Experiencing the Delta Blues
When Char and I first visited Clarksdale, MS we fell in love with the town and its rich heritage in the Delta Blues. We wrote about this experience in an earlier post, Walking into Clarksdale. We immediately made plans to return to the town to film an episode of our TV show which would be called “A Day in the Life of the Delta Blues.” We made that return trip this past week and filmed the bulk of the episode on location… look for it to air later this year.
We had a blast filming in Clarksdale and meeting many wonderful people throughout the week. We stayed at The Shack Up Inn at Hopson Plantation which added to the authenticity of our visit. The Shack Up Inn is unlike any other place we’ve stayed (and we mean that in a good way). Recently voted one of the 10 Most Unforgettable Inns in the World by Trip Advisor, The Shack Up Inn is, to our knowledge, the world’s only Bed and Beer. That’s right – not Bed and Breakfast… Bed and Beer.
Their website says it best: “The Ritz, We Ain’t.” But if you are more concerned with having the time of your life than you are with room service and little chocolates lying on your pillow, then The Shack Up Inn just might be for you! The people who come to the Inn are typically your artistic crowd from around the world who have come across the Atlantic and across the country to be influenced by the Mississippi Delta and the music that shaped a nation. While staying at The Shack Up Inn, guests enjoy the company of like minded individuals and couples while hanging out at the compound’s “Juke Joint Chapel” or sitting around on the common lawn. The shacks are all actual shacks (as opposed to fake shacks?) that were relocated to the Plantation. The shack in which we stayed, “The Robert Clay Shack,” was aptly named for Robert Clay – a resident of the Mississippi Delta who raised seven children in that shack. It is a one bedroom shotgun shack with a kitchen, bathroom, and living room. The Innkeepers, Guy and Bill, are as much fun as the place itself! Actually, there’s a story about Guy and Bill that you should know…
When we first approached The Shack Up Inn about covering them for our TV show, they weren’t initially impressed with our “credentials.” They have already had networks and major media try to cover them in the past… and Guy didn’t really care to have that sort of publicity again. It’s not The Shack’s “cup of tea”… or better said, it’s not The Shack’s “can of beer,” if you will. So while major networks and media outlets were being turned down, we still tried to win them over. I handed them our card. Now, those of you who have seen it know… our card is a full color postcard with our picture and web address on the front and a still shot from our TV Show episode, “A Day in the Life of a Professional Wrestler,” on the back. The picture is from the end of the episode when Char and I are holding our wrestling match… and Char wins the match. Guy took the card in his hand, glanced at the picture on the back, and looked up at Char. “Is this you?” he inquired. “Yep,” Char answered. Guy looked at the card again and at the man wincing on the mat. He looked up at me. “Is this you?” he asked. “Yep,” I answered. He looked back at the card then at both of us. “You guys are twisted,” he said, “let’s set this up. When do you want to come stay with us?”
Now don’t get me wrong… just because it “ain’t the Ritz” doesn’t mean that there’s not amenities at The Shack Up Inn. There was a piano in our shack, for example, and according to their website, the roof only leaks when it’s raining. We came to Clarksdale in search of the true Delta experience… and we found it at The Shack Up Inn.
As much as we enjoyed our time in The Shack, we came for the blues. So we eventually ventured outside of our shack and into the sweltering summer heat. Namely, to Cat Head – Roger Stolle’s unique store and cultural center on Delta Avenue downtown. Roger is a one stop human encyclopedia of all things related to the Blues. He has produced award winning documentaries including M is for Mississippi which chronicles Roger’s journey locating legendary blues men at their homes and sharing their musical art in juke joints, house parties, and on front lawns throughout the Delta. He has authored books on the subject, namely Hidden History of Mississippi Blues which features stunning photography from Lou Bopp. But more than this, he is just a very nice guy who loves talking with music lovers and keeping the spirit of the blues alive. He keeps a calendar of all the goings on in Clarksdale for blues fans who come to the Delta from around the world.
We met with Roger in his store and shared tales of life on the Mississippi Delta. While we were chatting, Cadillac John Nolden came into the store to find out where he would performing at the following week’s Sunflower Festival. Roger gave him the details then returned to our conversation.
We also met Martin Clarke, host of The Blues Session, who was visiting Clarksdale from the U.K. We hung out together at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club and talked about our shared passion for music. We’ll be welcoming Martin as a guest on our radio show in the coming days…
When we were speaking to Roger Stolle, he told us where to go to find authentic delta blues. He led us to a little juke joint called Red’s. We had heard of Red’s from many locals. On the night we visited, Watermelon Slim was performing. With just a slide guitar, a harmonica, and his voice, Watermelon Slim mesmerized the small crowd with a taste of the kind of music most people will only read about.
Red’s was indeed a fantastic venue for live Delta Blues. It’s the kind of place that can probably only exist in the Delta. A real juke joint – the stuff tall tales are made of.
While in Clarksdale, we took the time to eat at many fantastic restaurants including Madidi, Rust, Stone Pony, Lady at the Levee, and The Dutch Oven. Char even had an opportunity to compete in a stare-down competition against the waitress at The Stone Pony (Char won, of course – for a chick who has the world’s most contagious laugh, she can keep a straight face better than anyone).
We visited Stan Street’s art gallery where he hosts live music weekly. We toured the Delta Blues Museum. We walked the streets of Clarksdale with the sounds of the blues ringing in our ears. In summary, we experienced the Mississippi Delta and the music that was born there. It will all be showcased soon on an upcoming episode of our TV show… “A Day in the Life of the Delta Blues.” Coming soon from The Traveling Twosome!