Other than the standard gospel hymns, no other style of music has changed the world like the mighty Delta Blues. Colorful soulful artists with names like Lead Belly, Muddy, Son and Papa poured the angst of poverty, the trials of love and even the ongoing hope of better times into raw storytelling, all the while innovating and creating new sounds never heard before by anyone in the world. Artists who honed their craft in the Mississippi Delta not only created Chicago blues movement, but influenced the kings of Country and Western and were at the soul of Elvis’s Rock and Roll hips.
No Mississippi town was more influential than Clarksdale, a former sharecropping town that is today the home of the Delta Blues Museum, Ground Zero Blues Club and a core legend of Delta Blues music.
Located in the historic Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Passenger Depot, the Delta Blues Museum was established in 1979 and re-organized as a stand-alone museum in 1999. With nearly five thousand square feet of floor space devoted exclusively to permanent and traveling exhibits, it houses hundreds of pieces of important memorabilia and historical photographs.
But perhaps the most interesting exhibit was “Muddy Waters” shack. The blues legend, born McKinley Morganfield, is considered a founding member of the Delta Blues movement, and later became known as the father of modern Chicago blues. The shack is the core of the Morganfield home with a life-sized Muddy dressed sharply and holding a vintage guitar surrounded by key moments in his life and his A&E biography playing on screen. I was captivated.
We then headed to lunch before making a quick stop at one of only a dozen or so traditional “juke” joints still in existence. Founded in 2001 by actor Morgan Freeman and his business partners Bill Luckett and Howard Stovall, Ground Zero Blues club derives its name from the fact that Clarksdale has been historically referred to as “ground zero” for the blues. Live music roars from its windows everyday from Wednesday through Saturday and its stage has featured many well-known musicians. Unfortunately, our short stay only let us have a beer and take some photos, but this is back on the bucket list for the next trip.
Now, to the legend: Robert Johnson was said to have met the Devil himself at the intersection of Rt. 61 and Rt. 49 in Clarksdale. There, the Devil offered Robert an enticing deal – the chance to master the blues guitar like no one ever would. He asked only for Robert’s soul in repayment, and if you’ve ever heard Robert Johnson play his slide guitar on “Cross Roads Blues” it’s hard to argue with the legend. A monument now stands at the site of the proposed transaction reminding youngsters that anything is possible, if you’re willing to sacrifice (your soul to the devil!)
Here are some photos.