This presentation is part of the Dance Halls, Juke Joints, and Honky Tonks Symposium, March 22-23, 2016. This symposium focuses on the issues associated with the preservation of dance halls and similar sites throughout the rural South. Some of the constant threats include relevancy, development pressures, deterioration, and financial viability. This symposium brings together experts and enthusiasts to discuss history, architecture, and culture associated with these buildings.
Interpreting Juke Joints and African American Nightspots on the Mississippi Blues Trail by Scott Barretta
Scott Barretta: I’m with the Mississippi Blues Trail, want to talk about the interpretation of Juke Joints and other African American night spots, larger clubs for instance, on the Trail. What I want to talk about in particular are these venues, how the Trail formed, I’m sure a lot of people are interested. We’ve had this amazing amount of interpretation, a lot of money has gone into this, and a lot of organizations from other states have looked to us to say, “How did you do it?” We’ll touch on that, we can discuss that later. I’m sure we’ll have people who are very interested in how we were able to put up so many markers both for the Blues Trail and also for the Country Music Trail.
We have something also called the Freedom Trail. The latter two use the model of the Blues Trail, the same administration as well. I’ll touch upon some of the issues about who benefits from this, right? That we have this new wave of cultural tourism in Mississippi centered around the Blues. Our license plate now features B.B. King. You drive into the state, it’s welcome to Mississippi, the birth place of American music which is contentious but not provable. We haven’t had any fights with Memphis about that thing so far. There’s a lot of issues in marketing these places. I mean this image, I picked this one because you have this iconic … I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of Po Monkey’s before?
Po Monkey’s is often used as this Juke Joint out in the middle of a cotton field run by this very interesting character named Po Monkey. I actually helped with that process and I worked on a book called Mississippi State of Blues. A large format, coffee table book and we have a picture of Po Monkey’s on the cover of it. As a sociologist, I was a little divided, I should say is the background. I’m a sociologist, I’m also somebody who works with these issues of working for the tourism division of the state. I’m aware of some of the potential problems with that, being involved in the process of documentation for the purposes of making money.
The purposes of the Blues Trail are for education, historical documentation but it’s also part of selling Mississippi to tourists, right? Getting more people to visit. There’s a lot of problems with that. If you put this on the map and tell people where it is, it changes the dynamic of the place. No longer the authentic place it once was though we’re not only the force involved with that process. We, I think, we can, very positively, we can talk about them and all of these efforts is helping us, helping to reshape our understandings of these areas. These things that people took for granted or often located in small places that urbanites don’t know anything about.
Anyways, I was talking about the basics of the Blues Trail. Right now, starting in 2006, we now have 189 markers. It’s operated by the Mississippi Development Agency through Visit Mississippi. We have a board called the Mississippi Blues Commission [point east 00:03:35] from the Governor. The actual work is conducted by myself and Jim O’Neal who is the founder of the Living Blues magazine. We work per contract basis with somebody called Hammons and Associates, an advertising firm. It’s more than an advertising firm. They do a lot of very interesting cultural work ingrained with Mississippi where I reside. They also have done the design of the markers for the Country Music Trail and for the Civil Rights Trail, the Freedom Trail.
The funding for this trail, the Blues Trail, is that we have a deal, I don’t know the specifics of it because I don’t know the budget for paying people at tourism or advertising, but the basic idea is that when somebody comes out wanting, or for a long time, somebody wanted to put up a marker, if we approved of them having a marker, the candidate would have to come up with about half that money. It was initially about 4 or 5000 dollars, I think it’s closer to 10 now. I don’t know what the breakdown is on that. I think labor, not my labor unfortunately, have got a little bit more money over the last 10 years.
