I've always wanted to do this . . .

Sunset in Clarksdale . . . to take a week in the hot summer and go there: the land where the blues began. So did my old friend John and my new friend Bill. The Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, was our ultimate destination, but as exceptional as this year's fest turned out to be, I will always cherish more the memories of the lesser places we went, the good folks we met, and the enchantment we shared during that week we did the Delta. Whatever your Mecca, it will always be the pilgrimage that holds the most meaning. This particular one should be required.

This is Part 2 of 2. On these pages, I've got 62 jpeg images to share with you. They range in file size from about 10k to 45k. (Ain't is always true that the best ones are also the biggest.) I think most web browsers have a jpeg viewer built in, and this should work fine. If not, you'll need to configure a viewer to use with your browser. Try ACDSee for Windows 3.X and Windows 95. It's fast and versatile. Enjoy the pictures, but please do not distribute them without asking me first. You sure as hell cannot use them to make money. Thanks.

Comin' To Clarksdale

It was Friday. The rains came. The Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival awaited us, but we weren't finished meandering. We doubled back via the west branch of Highway 49 through Doddsville and Ruleville to Cleveland and Dockery Farms. This is the plantation where Henry Sloan, Willie Brown, Charley Patton, and countless unknowns defined and tutored the blues as we know it today.

We continued up the west branch of Highway 49 to Drew, where we reveled for an hour in the blues-laden Music Mart on Main Street, before pausing very momentarily at Parchman Farm, now a maximum-security state prison. This was as close as we dared to go to see the former "home" of Son House and Bukka White. Lomaxes we ain't.

Just north is Tutwiler, where the two branches of Highway 49 reconverge. First, we saw the W.C. Handy marker at the former site of the train depot where Handy first experienced something called the blues in 1903. The plaque says it happened in 1895, but it's wrong.

Off a county road just outside Tutwiler, we found the final resting place of Sonny Boy Williamson 2. Note the offerings resting atop the stone. They say if you venture out there exactly at midnight every June 23, Sonny Boy will not rise up and blow you a tune. We thank Trumpet Records for the marker and, again, Skip Henderson for maintaining the site. As we lingered in the rain, a white minivan pulled up and out hopped four guys from Norway. More on them later, but talk about pilgrimages! Theirs was a year in the planning, and they were taking a month to cover a route from Texas to Chicago.

Clarksdale: The Land Of Knowing Smiles

So we and the Norwegians raced up to Clarksdale on Highway 49. I don't know about them, but our first stop was Jim O'Neal's Rooster Blues Records on Sunflower Avenue. We wanted to see what the alphabetical storm had done to change the evening's festivities. Hell, Jim didn't know, but they were working on it. We checked in at the hotel and hustled back up to the Delta Blues Museum for the afternoon. Whodat comin' down the steps?

Inside the museum -- which really must house the world's greatest collection of blues memorabilia -- we found these classic artifacts: Muddywood, a guitar created from the wood at Muddy Waters' cabin up the road in Stovall; one of B.B. King's old flames, Lucille; the original headstone of Mississippi Fred McDewell; and the rusty tin sign from what might have been the original Three Forks Store.

The festival kicked off at the museum with some workshops by James "Super Chikan" Johnson, then, because of the rain, the first few performances took place here rather than the Railroad Depot Stage until Jim and the gang could arrange to ready the civic auditorium a few blocks east. Johnnie Billington kicked it off with he and Muddy mentoring some of their best young students.

We got in a little more sightseeing before reconvening at the auditorium for the night. Back on Sunflower Avenue, Bill pointed out the old G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital, now the Riverside Hotel, where Bessie Smith died in 1937. Farther up Sunflower, we found the River Mount Lounge, one of Clarksdale's several jook joints where, thankfully, we didn't hear, as they advertise, "today's sounds." Then we headed north on the main drag and pulled over at Highway 61 and Highway 49, where we didn't see Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, or Old Scratch, but the Delta Donut, where you can't even sell your soul for a Bavarian Creme.

Clarksdale: Showtime At The Sunflower

Life is very cool in Clarksdale. We had a good idea we'd be drinking a lot of beer at the civic auditorium that night. Little did we know the Sunflower folks would be short a few vendors, so we ended up selling it. Big Mack Orr was first up that night, then Clayton Love, Wesley Jefferson with "Super Chikan" Johnson, and the 73-year-old Willie Foster, who blows an incredible harp. We saw Willie again later that night at the River Mount Lounge.

