Finally, here is the report from . . .

The four Norwegians at the 1995 Sunflower Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi . . . The Great Norwegian US Blues Trip '95! For those of you who don't know the story, once upon a time there were four Norwegian friends and blues fanatics dreaming about the ultimate blues holiday in the US.... and in the summer of '95, it all came true! After a year of planning, including some good advice from blues-l'ers, we decided upon a four-week schedule which took us from Houston, Texas to Austin, Texas, then by plane to New Orleans, Louisiana, followed by two weeks all over Mississippi -- also including Memphis, Tennessee -- in a hired Mazda van (with The Sunflower Festival in Clarksdale being the only "pre-scheduled" stop), then finally a long drive up to Chicago for our final stop.


PART 3: Oxford/Holly Springs + Memphis + Helena

August 6: This was the Sunflower Festival's gospel day, which we would have liked to attend, but we finally decided to move on in order to catch JR. KIMBROUGH's HOUSE PARTY up north in HOLLY SPRINGS instead. After phoning Fat Possum Records to ensure that Jr.'s Place would be open, and phoning TOM FREELAND (whom we -- of course! -- met via blues-l) in OXFORD to ask him if he would like to take us there (which he would, thankfully!) -- we drove to Oxford. The first person we ran into at the wonderful bookstore there, SQUARE BOOKS, was... Charlie Musselwhite!!!... this time with his wife, Henrietta. Charlie, looking somewhat startled to see us, was there to visit relatives. We told him that we were going to Jr's and afterwards to Memphis, upon which he told us to go give his and Henrietta's greetings to JUDY PEISER at the CENTER FOR SOUTHERN FOLKLORE on Beale Street.

Following this nice meeting, we had dinner at SMITTY'S just around the corner before going one block down to the local art gallery to meet Tom Freeland and his wife, Deborah. There was to be a reception there in conjunction with the International Elvis Presley Conference staged at the University of Mississippi the same week. We sat there enjoying a relaxed jazz/blues set from members of BB KING's band when Tom and Deborah arrived. Half an hour later, an impressive limousine with "GATEMOUTH" printed on its plates drove up, and out strode blues shouter/preacher legend GATEMOUTH MOORE, looking about 20 years younger than he probably ought to. He proceeded, backed by the BB King Band members, to get the place jumping and dancing with a selection of great and powerfully sung blues/R&B; standards -- as well as delivering a veritable and very entertaining (though not always very reliable -- he didn't REALLY write "Going Down Slow" did he? And is he old enough to have known IDA COX too well?) "secular sermon" between songs.

Later at the reception, we again met Dick Waterman, who lives and works in Oxford and is also a friend of Tom's. We chatted with him for a while, encouraging him to come to Jr's Place with us, which he unfortunately didn't. Finally, around 9 pm, it was time to drive up to Holly Springs, and we followed Tom and Deborah's car (while listening to Tom's Memphis prewar blues tape) along lightless, spooky Mississippi roads until we came to a bend just packed with cars. The sound of raw, dirty, heavily amplified country blues guitar reached us as we approached the juke, around which both black and white people (several faces recognizable from the festival in Clarksdale) stood drinking, chatting, smoking, just having a good time. The atmosphere turned out to be very friendly and relaxed -- and the heat and humidity like nothing we had experienced before! Tom took us to greet his friend Junior himself, while sons, relatives and friends of the Kimbrough and Burnside families kept the pounding, down home blues music going.

The musical constellations changed all the time -- before the night was through we had seen Jr's son DAVID MALONE both sing, play guitar, bass and drums -- all great; GARRY BURNSIDE play -- maybe even greater -- bass and drums; DWAYNE BURNSIDE play razor-sharp solo guitar... and of course JR. himself, with his loud, trance-inducing, hypnotic, floating, undescribable one-chord "cotton-patch" blues. The greatest surprise was maybe David Malone, though, who really impressed us with his complete commitment to his performance, and by managing to sound somewhat simultaneously like Hound Dog Taylor, Led Zeppelin, and Prince!!! His encore of the latter's "Purple Rain" still reverberates in the ears.

At Jr.'s we also met again some nice folks we had first met in Clarksdale -- JOHN STURM and DAVE MARKOVITS from Chicago. We got their phone number so that we could give them a call when we arrived in The Windy City -- more of which later.

We returned to our hotel at about 2 am, completely exhausted, scraping our soaked clothes off our weary bodies -- and jumping right into the outdoor pool... wonderful. All in all this was a night not easily described -- pure magic!