Anyways, the idea is the communities buy in, right? It’s not the state saying, “We’re going to put a marker here.” There’s a lot of collaboration with the communities. One of the interesting things is, as the Mississippi Blues Trail has developed, it’s become a hot trend within the convention and visitor bureau professions. That they see, “Oh Jackson has this many or Clarksdale has 10. We want one.” It’s become a sense of validation in the professional tourism community. Anyways we have, like I said, 189. Most of them are in Mississippi here, you can see we’ve got one in Ferriday, Louisiana. I’m not sure who is the rep there. Somewhere down there across the Natchez, Ferriday. Got a couple in Muscle Shoals, couple in Memphis. We don’t have one in Southern Louisiana unfortunately.
We also have, if we look at the reach of it, we’ve got additional … I forgot to say that the communities pay half, and a lot of the other money is ADA, NEH and Mississippi Highway Funds. Then there’s also the salaries of the people at tourism. We additionally got some NEH funding to expand the Blues Trail to Florida, Bradfordsville. Grafton, Wisconsin where the Paramount Label was. Chicago, Brandt Museum in Los Angeles. Rochester, New York where Son House lived for many years and Maine which is that there was … There’s a logic about placing these markers that they reflect the impact of Mississippi Blues. There’s a 25 year historical criteria. We probably would have rather had one in Lafayette than in Maine, but it had a lot to do with the lobbying on the side of the communities.
In that case, there was a blues festival had been there for a long time. We also have them in Cahors, France where there’s been a festival for a long time. Notodden in Norway which is the home of one of the largest blues festivals in Europe. We’re also in the process of creating a mobile marker which is going to be for Europe, so we can move it around to different festivals. It’s not very easy to put up a big sign, say, in London at the side of where The Stones played or whatever. Big cities generally don’t want something that big on the sidewalk.
Also we have everything is on the web. We have a great app which I encourage people to … You can buy it from … No, it’s free. We have a free app and you can create itineraries, look up a timeline. There are 15 videos that Robert Gordon from Memphis, who did a great Stax movie, Muddy Waters film. The recent William F. Buckley, Gore Vidal film. We’ve got Gore Vidal on the Blues Trail. Anyways, the idea we have a website and this Blues Trail has allowed people to see the whole of it. I think oftentimes when the state puts up a historic marker, they’ve been doing it for so many years, I think there’s some difficultly in actually knowing where they all are. If there’s a website which tracks … We have somebody from that agency here.
I think it’s often private people who are interested in historic markers that catalog all of this. In our case, we have the full text of the markers and an interactive map online. There’s not actually a trail, I should say, it’s just a bunch of markers. People ask, “How do we do the Trail?” If you look back at these maps, there’s not really a trail. There’s not a linear one anyways. The idea, of course, for [inaudible 00:09:23] is that if you have that many places to visit, then you’re probably going to spend a lot more money in hotels, meals, rental cars and things like that.
The Blues Trail got going in the early 2000s in the wake of a Clinton-era Millennium Trail Project which never took off. It caused people to get together to talk about it. It really took off after 2003, it was the Year of the Blues. We all remember Martin Scorsese had a film series, he got a bunch of directors. It didn’t do very well. Everybody forgot about it that week, but anyways Mississippi declared it to be the Year of the Blues. Congress declared it the Year of the Blues. A big push from PBS, Sony, BMG, the Scorsese people. It pushed to the forefront this idea of blues. Mississippi was lagging behind, I think, our neighbors that we saw the development of Gill Street early in the 90s.
The development, they tore down the Stax Studios and then rebuilt it as a tourist spot. Louisiana, of course, marketing of the music is central to tourism efforts. Tourism is central to the economy over the world. I don’t know here, I presume it’s a pretty big thing here as well. Coming down to go to the dancehalls or to experience that culture. Anyways, the actual project came about around 2003 or 4, I started working with the B.B. King Museum which was a 15 million dollar project in Indianola. The Museum ended up going up in 2008. One of the interesting things that we addressed was that Indianola is in the middle western part of the state, over 2 hours from Memphis. About an hour and half from Jackson, an hour from an interstate.
