Day 22 – Jazz Fest (1)

And I’m goin’ to where Lordie, water drinks like wine Where I can be drunk-staggerin’, staggerin’ all the time. —Kid Bailey, “Mississippi Bottom Blues,” 1929

It is the first day of Jazz Fest and the weather is looking mighty fine. Minimal chance of rain, a top temperature of around 28C and low humidity. Our accommodation is not close to public transport so an Uber is the best option. We arrive some 40 minutes before the gates open.

We are in just after 11 and make our plans for a meet-up spot at the finish of the day’s music. My day starts with a favorite feed of Ya Ka Mein which I enjoyed to the sounds and chants of the Semolina Warriors Mardi Gras Indians, who are performing on the outdoor Jazz & Heritage stage.

Wendy has saved me a seat in the Blues Tent for Kevir & the Blues Groovers. It must be hard for the first band on day one of a festival. People are still arriving and sorting themselves out. Well, by the end of Kevir’s set, he had the crowd standing and dancing. A very good start with an artist I knew nothing about.

Photo 1. Kevir Photo 2. Kevir’s guitarist is out with the punters

Now for Tommy McLain and C.C. Adcock. Tommy is an 83-year-old pop-swamp singer. On piano, he has Jon Cleary. There was a long delay in the set starting due to technical difficulties with Tommy’s piano. As can be imagined for someone that old his voice is a little raspy. I enjoyed the set.

Photo 1. Tommy McLain Photo 2. Jon Cleary

I noticed that there have been some changes to staff in the Blues Tent. I used to know a lot of the security staff, but not anymore and the long-standing stage announcer is no longer with us.

The Jazz Fest has gone cashless, which has made the lines for food and drinks a lot longer as the new system is bedded in. Strange to see the guys pulling along the mobile beer trolleys and the peanut sellers carrying an EFTPOS machine.

Time for some fresh fruit-salad and a cold brew at the WWOZ hospitality tent.

We decided to take a punt and go to the Alsison Minor stage to see a band I had no knowledge of. Jon Roniger & the Good For Nothing Band. So glad we did, they are very good and we stayed for the full set. The songs are all about New Orleans characters and their foibles. Jon, I learned, is a Nashville singer-songwriter veteran and is seen frequently performing on Frenchman Street.

I know that my fellow WOW members will call Judas on me but I opted not to go and see Charlie Musselwhite but, instead, go to the Fais Do Do stage for Allison Russell, a Canadian singer-songwriter. I have one of her C.D.s. She is a fierce campaigner for women’s rights and a strong proponent of gun control. At one stage she told the audience that if “Australia and Canada can control the use of assault weapons then so can the U.S”. A brave move by her in this part of the world. I enjoyed her eclectic set. We also got to catch up with Skye, Scott, Jamie, and their traveling companions.

Allison Russell

My pick of the acts for today was Robert Plant and Allison Kraus performing at the Gentilly Stage. The crowd is overflowing and we can’t get close. No matter the big screen will suffice and the sound is fantastic. It turned out to be the highlight of the day. Here is what NOLA News said in today’s paper:

In front of another big crowd at the Shell Gentilly Stage, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss wove their haunted harmonies across Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore,” equal parts Kentucky holler and misty mountain. Droning fiddles and ominous mallet strikes on tom-tom drums defined a bewitched “When the Levee Breaks“.

Speaking of the crowd, I mentioned to Bernie that I thought the crowd was the biggest I had seen on the first day and the newspaper agreed with me. Probably because Lizzo and Big Freedia are both playing on the big stage today.

So the first day of music ends and we head to where the bus service will take us back to Rampart St and then we will get an Uber to get home. Wrong, the bus service route has changed. We are herded onto a bus to take us Uptown. We get to a stop down the road a bit and the bus driver yells if you want to go to Canal St get off NOW. We did as ordered and then we see Bernie gesturing for us to get back on, so we did. As the bus took off we noticed that both Bernie and Hoff were not on the bus. We rode down to the cemeteries and then tried our luck with an Uber that cost $51 for a short drive. We decided to stay and get on a Street Car and then we got attacked by a swarm of termites attracted to the lights. Time to try another Uber, $25 this time and so we finally made it home an hour and a half after leaving the fest. Well, that sure was an unexpected adventure.

Day 21 – New Orleans

Twenty-five cents will buy a half a pint of my corn You ain’t never tasted no liquor like this, since you been born. —Papa Charlie Jackson, “Corn Liquor Blues,” 1928

I’m back in my spiritual home, New Orleans. It is an overcast day. The first thing we need to do is drop off the hire car, no more driving on the “wrong side” of the road. The other important chore is to pick up our WWOZ Brass Passes for Jazz Fest.

