Sunday, November 22, 2009

Passing It Forward - The Blues in Clarksdale

What about all of this Blues Trail hoopla? Why memorialize these blues musicians? Well, of course, the state of Mississippi is proud of their native sons and daughters. And, one good answer is obvious, just the joy that is shared by music lovers. But we happened upon another answer to that question in Clarksdale, Mississippi. You might say this particular answer is “passing it forward.”

Another of our exploring days was spent in the small southern town of Clarksdale, about 50 miles south of Tunica.  Our first stop was the Delta Blues Museum.  We were busy in no time enjoying the beautiful memorabilia and information shared in this restored building next to the tracks. There are guitars that belonged to Muddy Waters, harmonicas of Charles Musselthwaite's and replicas of handmade instruments crafted out of 2x4s, and on and on. At one exhibit I learned all about Muddy Waters touring with ZZTop. The exhibits are complimented by recorded interviews with various artists, such as Keith Richards and Bonnie Raitt, telling of the influence of these early artists on their careers. So we were listening while we read.  When all of sudden we both realized we were hearing live music from somewhere.  Well, of course, we followed these bluesy sounds to the other end of the building.

There we found three young men jamming away.  Wow, just what we needed - the real thing. We stayed to listen and talk with the cordial and talented guys for a while.  They told us about the lessons that aspiring blues artists receive continually here at the Delta Blues Museum.  And they let us know to be watching for Samuel Thornton, the young man on the keyboard, as he will be featured on a special on CNN soon.  There's the answer, “passing it forward.”

The second special ingredient of our day in Clarksdale was just a block away from the museum, the Ground Zero Blues Club.  This is Morgan Freeman's club that you may have heard about, perhaps on the Food Network.  Or maybe you saw the info on his restaurant a few blocks from the blues club. The people in Clarksdale are very pleased about his investment. The Ground Zero building looks quite weather worn, just as if it was a juke joint from the early 1900s. There's even a couch on the front porch.  And the walls,ceiling, tables, everywhere inside is covered with signatures of happy blues lovers who wanted to leave a message.  One soon realizes all of this is the perfect atmosphere, especially right next to the railroad tracks. So we settled in for a visit.
Our time at Ground Zero wasn't during one of the popular live performances, but maybe that was fortuitous in one way.  We met locals and had some interesting conversations.  We talked with bikers stopping through, a couple celebrating their anniversary shooting pool and local workers who seemed to love their jobs. The 18-year-old bartender told us with great enthusiasm of her plans to leave Clarksdale to pursue her career, not in blues but as a rocker.  She was soooo grateful to her hometown for the foundation in music and to the museum for giving her a great deal of musical education. But... she was "really a rocker."   You could just see in her eyes the desire to get out there and make some music.  Again, more evidence of “passing it forward."

To complete our visit to Ground Zero I left my own thought among the scrawls covering every surface in the club.  Can you find it?
For future reference, while we were in town at the museum we discovered there are RV hookups in their parking lot available for visitors at no charge.  There's more to see and hear another time when we can park in the midst of the action.  For now, that concludes our Blues Trail travels.

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