It’s out in the middle of nowhere relatively speaking. One of the things that we wanted to do was to put up some markers which would make a path, a trail of sorts. You have a bunch of other sights between … A lot of people drive to Mississippi after they’ve been to Memphis and going to New Orleans. Looking at how do we get people to go to these areas? Everybody knows that the blues is from Mississippi but they don’t know where to go, right? That’s generally viewed as something that was in Mississippi, Robert Johnson, 75 years ago. Muddy Waters was there until the early 40s. People didn’t really have that much of a notion that there’s that much to see, just know that it was there.
In any case, so with the B.B. King Museum, we had a team together. We had a lot of money and we were working with NEH consultants. In addition to trying to put the Museum together, we decided let’s use this team we’ve got, the grant writers and researchers, to write a grant for a Blues Trail. Before we did that, these went up very early on and, as you see here, it says, “Mississippi Delta Blues Trail.” Club Ebony is one of the best know Juke Joints in the state since 1945. People played there. Two of these markers went up in Indianola and then, by 2006, our grant had come through for 9 markers to go up in 4 adjacent counties in Mississippi, all of which had a history of promoting blues.
Anyways, so we first went up in 2006. The first 9 were successful and eventually this one was replaced. Let me show you what the markers look like. There’s a couple of differences. We now call it a nightclub and not a Juke Joint. Club Ebony is a club that can hold 500 people, it was not a Juke Joint. Juke Joints are generally a lot smaller than that, little more ramshackle. This was a very nice club and I think we … The last of them said 1945. This one says after the end of World War II. As in the fact that there was a previous nightclub, a nightclub that preceded it on an adjacent street.
This is more text and the text is more correct. I didn’t help write the preliminary ones by the way. We wouldn’t have had the Juke Joint word on there. This is what the backside of our markers look like, right? If we think about typical metal sign, the raised lettering, the typical state marker has 40, 30, 40 words on it. The same on each side which you can’t read when you’re driving at 70mph down the road but anyways. You don’t have a whole lot of interpretation. What was novel about what we did was said, “Well why don’t we print the backside flat at the foundry and then use a big piece of vinyl?” We have a 500 word essay on the side, we utilized that top area to put a photograph in.
That’s B.B. King at Club Ebony. Indianola is where he grew up or at least from the age of 15 to 20, where he calls it his hometown. It’s where he got married, had a job as a tractor driver, began singing gospel and playing blues on the street corners. The great thing is that not only we can have that much written interpretation, but also all these great images. That’s essentially what our markers look like. I wanted to show you some other pictures of what the Club Ebony looks like. This is from our book, Kim Murphy is the photographer. He’s an architectural photographer so we have a wonderful tin roof with neon at the ceiling. The building was used pretty regularly up through the 90s on the Chitlin’ Circuit.
That it was a club that B.B. played at, Bobby Bland, Johnnie Taylor. It’s declined considerably as the Chitlin’ Circuit has moved towards civic centers. They have big shows now, you’ve probably seen the Blues Is Alright Tour. It probably comes through here somewhere, it would be at the Civic Center. There would be 5 popular soul blues artists and it’s like 45 bucks. You can bring in your own liquor and food. Kind of at the expense of these clubs, right? The people organizing these tours, they find it probably easier just to work with.There’s so many civic centers, you can guarantee that electricity is going to work. They have security guards, they have places that sell sodas and things like that.
There’s been a rationalizing of that market which has a left a lot of these larger clubs behind. The idea of going and seeing one group with, say, a local band opening up is not something you see very often. It’s interesting. The Club Ebony was private. B.B. King married the daughter of … His second wife was the daughter of the owner of the Club Ebony. He bought it from the owner from the early 70s until sometimes in the 2000s. I don’t know what he paid for it, but he subsequently donated it to the B.B. King Museum which is about 200 yards away on the other side of the tracks.