The car was dropped off with only 23 miles left in the tank, great planning.

I am so embarrassed, I sent us all the wrong way down Canal Street after dropping off the car. I had told Hoff and Bernie that once we hit New Orleans that I was in charge of directions. The weather started to close in and I spotted a Fox News storm car zooming down Canal St, coupled with a severe storm warning advice on our phones. The rain did come down heavy but it did not last long.

Hoff and Bernie went off to explore the Quarter while Wendy and I caught a Street Car along the riverfront to the last stop. I wanted to call into the MRB bar and kitchen on St. Philip. William Wiggins my previous landlord of 6 years frequents the place in the mornings. I have been trying to contact William for months with no luck. I was told that he still comes in occasionally but has not been seen for a while. We went around to my old digs on Bourbon St. and left a note in his mailbox.

My Old Bourbon St Digs

We had arranged to meet Hoff and Bernie at the Jazz and Heritage Foundation on Rampart St to pick up our passes and they are now safely in our hands.

We had made a reservation at the iconic restaurant Dooky Chase in the Treme for 1:30. The restaurant is a bit more up-market than the places we have been dining at. We started with a Dooky Chase Passionfruit rum. I will leave the food description to Hoff’s food blog but suffice for me to say the meals were magnificent. Oh, and the rum drink must have been good as Hoff and Bernie had a second. A special mention for our server, she was awesome and joined in with our frivolity. When in New Orleans a meal at this restaurant is essential fare.

The rest of the afternoon for me was catching up on rest for the start of Jazz Fest tomorrow.

Day 20 – New Orleans

I’m goin’ to Louisiana, get myself a mojo hand ’Cause these backbitin’ women, are tryin’ to take my man. —Ida Cox, “Mojo Hand Blues,” 1927

Today is our last road trip. Leland to New Orleans. We must be excited as we are on the road at 7:35. We have to head back toward Indianola before heading to New Orleans. Skye and her group are tracking one day behind us. We are on U.S. 49 South aiming at Yazoo City (45 miles). Bernie explains that there is a method to the highway system. You know you are traveling North or South if the numbers are odd i.e. I49 and you would be traveling East or West with even an even-numbered highway. I think you can find a museum for everything in the U.S., we just passed the Catfish Museum. We are now crossing the impressive Yazoo River and we decided to stop and have morning tea at Kudzu Coffee. Oh, how good was the cinnamon bun? We turn right onto I220 (remember the numbering system)? Hoff takes over the driving duties.

The difference in the landscape between Monument Valley and what we are seeing now is virtually world’s apart. We are on the Bo Diddley Memorial highway and a bit further along we are traveling past a Lynyrd Skynyrd monument.

As we approached the small town of Silver City there was a Sherriff’s van on the grass median strip with lights flashing. A sign warned of a major incident ahead. Once we reached the town itself we noticed that a tornado had been through the area. Trees are stripped bare and one house was completely destroyed.

It is 11:32 and we pass the Welcome to Louisiana road sign. Stopping off in Hammond we hit Lee’s Diner for an early lunch. The waitress was worried about Australia being such a dangerous country, what with our spiders. snakes and fighting kangaroos. Back on the road and our last leg into NOLA. WWOZ is playing on the radio. We could have taken a more direct route (slightly shorter) but instead decide to cross the Lake Pontchartrain causeway, which is a mere 23 miles long.

The traffic is heavy once we reach NOLA. New Orleans drivers are aggressive with regard to their speed and lane changing. The potholes have not gotten any smaller since my last visit. We reached our home which will be our base for two weeks. It is only a block from a great foodies street (Freret St) which is in the area known as Uptown. We have a fantastic two-story apartment. Cara and her friend Tayla will join us here for the second week of Jazz Fest.

Our beautiful friend Pat has organized a welcome to NOLA crawfish boil at her neighbor’s home. It is going to be great to catch up with Pat and Bob ‘Gentily Jnr.’ two very dear friends. I now hand over to my Junior Correspondent Hoff to tell you how the night went:

First night in New Orleans

We’ve made haste today, We are goin’ to a crawfish boil at Rob and Wendy’s longtime NOLA friends,
Bob and Pat. Charlie, their neighbor is playing host for us tonight, Ronnie, another local, is doing the
boil. Clearly, we are the guests of honor as the Australian flag is hanging in pride of place on Charlie’s
Ronnie, an expert at boiling crawfish, is currently cleaning them and has two big boilers on the
go. The first already has potatoes cooking and in time will add other vegetables added such as
mushrooms, brussels sprouts, sweet potato, onions, corn, and garlic. Crawfish cleaned, and drained are
added straight to the boiler.It’s a quick process, we hear no squeals and, hopefully, they feel no pain.

