I recently attended a guitar and bass workshop at the Crossroads, the cradle of the Delta Blues in Clarksdale Mississippi. I have never been a big blues guy, not that I disliked it, just never overly exposed to the genre – so how did this come about? It all started when a good friend and bassist, whom I regularly jam with, asked if I would be interested in heading to Mississippi for a week to immerse myself in the culture and music of the blues during a week long guitar/bass workshop.
At first I was on the fence, Mississippi has never been on my bucket list to visit and one
only has so many vacation days to enjoy. After a few weeks discussing the goal of the trip and listening to some blues “staples”, I decided I would like to give it a try – it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while.
This was my first experience traveling with my guitar on a flight, interesting tidbits to share… the first flight I carried it onboard, while dodging the rolling eyes of other passengers concerned they would not have enough overhead space since I was taking all the room with the guitar case. For the connecting flight, my buddy recommended that we gate check the axe – much better decision.
We arrived in Memphis, picked up the rental car and headed towards Clarksdale and the Down 2 The Crossroads workshop at the Shack Up Inn. What immediately struck me as we hit the outskirts of Memphis was the unfortunate economic depression that was prevalent throughout the region. We arrived a bit too early to check into our rooms so headed straight for Clarksdale and Abe’s BBQ, a Clarksdale institution since 1924, for lunch. It was the first of many pure southern comfort meals of the week.
What I was most struck by when entering the “old” downtown portion of Clarksdale is how much it embraced its roots as a significant contributor to the foundation of Blues music. Clarksdale is a significant stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail that was created in 2006 and contains a number of markers and historical sites related to the birth, growth and influence of Blues throughout the state.
Clarksdale seemingly still exists today because of this tie to the Blues, the town is depressed, but there are a few businesses, restaurants, etc still around, all seemingly there to support the tourism business that exists because of the Mississippi Delta Blues. In fact, a few newer additions have moved in because of the musical influence of the area including; the Ground Zero Blues Club (owned by Morgan Freeman) and the Delta Blues Museum (partially funded by Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top). The town of Clarksdale was best summed up on the back of a t-shirt I bought at the John Lee Hooker Grocery and Eatery – “Clarksdale, Mississippi – home to – 49 Blues Legends, 107 churches, and 0 Starbucks.
Jeremy Ferral, a guitar and banjo student of Fretmentor, contributed this article. This is Part I of a two part story on the Clarksdale Blues Experience.