In the Museum, we actually have an interpretation of Juke Joints. That’s part of the narrative of looking at what was the secular culture that B.B. King would have experienced in Indianola. There’s a little bit of history from Club Ebony and its predecessor. With the Blues Trail, we ended up interpreting quite a few venues among the various things that we looked at. Club Ebony is at the top but why do we look at clubs on the Blues Trail? The Blues Trail is not just clubs by any means, it’s not called the Juke Joint Trail. When we got together, we initially decided it would be 120 after that initial grant. Half of them had to be outside of the Delta and the first 50 picks were, okay we got to have Muddy Waters. We got to have Howlin’ Wolf, we got to have Charley Patton and so we had about 50 of those.
Then with the NEH money, one of the stipulations was that the Trail would have to address humanities themes which was kind of vague what that meant. The things that we looked at were, in the end, were transportation so there’s markers for Highway 61 and for trains. Historic sites such as Dockery Plantation, there’s some others that address cotton. Radio, record companies, like Malaco Records, Ace Records. Issues about civil rights, religion and the blues, other things. Hot tamales and the blues, we like that for … In Rosedale, Parchman Farm, in addition to clubs and also historic strips. Like there would be the Beale Street of these various smaller towns.
Venues became important, there just simply weren’t that many of them around. I don’t know what the number of operating dancehalls here is in Louisiana. Texas is but in Louisiana, in Mississippi, it’s not a huge number. The ones that we’ve put up a marker for that are still around, fortunately we haven’t had any die out since we put the marker out. Club Ebony, as I said, it’s not used very often anymore but they still do have shows there. It’s now owned by the Museum and they keep it up. Tourist groups can go there. The Blue Front Café in Bentonia, Red’s in Clarksdale, Po Monkey’s in Merigold. I’m going to show pictures of all these in a second.
100 Men Club, Bradfordsville Blues Club in Florida and then there’s a couple of other places, buildings that are still around which occasionally have music but are not really music venues. The Alamo Theatre was a movie theater that had talent shows in Jackson. The Elks Lodge in Greenwood which a big part of the Chitlin’ Circuit and Mississippi was using fraternal organizations. The Elks Club made money or the other clubs, fraternal organizations would make money by booking bands. I don’t believe any of them really do that anymore but let me just go over some of the individual places.
The Blue Front Café in Bentonia has been around since the late 40s. It was a café started by the Holmes family. Their son Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is a bluesman. This is the place where Skip James is from. David Evans talks about a distinctive Bentonia style of blues, eerie style and “Duck” Holmes is very conscious about preserving that tradition. He plays in that tradition, he’s not a master of it the way, say, Skip James was but he learned it from local people. It has very strong … Is very conscious about the role of this place but it’s still a place you can go drink beer, smoke cigarettes and have fun. It’s not a very active venue, it is a very small place. That’s Jimmy right there. He’s now recorded about 5 albums. I’m actually going to be interviewing him at the Jazz Fest, Sunday April 24th.
He’s very eloquent at talking about the tradition. I think he retired, he worked for the school system somehow or another. He’s retired and I think has a source of income. He doesn’t … He can’t be making any money off it. He sells Coca Colas for a dollar, sells cigarettes and chips, and has a festival once a year. This is the inside of the place. It was a café, no longer really serves food, just potato chips and things like that. Here’s the marker in front of the Blue Front Café. We have to negotiate, I think sometimes we’re ruining the iconic images because it’s hard to take a picture. People almost avoiding taking pictures of other tourists for one, and the marker suggests I’m not the first person that was here. That’s actually H.C. Porter, an artist from Vicksburg who did a book of blues photographs.
Red’s in Clarksdale. Red’s has become a really famous place in Clarksdale. It doesn’t look like … Well it has the Blues Club on the outside but a lot of people drive by it. A lot of tourists are afraid to go in there because it’s rough looking. It’s just over the tracks from the downtown area of Clarksdale on Martin Luther King and Sunflower Avenue. You can often find people milling about on the streets. Red relishes its dangerous reputation and often makes comparisons with a club that’s 100 yards away, the Ground Zero Blues Club which is owned by Morgan Freeman which is a faux Juke Joint.