There are other guests coming tonight and they include Claudette and her sister Kathleen, Dorothy, and Huey. Huey, a retired butcher, still makes his own snags and he has brought a small selection to
barbecue for us… and they are delicious. Meanwhile, Ronnie cooks the crawfish for 5 or so minutes,
then it’s time to add the flavor to both the veggies and the Crawfish and just let them soak it up.
Spices include a whole bottle of a Cajun Crawfish boil additive, the usual suspects of freshly ground
spices, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, thyme, oregano, dry mustard,
dill weed, bay leaves. and a fair bit more of that cayenne pepper. You can smell the flavors in
the air.
We are each given a full tray of crawfish and asked to take a selection of the prepared vegetables.
These vegetables are called fixin’s – almost like you would refer to condiments or accessories to the
meal. Everybody is digging in. It takes a lot of twisting and peeling and the locals are keen to first suck
out the head and then attack the tail.

Photo 2. Homemade Sausage Photo 3. Size of Crawfish plate for each of us!

The conversation is cordial as we stay away from politics, religion, and the contentious second
amendment gun rights. Although Bernie does throw out the “Joe Biden” and Rob the “gun” words!
There are some cracker homemade brownies on offer for dessert and a cup of vanilla ice cream.
After a little bit of cleaning up and some reminiscing by our party of visits to America and some of their
party on visits to Australia, we have all loosened up and got to know each other. It’s been a
long day and we make a gracious and thankful exit. Southern hospitality lives up to its reputation
here in New Orleans.

Day 19 – Ode to Billie Joe

Sun gonna shine in my back door someday An’ the wind gonna change gonna blow my blues away. —Tommy Johnson, “Maggie Campbell Blues,” 1928

We are on the road at 7:30 in search of coffee. The first stop before the caffeine rush is to pull up at the Riverside Hotel. The hotel was used as a stopping-off point for Blues performers on their way to Chicago. It is also the hotel in which the famed blues singer Bessie Smith died after a car accident. We were pointed in the direction of Yazoo Pass coffee, and we are now ready for the road.

We are on U.S. 49 East/South and we are very surprised the see that there is a road sign saying the Emmett Till Memorial Highway. Wow, that is a change of heart for the state of Mississippi. We found Bryant’s Grocery, now in ruins. There is a Civil Rights memorial marker explaining the history of what happened here. I am sure many of you have recently viewed the Emmet Till movie.

Now on to Greenwood. We stopped off at Robert Johnson’s grave site at the First Little Zion M.B. church. There is some conjecture about the documented site of Johnson’s grave but it does not stop us from paying homage to the legendary Bluesman.

The next stop is the Tallahatchie Bridge, made famous in the 1967 release of Ode To Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry. The original wooden bridge collapsed in 1972 after being set alight by vandals. The boulevard into the town is picturesque, tree-lined with many impressive homes.

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, y’all, remember to wipe your feet
And then she said, I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Today is a sort of get-in and get-out sort of day as we visit historical sites one after another on our way to our overnight stop in Leland, Mississippi.

Indianola was the birthplace and is now the resting place of the one and only B.B. King (died 14/05/2015, aged 89). He returned every year for his Indianola homecoming. There has been a museum and interpretive center in the town since 2008. The last time I was here Mr. King was still alive. There are now more exhibits to view, including his personal studio, Rolls Royce, ute, and tour bus. When you exit the museum you are directed to a very tasteful memorial to the great man at his final resting place.

We stopped off for lunch at another roadside Mexican diner (when will we learn?) called Los Molcuajettes. Average food, good service, and unlimited Dr. Pepper. At 2:07 we are on our way to Greenville. Bernie is after a couple of long-sleeved t-shirts for bike riding and he wants to find a T J Maxx outlet. We pulled into a Mall and there was the outlet. I tell you without a lie we were nearly the only people in the whole complex. I had to find a rest room which took me to another department store. An older employee looked a little suspiciously at me and asked what I was looking for. I am looking a little unkempt, I know. Anyway, I did what I had to do and, as I exited, I saw a security man waiting for me just to make sure, I guess, that I was legit.

We then stopped off at the Cypress Preserve Trust, a sixteen-acre cypress break in what is known as a slough. A slough is a wetland depression or swamp in which cypress trees grow. the cypress likes slow-moving water. There is a warning sign to be aware of. ‘Leaves of three let be’. It will be poison ivy.

