I am sure that they were questions that the waitress has heard many times. He lives in Mississippi when he is not filming and comes by quite often. In fact, he has an apartment upstairs. He is humble but, as the waitress described, “smells like money.” I reckon that was her way of saying that he tries to hide his success, but everyone knows he is rich and famous.

We finished our meal and drove past the famous crossroad on our way out of town. However, that is when I started thinking about the place we had just seen and how it may have looked back in the old days. I started by wondering how the crossroad looked back then. If Robert Johnson made his way to this place, then was it a dirt crossing in the middle of cotton fields like I have always imagined? Or, was it a group of shacks on the outskirts of town where people lived and survived?

Whatever it looked like, I imagine that it was completely different from the neighborhood Tennessee Williams and Blanche Cutrer lived in. That was the home of the landed gentry who owned the cotton fields surrounding the town and the businesses within the town.

Clarksdale’s downtown, which can be walked across easily, is an interesting place. Although the buildings are now old and worn, they are signs that Clarksdale was once a thriving place. The buildings are multi-storied and must have been grand in their day. There are facades of banks and other lucrative businesses. There is no doubt that this was once a place of money.

However, that money flowed to one side of town. The other side of town, literally the other side of the tracks, was where those who left the fields of sharecropping to make their way, congregated and lived. This is where the Blues could be heard, and small African-American owned businesses could be found.

The two sides of town were within walking distance but were worlds apart. Downtown must have been the intersection. I could see people like Brick, Maggie the Cat and Big Daddy walking the streets and talking about “those people” when they saw them across the street. In the real world, “those people” were Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson.

I wonder what the landed gentry would think about the modern version of their town. While their houses remain, they are not why people travel to Clarksdale. People come to Clarksdale because of the music that was made on the other side of the tracks. People come to Clarksdale because of the music that was inspired by the conditions that people on the other side of the tracks found themselves in. People come to Clarksdale to celebrate their accomplishments and not the accomplishments of the ones who thought they would be remembered.

By the way, the richest man in town is an African-American who “smells like money.”

As we drove out of town, I wondered what the landed gentry would think about that.