August 7: Before leaving Oxford for Memphis, we visited UNCLE BUCK's RECORD STORE at the town square, and drove up to the University of Mississippi campus to visit the BLUES ARCHIVE, and the place where Living Blues is produced. At the archive we were greeted warmly by the curator Mr. ED KOMARA (whom we first met in Clarksdale) and shown around and explained about the archive's activities -- very interesting. Much of what was once JIM & AMY O'NEAL's and BB KING's record collections can be found here -- plus books, magazines, videos, memorabilia of various sorts. Too bad browsing is not allowed!

Upon reaching Memphis a little more than an hour later, the first thing we sought out was, of course, legendary "home of the blues" BEALE STREET. Beale today, though, to us, has a somewhat peculiar and hollow "movie scene" feel -- it looks (and is) so well-scrubbed, clean, new,... and the atmosphere is not all it should be; at least this first evening we felt a bit detached from it all, uncomfortable, unsafe, threatened almost -- especially after the wonderfully "homey" feel of Mississippi. Musically, we also had our first real disappointment here; in BB KING's BLUES CLUB we saw guitarist/singer LITTLE JIMMY KING perform a lifeless, polite, almost muzak-like set of what sounded like blues-influenced easy-listening. He does have talent, but this was not the time or place for him. The club itself was very "upscale" but nice, with fine food -- better gumbo than in New Orleans!

August 8: Our first stop of the day was SUN STUDIOS, which runs a nice museum and provides a guided 30-minute "tour" of the studio (i.e. of one small room!), in addition to continuing its recording activities. Its story is fascinating and a visit is definitely recommended. Feeling CD shopping abstinence coming on, we next sought out a record store, SHANG-RI-LA records, for a quick fix, before going back to Beale to visit The CENTER FOR SOUTHERN FOLKLORE. This combined museum-record store-book store-educational center-folk art shop is managed by JUDY PEISER, who we gave Charlie Musselwhite's greetings as promised, only to learn that Charlie and Henrietta had been in there just before us! At this point we started to feel like the nemesis of Charlie's life, the fans he never could get away from...

This evening saw a definite rise in musical standards: At the cozy RUM BOOGIE CAFE on Beale we saw JAMES GOVAN with the BOOGIE BLUES BAND (the club's house band). Govan is a great, though obscure, deep southern soul singer in the Otis Redding tradition -- and he went through as strong a collection of 60s soul classics from the vaults of Stax and Atlantic as you could wish to hear. His heart-stoppingly beautiful and intense version of "When a man loves a woman" was the stunning highlight of an impressively soulful set.

August 9: No visit to Memphis is complete without a tour of GRACELAND -- and this was our touristic experience of the day. To sum it all up, it was both more entertaining and much more moving than (at least some of us had) feared. The tours are extremely commercially, effectively, and professionally done, but in a strange way the visit still adds to your respect and compassion for the man rather than diluting it.

Leaving Graceland we drove back to The Center for Southern Folklore in the hope that we could catch one of veteran blues pianist MOSE VINSON's fairly regular performances there. According to Mrs. Peiser, Vinson (now 88 years old) wasn't feeling too good, but she phoned him up at home just to be sure, asking him to come play for us. At first he was reluctant, but then she let us speak to him ourselves. We said we were sorry that we couldn't see him and he said: "Well... maybe if y'all come get me, y'know..."...!!! Whereupon we drove off, following Mrs. Peiser's directions, to pick up Mr. Vinson in his house! He was waiting for us when we arrived, beaming and relishing the fact that we had "come all the way just to hear the old man play". Returning to the Center, he gave us 45 wonderful minutes of fluent boogie woogie and deep blues, throwing in piano "lessons" (taking us up to the stage, grabbing one of our fingers and using it to solo with while playing boogie patterns with his left), requests, jokes and stories. What a guy!

August 10: Our last stop in Memphis was the BEALE STREET BLUES MUSEUM, which nicely showcases the history of the blues through both visual and aural exhibitions. Heading back down South, we then set off to HELENA, ARKANSAS -- and boy, it felt good going into delta country again! On the way we stopped to view the TUNICA MOTEL, as besung by Tony Joe White on his "Closer to the truth" album. Yes -- it really exists!