We make our final stop at Leland. Leland was the childhood home of the Muppets creator Jim Henson and also a young Johnny Winter. The Air BnB is a little older than most of the accommodations we have stayed in but it is clean. The owner left a stack of snacks as well as bacon and eggs. Very nice gesture. She also left little pamphlets around the place about why Jesus is the man! Just to finish up a comment on the billboards we have seen while traveling through Mississippi. They are mostly ads for accident lawyers or religious musings. The most ridiculous one I noted said something like ‘ and God Created the World’ accompanied by a drawing of the classic evolution chain with a big X to cross it out.

Evolution ape to man silhouette illustration concept.

Day 18 – Memphis to Clarksdale

“Aw shake it; that’s what I’m talkin’ about.” —Memphis Minnie, “Reachin’ Pete,” 1935

We are on the road by eight o’clock. We are heading to Clarksdale but we will have a detour to check out Oxford. Bernie hopes that the suspension holds for the car as there are some mighty big pot-holes on the road heading to the freeway. We head out on the I20 South. Through Como and then into Oxford, Mississippi by 9:30. Oxford is a university town and the very famous ‘Ole Mis is a prestigious university. It has a football stadium that seats near on 100,000 people. School break is over and the city is buzzing with students.

I went a little crazy at one of the classy bookshops in the Square. Oxford is a beautiful town, very clean, and has a lot of history with regard to the Civil War. The Yankees in fact burned most of the square down.

We also went into the best men’s clothing store I have ever been in. Unfortunately, the price tags were a little on the high side. Our next place to visit was the grave site of the Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner (William Falkner). Mr. Faulkner also has some history in New Orleans. We found the cemetery easily enough but the grave site was another matter. Wendy saw a guy driving a truck and it turned out to be the cemetery maintenance man. Willie was his name, he said hop in and I’ll drive y’all to it. I paid my due respects. I have read three of Mr. Faulkner’s books. Absalom Absalom, As I Lay Dying, and The Sound and the Fury. Mr. Faulkner’s books are difficult to read but you must persevere. His descriptions of life in the South are something to savor. We then went to the home he lived in after returning from New Orleans (Rowan Oak). It is closed on Mondays but we were able to walk around the grounds.

I had been telling my fellow travelers that the Ajax Diner has the best meatloaf in the world. That is because Brian Wise told me that. It was only 11:30 but there was already a line waiting to get in. We all ordered the meatloaf with various sides. Drum Roll – after such a big build-up the meatloaf was very underwhelming.

On the road and on our way to Clarksdale. We are driving through the heart of the Delta, flat land and plenty of crops are underway. We got into town around 2:30 and checked out Cat Head Records. There is still a lot of advertising around the place about the Juke Joint Festival that was held a few weeks back. I know there was a strong contingent of Aussies in attendance. We checked out the famous Crossroads sign and then headed over to the Shack Up Inn to check in.

So here is a special treat for y’all. I am handing over to Bernie to tell you about our night-time adventures

Our evening out in Clarksdale starts badly. We meet for a drink at the Commissary at the Shack Up Inn (described rather accurately by Mohair Slim as Disneyland for Blues fans). An acoustic duo is playing covers, with a schizophrenic sound system. A couple of rednecks decide that they can talk louder than the band. Then, sin of sins, the duo butcher two John Prine songs. It all adds up to a disaster, so we head to town. Our destination is Bluesberry Cafe. Our man at Cat Head Records has alerted us to the show there tonight. He tells us that Watermelon Slim, who graced the WOW stage with Fiona Boyes, may make an appearance as it is his 74th birthday.

We sneak onto the last free table – good timing. The place is buzzing, and the band is setting up, and yes, there is Watermelon Slim. Rob reacquaints himself with the great man. Yes, he remembers bits of his Australian trip. He comes over later to tell us that he is wearing a special shirt with an Aussie indigenous design. He literally swapped shirts with a bloke he met on the street on his trip down under.

The act appearing tonight is Lucious Spiller and band. They are a bit scratchy at the beginning and take a while to warm into the groove. A few songs into the set an acquaintance walks in and suddenly he has Lucious’ guitar and has joined the band. A few songs later, a young guy (dubbed “hopeless case” by us due to his t-shirt design) takes out a harmonica and the once four-piece band is now six players. Then Watermelon sings a song and that makes seven. He then retreats to the bongos. Hang on ….. a guy has pulled out a flute, it is now an eight-piece orchestra! Monday night is clearly jam night at the cafe. The band plays a lot of blues classics – Little Red Rooster, Further On Up The Road, and Sweet Home Chicago. A couple of non-blues songs are added to the set, including Dock of the Bay and Johnny B Goode.