We and the Norwegians pretty much sat and drank, then we mingled some before Charlie Musselwhite came on to close the show. I met Dick Waterman. He's the sober one. Then about that time, Cat Bauer sez, "Man, have I got a deal for you!" Then Charlie sez, "Hey, man. I hear Cat's got a deal for you!" Then Charlie closed the show. Then we closed the River Mount Lounge, or it closed us.

Saturday. No rain. It was a beautiful day for the blues. Pat Thomas kicked it off at the Delta Blues Museum Stage. Pat is the son of the late, great Son Thomas, but that doesn't begin to tell his story. Then we heard 86-year-old Eugene Powell, Lonnie Pitchford's tutor, then Eddie Cusic, whom Little Milton claims as his mentor.

Before we heard Lonnie Pitchford, we heard Leonard Watkins of Blues-L, as he presented a $1,000 check to John Ruskey, the curator of the Delta Blues Museum. The grand was the first of the proceeds raised by Blueszellers everywhere who bought a Blues-L t-shirt kindly designed by Bob Unger and distributed by Marcia Grodsky. That's LW on the left, wearing the t-shirt, which is emblazoned on the back with the slogan Standing at the Crossroads of the Information Superhighway. Here's the t-shirt -- the front on the left; the back on the right.

Lonnie Pitchford was next up. Lonnie is one lean, mean electric slide machine -- kinda like a Robert Johnson Plugged, but also a remarkable talent in his own right. We had done some hangin' with Lonnie the night before at the River Mount Lounge and did again that night at the depot stage. Jack Owens and Bud Spires closed out the museum stage. Jack, on the left, is 90 years old and a genuine National Heritage Fellow, so dubbed by the National Endowment for the Humanities (Newt!).

So we headed down Sunflower Avenue to the Railroad Depot Stage, where we heard an incredible set by Arthneice Jones & the Stone Gas Band. Just about that time, or a little after, Bill, a cartographer over at Mississippi State in Starkville, caught up with Charlie and his wife Henrietta and presented them with two of his own map creations: one of the birthplaces of Mississippi blues musicians and one of Kosciusko and Attala County, where Charlie was born. They loved them, and Bill's maps now grace the walls of Charlie's studio in northern California.

Here's a shot of the wonderful old Riverside Grain Elevator that towers over the old train depot. It's a beautiful, enchanting thing, especially at sunset. We also got this very cool shot along the railroad tracks a bit earlier, and while we were just hangin', this one of Jim O'Neal and Howard Stovall. That's Jim -- Living Blues Magazine and Rooster Blues Records founder and all-around blues god -- on the left. That's Howard -- yes, of the Stovall family, as in Stovall Plantation, as in Muddy Waters' former home -- on the right. Howard also plays the keyboard with Arthneice Jones & the Stone Gas Band, which led Bill to quip that grandpa Stovall must surely be spinnin' in his grave.

Oh, the blues! We saw Louis McTizic & Etheleen Wright, but their young guitarist made the most lasting impression. There's a genuine talent! But damned if he ain't also Muddy Waters resurrected! We caught this fine old bluesman backstage who, as it turns out, is Mr. Early Wright. He's been doing blues radio for damn near 50 years and can be heard most nights on Clarksdale's WROX-AM 1450. Then we finally got a shot with the Norwegians. That's John in the middle, wearing his prized mojo man.

Oh, the blues! Well, here's Frank Frost. So sad. We didn't get Sam Carr on the drums. But here's Lonnie Pitchford and John again, saying, "Damn! There's the Blue Highwayman!" I think it was. Oh, the blues! It all started to get a bit hazy in the head about this time, but we did manage to get Denise LaSalle coming on to close the show and Denise LaSalle again from back in the jostlin' crowd of her best young fans.

Sunday it was all over for us. Our seven days in the Delta had come to a sweet and peaceful end. We rolled out of Clarksdale listening to "gospel music on the colored radio station" all the way to Tutwiler, where we were drawn to stop and say one final goodbye to Sonny Boy 2. John and I left Bill back at the ranch in Starkville, then pulled an all-nighter back home to Orlando, with lots of blues in the tape deck and Mississippi on our minds. So why ain't this man smiling? Despite all our best-laid plans, the words "set to nomail" had never crossed my mind.

For Part 1, click here.

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Robert Johnson / W.C. Handy / Willie Dixon

The Delta Map / The Essays / The Index

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The Blue Highway
For the 'Buked and Scorned

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