Sunday, August 1, 2010

Catchup #2: Clarksdale, Mississippi

Rat, Daddy Rich and Tamales
Clarksdale 2010

This is perhaps my forth trip to Clarksdale, home of many blues music venues of historic and artistic merit like Red's and Ground Zero as well as the Delta Blues Museum and its educational program for local school kids.

I always seem to end up there on Monday night when nothing is going on, but this time I planned to arrive on Tuesday night. Guess what, nothing going on on Tuesday night either. I was feeling a Tigger story (as in Winnie the Pooh) coming on. (If you get this, you get it, if not, skip to next paragraph.) While any food wasn't what Tigger ate, any night I came wasn't the right night.

I was going to have fun anyway. I made a short list of some places I had not visited in Clarksdale and proceeded to visit them. The first was Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, Roger Stolle's now-famous place where CDs and posters are available as well as unique art from the region and related somehow to the Blues. Well, everything is related to the Blues, so anything goes here. I talked to the woman running the store, a blues keyboard player of international repute, and she told me about a nearby art gallery, Hambone Gallery, that was having live music that evening. If you are into this kind of music, Roger Stolle's (and others) movie M is for Mississippi is a great look at the legends of the area, very cinema verite.

The promise of the music at Hambone was enough for me. I drove right over to Frank "Rat" Ratliff's Riverside Hotel and booked a room. Well, 'book a room' here is not what the phrase brings to mind elsewhere. I had visited with Rat on previous trips but never ended up staying there. The Riverside Hotel is in the building that formerly served as the black hospital in Clarksdale. The claim to fame, if one can look at it that way, is that Bessie Smith died there after a car wreck in 1937.

Rat invites me in and adds that I should feel welcome to take photos of any room with an open door. I got a room near Bessie's last resting place - across the hall. We talked for an hour or two, covering vital topics including fixing weed-wacker string spools, his getting a pacemaker (is that protected by HIPPA?), installing laminate flooring and his daughter's employment. Other hotels tell you that you will feel at home, Rat pulls it off. I got from a reliable source that he had the best beds in Clarksdale, and I can't say, but the mattress was good. The bed itself was old, as was all the other furnishings. This is the appeal of this region for me. There is no Disney or Hilton resorts pushing the blues - it is mostly the people that do it that are running the venues, making the food and supplying the experience. Cash, real food, real music, real conversation rules. No BS, no micro-brew beer (but, I had a Dos Equis at Hambone), and local folks actually coming to listen to, and play, the music.

The show that night was Daddy Rich. You can read all about him on his page. After a few solo songs Lee Williams sat in on drums. And I wish I had a good photo of the drum set. It looked like something from a toy store.

Lee is kind of a small guy, but the woman who later sat in on one song, was bigger and really made the drum set look tiny. Check it out on the right side of the blurry photo here, being played by the woman whose name I didn't get. None-the-less, the sound did more than fill the role. You can see Lee playing a real kit on Daddy Rich's website. Two woman also played bass (objet d'art instrument made for her by Super Chikan) and sang with Mr Rich. When Stan Street, owner of the Hambone Gallery, got in from the west coast at about 9:30 he joined on harmonica. By 10pm the place was really jumping. I wish you were there! Along with enjoying the music, the bouncer gave me great tip on another place to stay next time and advice on keeping my roto-tiller running good. Well, everyone needs a day job.

So here was a chance to experience local music, in a setting like a house concert, with no smoke (either kind), no drunks, no posers (except maybe me) and get a look at amazing art as well. I'll be back.

I can hear Pat saying that this is impossible because there is no mention of food in this post - Fear Not! I cannot seem to pass through Clarksdale without stopping at Abe's. Tamales, real ones with corn wrappers, and ribs and bbq. This is the appetizer...

I won't post the picture of the pork chop I had with eggs for breakfast. Obviously I switched from sea food to pork on this leg of the trip.


ghrency said...

I bet you enjoy the place..
Laying laminate flooring

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Admit to not knowling a lot about the blue and music blues history, but always enjoy the sounds - some, not all. The history alone must have been worth the visit ...and the food too!