We had a feed of muffulettas – oversized stuffed sandwiches to soak up the beer. But it wasn’t about the food. It was a typical Monday night of music and friendship in the Blues capital of the world.

Day 17 – Memphis

Have you ever been to Memphis an’ you stopped at Uncle Jim Kinnane? He will pay more for a woman, any farmer pay for land. —Roosevelt Sykes, “Roosevelt’s Blues,” 1929

Sunday and it is a slow start to the day. Bernie and Hoff head over to Sun Studios for a tour. I have been to the studio two times and decided not to go.

  1. Beale St. 2. Sun Studios 3. National Civil Rights Museum 4. B.B. King’s Club 6. Peabody Hotel 7. Victorian Village Historical District 8. Main St. Trolley 9. Mud Island River Park 10. Stax Museum

One o’clock and Wendy and I head down to Beale St for lunch. Not much happening this time of the day. Beale Street looks a little sad when the lights are not blazing, the music blaring and the crowds are roaming the street. One of the shops that has been a bit of an institution, Tater Red’s, has closed for good. We decided to have lunch at the Tin Roof, we were the only people in the place, a few people wandered in a bit later.

We went back to the apartment and waited for Hoff and Bernie to come back. The plan is to go back to Beale, and have a look at the Rum Boogie Cafe and have a quiet afternoon of music. Chardonnay in Memphis (if you can find it) is of the cardboard box vintage. Apple Cider is mostly not available. I got the drinks in. I left my blogging book on the bar and the lovely bar attendant found it and returned it to me (a cunning plan). There is a blues singer on stage. Chris Gale, he is listenable. There are only eight of us seated around the bandstand. After about half an hour there are only us four and one other punter.

We left the bar around six. Hoff and Bernie have researched a fancy wine bar and are off to taste a few different vintages. Beale Street is starting to happen now as most of the bars are pumping out Blues standards and there are many more tourists about.

I am pretty tired so Wendy and I headed back for an early night. My plan was to get some take-out chicken from Gus’s but there was at least a half-hour wait. Hopefully with a long sleep tonight I will be up and about tomorrow.

Day 16 – Memphis

You went to Memphis, found a butter an’ egg man there And now you’re trying to, give your regular man the air. —Charlie Spand, “Ain’t Gonna Stand For That,” 1929

It is going to be a pleasant day for walking around Memphis, with no rain and 19 degrees.

Put on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
W.C. Handy, won’t you look down over me?
Yeah, I got a first-class ticket
But I’m as blue as a boy can be

Then I’m walking in Memphis
Was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel? – (Walking in Memphis – Marc Cohn)

Wendy and I took a Trolly to ride the length of Main Street. Interestingly we ride Trollys in Memphis and Street Cars in New Orleans. This is my third visit to Memphis and a lot of the sights are familiar to me. There are more people on the hustle than in the other cities we have so far visited. On our way back to the apartment I called into Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. It is only 11:30 and the restaurant is already full of people and many more are waiting for take-out. It is never too early for fried chicken. A good ‘ole boy complimented me on my Muscle Shoals Swampers t-shirt.

Lunch today was at Memphis’ oldest restaurant (est 1919) and the favorite hangout for Elvis. The Arcade restaurant is very busy due to the Elvis connection. I can’t go past the most famous sandwich in the world. Fried peanut butter, banana, and bacon. Good enough for the King, good enough for me. We all ordered our meal sans fries and the waitress has a look of disbelief on her face, even maybe distress. “What y’all don’t want fries?” The restaurant is trading on its fame as the food is very underwhelming.

Our first cultural visit for the day is the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame. The last time I was in Memphis the Hall of Fame was still in the planning process, it opened 1n 2015. The exhibits are all first class. As we read the names of all the inductees, Bernie and I decided to count the artists we had seen live. The count got very loud toward the end as we tried to outdo each other. Mighty proud to say R.R. 29 B.B. 26. The foundation hosts the International Blues Challenge each year and Australia has an incredible track record. This year WOW favorite Frank Sultana took out the solo/duo acoustic category. Another thing to note is that WOW has hosted at our club the following Inductees – Charlie Musselwhite, John Hammond, Big Jay McNeely, and Joe Louis Walker. Visit

Our next visit is to the Civil Rights Museum. The third visit for me and each time I go I feel the same raw emotions of sadness and at times disgust at what so-called civilized man can perpetrate so much pain and misery on another group of people. It is a sobering experience and, unfortunately, man’s inhumanity to man still continues around the world today. Of all the people I wished I had the chance to hear speak it would have to be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I know I have been leaving lots of links for you to enjoy. You just have to check this one for your own enlightenment. Dr. King was assassinated whilst most of us were living on this planet.