Arriving in Helena, home of the KING BISCUIT BLUES FESTIVAL in October, we first stopped by the Helena bridge to perform the religious act of washing (or rather soiling!) our hands in the mighty Mississippi river, before we went downtown and sought out the superb record store BUBBA'S BLUES CORNER and its owner Bubba SULLIVAN -- president of The Sonny Boy Blues Society. He helped us find a very nice and cheap motel, The Delta Inn in West Helena, as well as selling us some great records. The rest of the day was then spent relaxing by the pool and eating far too much pizza.

August 11: By a nice coincidence, The Sonny Boy Blues Society this night was staging a concert at their regular venue THE SONNY BOY BLUES HALL, by one of our favorite live blues bands, ANSON FUNDERBURGH & THE ROCKETS feat. SAM MYERS. Of course they gave, as always, a very fine show -- Anson is THE best white blues guitar player to these ears! Bubba Sullivan had a table reserved for us close to the stage, and through SONNY PAYNE (see below for how we met him) we were also personally introduced to Mr. MYERS, who has been a regular visitor in Norway for almost two decades now, and who was as impressive and dignified (and nice) in person as he is on stage, only much younger-looking than we had expected! We also bought the band's new live CD, autographed by ANSON and SAM, and we met the press photographer (and co-arranger of the Sunflower festival) PANNY MAYFIELD from Clarksdale, who engaged us in dancing and took our picture -- which we still hope she'll send us...

Earlier in the day we had already had a couple of other nice experiences: At 12 a.m. we showed up at the DELTA CULTURAL CENTER in downtown Helena, where the legendary more-than-40-year old radio show KING BISCUIT TIME is still broadcast on 1360 AM, each weekday 12.15 a.m. - 12.45 a.m. by its original DJ, SONNY PAYNE. Upon hearing that we were Norwegian blues fans come to visit him, Mr. Payne immediately decided to interview us as part of this day's show (which incidentally was broadcast number 12305). We got to talk about our blues interests and had played our request as the show's opening song ("Mighty Long Time" by the show's legendary house musician SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON II). Sonny seemed particularly impressed that two of us first got interested in the blues via LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS instead of the more usual Muddy, BB etc.

After the broadcast, we visited the music store GIST MUSIC, just a couple of blocks down the street, where Sonny Boy used to buy his harps and where he once turned one in because he didn't like it -- it is now in the Blues Archive in Oxford. We spoke to MRS. GIST, a lovely old lady who, when she heard that we came from so far away and why we were there, reminisced about Sonny Boy, and insisted on playing for us -- and giving us gifts in the form of -- old 45s of children's music and comedy music -- including "Jingle Bells" sung (or rather barked) by.... DOGS!

August 12: Since nothing musical seemed to go on in Helena this evening, we drove up to Clarksdale again to see if anything might be happening there. On the way we stopped by to see MUDDY WATERS' CABIN, now in complete ruins, on STOVALL's PLANTATION. However, upon arriving in Clarksdale, it turned out that nothing musical was going on there -- on the contrary, we were advised at Stackhouse to go back to Helena because FRANK FROST and SAM CARR might be giving a show at Frank's girlfriend's place, EDDIE'S CAFE. As it turned out, they didn't, because Sam never showed up -- but we got to speak to Frank, who sat relaxing outside the cafe. The rest of the evening was spent at the banks of the Mississippi, gazing at the surroundings, being bitten by mosquitos, getting drunk on atmosphere, moonlight, bourbon, and beer....

August 13: It being Sunday again, we decided to give JR's PLACE another shot, this time based in Holly Springs instead of Oxford. After a stop at the Lady Luck Casino on the Mississippi side of the river bank to spend some money, we drove northoeast through Tunica, Senatobia, Como, etc. up to Holly Springs, stopping by at Jr's Place in the daytime to assure ourselves that it was going to be open -- which it was. We were hoping to catch RL BURNSIDE there that evening -- but as it turned out, the last notes of what seemed like it had been a great set by RL died out just as we got out of the car outside the joint, at around 9.30 pm...! We got to talk to him though -- what a nice and friendly and humble guy! -- and tell him how much we appreciated his music -- but we couldn't convince him to go back on stage. However, we DID get much good music by David Malone, who greeted us like old friends, by Junior himself, and various others -- and the atmosphere was even more "homey" this time around -- but some of the magic of Junior's music was diluted by the fact that there were some young white "outside" musicians -- including a slide player -- who sat in with the band. Although fine musicians, they just served to remove the focus and a bit of the power of the music -- which seems to rely on the almost telepathic knowledge the "regulars" have of each other. Anyway, we had a fine night once again, although the some of the magic of the first visit was missing.


For Part 4, click here.



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