“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.