  1. The Infamous Balcony at the Lorraine Motel 2. Sister Rosa Parkes bus boycott 3. The shot was fired from this window

We head back to the apartment for a rest before dinner. Our location really is sensational We are able to walk to most of the attractions that are on our bucket list.

Tonight we are dining at the best-known rib place on the planet, Charlie Vergo’s Rendevous. Rendevous has been dishing up ribs for its basement premises since 1948. We had about a fifteen-minute wait to get a table (no reservations are allowed). We have two of Bernie’s very good friends Charles and Susanne meeting us at 6:30. Bernie and his wife Neva lived and worked in Cleveland, Ohio for some four years. Charles and Susanne were their neighbors and they all became lifelong friends. They are now back live in the suburbs of Memphis. They are a delightful couple and we had a great time talking about each of our countries. They are in real fear of the state of politics in the U.S.A. We shared an appetizer of sausage and cheese. I had a half-rack of ribs with sides of baked beans and a mustardy ‘slaw. Delicious, finger-licking good. If you are ever in Memphis you must give it a go.

A small section of the menu:











*All of the above served with Beans & Mustard Vinegar Based Slaw.

Served with slaw, pickles, peppers, cheese & crackers

Give us 24 hours notice and we’ll give you a big old skillet full of barbecue shrimp right there at your table … five mouth-watering pounds that’ll have up to eight people praising your name. For pricing and to place your order, just call a day ahead.

Day 15 – Memphis

I wonder if the chinches bite in Beaumont, like they do in Beale Street town The first night I stayed in Memphis, chinch bugs turned my bed around. —Blind Lemon Jefferson, “Chinch Bug Blues,” 1927

Breakfast first, we head to Cafe de Frida a local Mexican Cantina which was named after the famed artist Frida Kahlo I had my first Spanish Latte. Great coffee but oh so sweet.

We are off to Memphis today for a three-night stay. But first, we must visit the other music studio, Muscle Shoals which is in nearby Sheffield. An observation, nearly all the small businesses we have looked at are closed on Sunday. I guess attendance at one of the many churches in the area is compulsory.

We make a quick stop at the Florence Marina Harbor on the Tennesse River. As well as being churchgoers the people of this town are also boat owners. A picturesque spot.

We arrived at the Muscle Shoals Studio in time for our 10:30 tour. I got myself a Swampers T-shirt and a bound leather notebook. This studio was a break-away from FAME and in its nine-year recording history produced over 360 albums. Many of them are big hits. It was a fantastic tour, the guy leading us has an intimate knowledge of the studio and got emotional when talking. Lynard Skynard started their life in this studio.

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two (yes they do)
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feelin’ blue
Now how about you?

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord I’m comin’ home to you

I will again leave the detailed history to the experts:

Back in the car and we go past the birthplace of Helen Keller. We are heading toward Corinth which is 45 miles down the track. It is a cloudy day and looks ominous. Yep, here it comes, starting with a few spots of rain and then into a downpour. We pull off into Corinth at 12:40. We had been told to try out a diner, the Dinner Bell (Steak and Fish). Our waitress is very excited as we are the first Australians she has ever met. I went for the fried pork chops, fries, and ‘slaw with a large root beer. If your root beer gets to be half-empty another full one arrives at the table. Hoff finished up drinking three root beers. After finishing our meal and getting the bill our waitress told us not to hurry, y’all sit a while, if you want.

Now we are heading to Memphis, 66 miles to go. The rain has let up much to all our relief. Wendy got a message from Skye to stay that have just hit Nashville and will be following the same route to Memphis that we have taken. Thick forest on either side of the road. Bugger, the rain is back as we pass the Bird Dog Museum. Now it is pissing down and very dark as we cross into Tennessee at 2:50. Hoff is playing Supertamp’s ‘It’s Raining Again’, very apt. On the other side of the freeway, we see three cars that have run off the road in this very heavy rain, one being a Sherriff’s car, and an ambulance with lights and sirens blaring is trying to get through. Most cars are slowing down but there are a few cowboys charging through. Bernie did a magnificent job driving through this monsoon. I keep thinking of Suster Rosetta Tharpe’s classic song, ‘Didn’t It Rain’!

Didn’t it rain, children
Talk ’bout rain, oh, my Lord
Didn’t it, didn’t it, didn’t it, oh my Lord
Didn’t it rain?

