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Published: June 19th 2015
THE BLUES HIGHWAY: Take off your overcoat girl...so we can see your moves.
When Denise drives really fast...and my body tenses...she threatens to put me in the boot.
The boot of the Cadillac SRX is quite spacious...so it's not too bad when she puts me in it.
But today is a special day.
Denise says she's going to get an esky...put it in the boot...and make it into a bed-sitter!
Threaten all you like my love...my own pad...I can hardly wait.
Leaving Memphis Tennessee...the BB King All Stars ringing in our ears.
Playing their CD as we enter Mississippi...farmlands and heaps of big "Have fun at our casinos in Tupelo" signs.
I tense...Den stops.
Zillions of birds rising like a puff of smoke.
Me thinks Den has stopped to put me in the boot...but she smiles and asks if I want to drive.
Not sure what to think...my job's to change the music...who's gonna do that?
I'm not one to complain...tell someone who cares...so I take the wheel...start driving my way...if you don't speed up we'll never get there...ringing in my ear!
The voice of Morgan Freeman in my head today...gotta get to his Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale before the end of the day.
Memphis glitsy but our quest from now on is rustic and grey.
A lone shack with "Gateway to the Blues, Tunica MS"...maps for sites of birthplaces and graves of Blues musos along the way.
We're certainly on the Blues Trail...but its the music we're lookin' for.
So we turn off the highway...pass broken machinery by the road...into Clarksdale...not a soul around.
Like a ghost town...not a fresh coat of paint anywhere.
There's Ground Zero Blues Club...two long black Ground Zero limos...pull up alongside...stepping out...it's freezing cold.
My info says it is open for lunch...but the only sound is silence...looking through shop windows... no one there either.
Guess we're in the Bible Belt and everything is shut on Sunday!
Suddenly a guy crossing the road to a car so I call out...gallop over there.
"Anywhere around here where we can hear some blues?"
"Red's will be open tonight."
"How do we get there?"
Pointing "Just turn
right down there, then first left...you can't miss it."
Sounded pretty simple but we drove and missed it...turn back.
The area is poor and disheveled...an iron and wooden shack with roofing drooping...this is it...Red's Blues Club.
There's a small whiteboard with something scribbled in red with "Sunday" and "Mark" someone...so I wander around the back.
Hear a car door shut...a guy in there...tap on the window...""Do you know if there's any blues here tonight?"
"Red's inside watching football. Why don't you ask him?"
So we approach..the door opens and a big black guy in a tracksuit & sunglasses steps out.
"Are you Red?"
"I'm sometimes known as that"
"We've come to hear the blues. Are you open tonight?"
I show him the whiteboard and he walks to his car, pulls out a red marker pen...rubbing the board with his sleeve "I guess I'd better rewrite that".
Now reads "Sunday Mark 'Muleman' Massey 7pm".
"See you then."
The icy air cuts through me but a warm feeling is surging through my veins. This is the real deal. This is what we've come for.
to find something to eat and somewhere to stay...both feeling excited.
Driving up and down the highway...motel this, hotel that...eatery this, restaurant that...settle on Wendy's as it advertises burgers and looks the cleanest.
Never eaten at a Wendys in Oz...but some things are meant to be.
Inside chomping...Den on the ipad trawling for digs to stay...reading out reviews.
Then she saw it.
Someone stayed at a hotel because they couldn't get into Shack Up Inn.
Look up Shack Up Inn...huts on a cotton plantation!
BOOK IT. We are on our way!!!
Shack Up Inn
Turn right at the Crossroads sign...crossed guitars on a tall pole...marks the spot where legend says Robert Johnson (1911 to 1938) sold his soul to the devil in exchange for attaining guitar mastery.
Several miles down the road through cotton fields...turn right over rail tracks...old rusty cotton gin with ancient cars and drays outside...sharecroppers shacks in a cluster out the back...welcome to Shack Up Inn.
You love the blues...about $80 a night...not cheap, but this is where you stay.
Inside and out the most eclectic collection of
brick-a-brac of the blues imaginable...big stage for gigs...bar with plenty of beer of course.
A sharecroppers wooden shack called "Crossroad"...tiny verandah...one room...original plank floor...torn stained curtains...piano and bed one end...rustic kitchen & bathroom at the back door...TV playing blues day & night...a heater...and a rocking chair.
Perfect...two nights please.
When you come to Clarksdale you now know where to stay...no excuses...this is where to stay.
Oh...and the Blues' top harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite owns the cottage you can see just over there!
****** Red's Blues Bar
Having a beer with Bill & Jennifer from Missouri so we head off together to Red's for 7pm.
Only about eight others when we get there...greeted by a black guy called Dingo and four whites watching football on TV.
Red shuffles over and gets us beers and a Coke for Denise as she ain't into beers...looks Denise up and down...indicates he likes what he sees...in a gentlemanly way of course!
A white guy in a cap starts tuning a guitar...another setting up keyboards.
And then the band starts...just two of them.
And wow...can they play...Mark 'Muleman' Massey on lead guitar
and vocals and Billy on keyboards...filling the room with glorious sound.
A phone rings and Red brings his mobile next to the guitar and has a chat with someone on it...no way in the world he could have heard anyone...hands it to Mark when the track finishes..."Yeh I wish you were here too baby..."
Hands it back to Red...tells us her story...laughs and launches into the next track.
About six others join us...then a nod, a smile from two who rise...cross the floor...one stops, raises her hand and signals he join her...legs pumping, shoulders rolling...the rest cheering...the band cranking it up...the Dancing Duo shaking their socks off. The Band
When North Mississippi Bluesman, Mark "Muleman" Massey was 19, he was an inmate at Parchman Prison.
Another inmate Junior Kimbrough's son, David, showed Mark how to play guitar.
Then a doco maker discovered a blues band playing in the jail and took them on a tour of the USA.
When Mark got out of Parchman Prison twenty years ago, bluesman Big Jack Johnson became his mentor and dear friend, and gave him the nickname, "Muleman".
Mark and his band have
played with BB King at his homecoming in Indianola, MS, The Howlin Wolf Festival in West Point, MS, The Chicago Blues Festival, Bentonia Blues Festival, Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale and many others.
He has also won two different International Blues Challenge qualifiers in Indianola and Rosedale, MS.
Mark is the youngest white bluesman on a Mississippi BluesTrail Marker (Parchman Prison Band).
His CD "One Step Ahead of the Blues" was produced by Memphis songwriter and recording legend, Don Nix and features special appearances by Bobby Rush, Willie Clayton, Eric Gales and Don Nix.
I'm playing my autographed copy now.
The guy on keyboards has visited Australia about 5 times.
Turns out Billy has been a member of the Mighty Rhythm Aces for about 40 years! The Dancers
Jennifer joined us for one track but for the rest of the night the floor was ours.
And did the band love it!
But all good dancers need a rest every now and then...and these young dancers need more than most.
And when they rest the cold cuts in so coats back on...the band grooving along.
late...patrons filter out...but the band plays on...and Den & I get up to dance some more.
The track was "Green Onions"...it's playing now...infectious groove.
A big booming voice cutting through the icy night air.
Its directed at Denise...Red standing there...calling out to her. "Take off your overcoat girl...so we can see your moves."
She obliges...he smiles approval...the band ups the groove...and we danced...and they played till we could dance no more.
In fact it was just us and the band...and Red and Dingo of course...when we eventually danced out of there!
Relax & Enjoy,
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