It rained 40 days, 40 nights without stopping
Noah was glad when the rain stopped dropping
Knock at the window, a knock at the door
Crying brother Noah can’t you take on more
Noah cried no, you’re full of sin
God got the key and you can’t get in

We decide to take a tour of the Stax Museum before going to our Air BnB. I have been to Stax a couple of times but there is always something new to see. It is Hoff’s first visit to Memphis and a visit to Stax is definitely required. The last time I was at Stax, the Memphis Slim house across from the museum had a serious lean to it and a sign said it was to be renovated. That did not happen, the good news is that there is a new tastefully built Memphis Slim visitor’s center on-site. Here are just a few of the artists who recorded at Stax: Otis Redding, Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes, The Bar-Kays, Sam & Dave, The Staple Singers, Booker T. & the MGs, Ike & Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, and many others.

Back at the car and Hoff noticed something hanging from the bottom of it. He got down on his back and saw that a piece of the protective casing had come loose. The car is still drivable and we head to our accommodation which has a locked garage. The car hire company insists that all its cars be securely garaged if you are going to Memphis. Hoff turned into McGyver and fixed the loose panel with make-shift tools.

Accommodation is very good and only a 10-minute walk down to Beale Street. We decided on take-out for dinner. The world-famous Gus’s Fried Chicken is a block away. Fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, and baked beans are the order of the day with sweets being a chocolate chess pie. As their slogan states, ‘If you haven’t eaten at Gus’s. you haven’t eaten fried chicken’. I think they are right!

Hoff’s Food Blog – Parts 2 & 3

Now some people say chitlins are good to eat I’ll never eat chitlins long as a hog got feet. —Papa Charlie Jackson, “Mama, Don’t You Think I Know?” 1925

Saturday, April 15th

Santa Fe

One day in Santa Fe ……. Starts with a walk into town in search of caffeine ……. Yes, you’re getting the drift. Not too much open early but we find the plaza and there it is The Plaza Café. This is a super arty town, artists are not known for getting up early, so we must take the plunge or wander aimlessly like bloody tourists. Looks a bit spiffy, staff everywhere in starched white shirts and pressed black slacks, could be charging a premium ….. but unlike Spain, France, or Italy ……it is not the dodgy plaza café We here for the coffee but don’t turn down the option of breakfast, Bernie the breakfast burrito, me a piñon corn pancake with orange butter and cinnamon syrup. The coffee is good, and the food is very tasty – we’ve done well. Wendy and Rob are Ubering down, a delayed breakfast for them.

We’re goon’ upmarket again to a recommenced Italian restaurant, Osteria D’Assisi just outside the Plaza area. We are doing Super Tuscan …..  Bernie is keen but at a similar price point, I also offer the waitress a Rosso Di Montalchino and an aged Barbaresco option – no hesitation, she goes the SuperTuscan and we enjoy it during the meal and dessert. The meals a bit of a mixed bag, my chicken stuffed with spinach and wrapped in prosciutto in tomato sauce topped with Parmesan, worthy indeed. Wendy’s octopus and exotic lobster/fish pasta are both underwhelming. Rob’s lasagne is a trusty & safe option. We have room for dessert and they are pretty good although I am now worried about that Tiramisu weighing on the valve overnight! This is the sort of place that is within 3 standard deviations but will never be memorable.

Sunday, April 16th

Fly to Nashville

Bernie is a predawn planner- up at 4:30 am, shower & pack the mothership for its last voyage. Of course, the rental car return is a bus trip to the terminal, check-in, screening and it’s time to board – time only for a cookie and a slurp. At least we are on time to Houston, but the second leg is late by 2 hours, sufficient time for a double espresso and chicken Caesar wrap – great job BB.

We find our apartment, drop the bags and hurtle toward a hastily chosen Martin’s BBQ …… whoa, there is a line, too hard so Broadway and the Honky Tonks beckon. Wall-to-wall saloon establishments – bands virtually play next to each other,  feels like Moses has brought all the people to this spot and they are ready to play. We go to the Assembly Food Hall to improve the chance of a beer and food. As a rule, I’m not a fan of food malls and after a $50 round of drinks, I’m still there.

Monday, April 17th 

Nashville Day 1 We meet up for lunch at Rob’s choice, Princes Hot Chicken ……. We track it down – it’s In The Assembly Food Hall …I’m forlorn. It is still a swathing mass of people, but I may have been a little harsh in my jet-lagged judgment.  If you forget the booze and ignore the masses, there is a huge variety to choose from. Perhaps not at the standard of the archetypal Lisbon model, which emulates the city’s better restaurants, but this is Downtown Nashville and the alternatives are queues, noise, or $$$. Three of us opt for the hot chicken ….. not for the faint-hearted and trust me it’s as hot coming out as it went in ….. I may have to refrain from further valve action for some time.

3rd & Lindsey tonight, first music, first real tight Nashville sound – there are 4 fiddlers In the Country Hall of Fame, 2 are in the band tonight – Time Jumpers, a slick act of Western Swing from yodel to Jazz & Blues,  this is the jizz.  The food is possibly not stunning but fills the gaps ….tonight it’s about the music, Rob has a res – erectIon, and the change from deserts to music suites him just fine – perhaps the cider helps!

Day 14 – Muscle Shoals

Mister engineer, please turn your train around I believe to my soul, my man is ’bama bound. —Ida Cox, “Bama Bound Blues,” 1923

Today we drive from Nashville to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Why Muscle Shoals I hear you nonmusic nerds ask? It just happens to be the home of two of the most prolific music studios in the world, FAME and Muscle Shoals itself.

Bernie and Hoff left about 8 o’clock to pick up our new hire car that will see out the road trips until we reach New Orleans. We have a number of overnight stays ahead of us before we reach my favorite city in the world. Today we head toward Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We are ‘bama bound, baby. We are aiming to stop off first at Ethridge. Why Ethridge, you ask. Because it is an Amish county.

The desert landscape is now a distant memory. It is nothing but green grass and trees. I love looking at the road signs that wizz past. We just went past the Historic Site of the 1964 Battle of Spring Hill. Now for all you Chain fans out there, you may recall that Chain sang the old classic Spring Hill at the last WOW gig. Not sure if Chain were at the Battle of Spring Hill! Check out this bit of Confederate War history:

We turn right onto State Route 66 and head toward Columbia. We decided not to stop at the Amish welcome center but we did see three Amish driving their horse and cart. We must be in critter/varmint country as we just passed a Rabies Clinic! I wish I had my “Coon” cap in the car with me as we are nearing David Crockett’s State Park Restaurant. We stopped at a funky cafe Co-Works Cafe for a very nice coffee.

There seems to be a church every mile or so. At 12:45 we crossed into Alabama. Lunch is needed and we decided on Rick’s BBQ est. 1979.

The next stop was to visit the historic W.C.Handy birth home and museum. We don’t have a lot of time as we need to be at FAME Studios for our guided tour. The self-guided tour is $12 but there is also an hour video to watch. We just do not have enough time, so just take a few photos of the outside of the home. W.C.Handy is celebrated as the father of the blues.

We are back on the road and cross the magnificent Tennessee River. When we get to FAME we are greeted by the widow of Rick Hall, Miss Linda. Down south all the ladies are called Miss accompanied by their first name no matter their age. She gave us a little background history on what it was like being married to such a driven man. There are about twenty people on the tour. Our young tour guide is informative. He said something I found very interesting about the state of the recording industry at present. ‘In the old day, tours were done to promote a new record, nowadays it is about making a record to promote a tour’. With Spotify and other streaming programs recorded music is not selling the volumes it once did, so it is not as lucrative. That is why bands like Kiss and the Stones continue to tour.

The studio is still active making music, up to 3 to 4 days a week. We had a look through Rick Hall’s office and also into the break room. The county we are in used to be “dry” but you could always get a drink in the break room. The musicians referred to it as their own little Speakeasy. Duane Allman was a session musician at FAME and would often just sleep on the studio floor. The number of hit records that came out of here is astounding. We first visit Studio A. Mr. Terry Smith, Mustang Sally was recorded in this room! The Hammond B3 used by Greg Allman to record his last album before passing is in the room.

We then head to Studio B which is a little smaller. There is the Steinway that Little Richard played and Aretha Franklin. The Swampers were the backing band for all these incredible artists. I encourage you to do some research. I cannot give but a very brief introduction of why this studio is so important. If you have not yet seen the 2013 documentary, Muscle Shoals then you should be able to find it on most streaming channels and YouTube. Even those that do not follow music a great deal will know a song or two that emanated from this magic studio.

So we finish the amazing tour at 5 PM and drive the short distance back to Florence. Hoff notices that there are a lot of large trees down and one tree had demolished the roof of a house. We found out later that a tornado went through here not that long ago. Our host greets us at the door, he and his partner live in the next-door house. The accommodation is first class. He recommended a restaurant for dinner, Odette. We took his advice and the food was excellent as was the service. Downtown Florence is a great happening scene. So ends another day. Tomorrow we head to Memphis for a three-night stay, but before we leave we will visit the Muscle Shoals studio nearby. FAME Studios had a falling out with their musicians the Swampers and those young boys left and went on to open their own studio. Hence FAME Studios is in the town of Muscle Shoals and Muscle Shoals Studio in Sheffield. The music business is a funny one at times.