They had this big building which was used for other purposes, and then they … There’s a film in which one of the owners, Bill Luckett, is talking about why do we look to Birney Imes book Juke Joint? We decided that we would get mismatched furniture, Christmas lights and it was weird that he was talking about it so publicly. How they decided to fake it but they also had this weird thing of you can write on the walls, which I don’t think is something that most … That may happen but, of course, all those kind of restaurants, that’s like a fun thing to do. Stick things on the ceiling or write on the walls but that became also part of it, right?
You can disrespect the structure, not Red’s, you can probably write on the walls of Red’s but it’s so dark, you wouldn’t notice it in there. It’s also a place famous for buckets of water on the tables. He’s always raising money to replace the roof, but I think he likes the idea of it leaks a bit. Bathrooms are pretty shaky as well. That’s Red and Red is a belligerent guy. He has a front, I think he actually worked as installing carpet. One of his sons is a state legislator so I think he’s a lot more of a middle class guy than he lets on. He has this rough and tumble act he puts on.
As I said, he’s also making … He’s often making these comparisons between his place, the real place, and Ground Zero, that movie star place down the road. He makes fun of people being afraid to come over to his place. One of the most interesting things about Red’s is I remember going there, I guess, in the early 90s to see Big Jack Johnson and other artists playing there. It was, at that point, most of the audience was African American. Over the years, now Red’s has become very mixed but actually mostly, predominantly tourists. It depends on what season of the year it is.
If it’s February, you’re more likely to see an African American crowd, never a very large one. I’ll talk about that in a little bit. We don’t actually have a marker for Red’s but Big Jack Johnson, who was the greatest bluesman in Clarksdale in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s into the 2000s, that was his home club. We put up a marker for Big Jack, we decided to put it up at Red’s, right? It also plays into local tourism. Jack lived in a neighborhood, we generally don’t put up markers in the middle of neighborhoods.
Although there is one in Grenada, Mississippi for Magic Slim which was very interesting. Other people in Clarksdale were born there, Sam Cooke, Ike Turner. The markers are not at their homes because generally, probably for reasons that the areas are not deemed to be tourist friendly. There’s also privacy issues but [crosstalk 00:27:23] oftentimes to move markers to very dismal areas in the downtown, but there’s also some political issues there.
Another place in Jackson is the Queen of Hearts, an urban lounge. The Queen of Hearts has been around since the early 70s. See the marker there in that photograph. Here’s the interior of the club, it’s a very colorful place. A time machine back to the 70s, there’s a little, to the left of the jukebox, there’s a little, tiny stage which has a big railing in front of it. Ugly, I’m not sure why it’s there, I’ve never asked them about it. They have music on the weekends. There’s usually not too much of a crowd, I don’t know if the musicians make anything. I think it’s like a place where musicians like to go to play.
That’s Chellie B. Lewis. It used to be a major hangout back in the days when Malaco Records out of Jackson, which was the biggest soul blues label, when it was really a force in the 70s and 80s. Little Milton liked to hang out here, Johnnie Taylor, Z.Z. Hill. Locals including Sam Myers who of course became a big Texas artist after he got … Hansen Thunderbird took him from here to Texas. He probably improved his life considerably. Sam was actually living upstairs, not in the best of conditions. Chellie B, I think he owns a number of other buildings. This is his club, I can’t imagine he makes too much money though.
He does make a lot of money, I think, operating as a, largely, as a takeout fish place. You see a lot of people that come in, pick up food to go and don’t really pay too much attention to the band. Chellie B is often back there in the kitchen. That’s the way it survived, it’s a restaurant where you might come in and eat. Generally speaking, people don’t eat there if they come to … They don’t come there just for the food, as far as I’ve seen. There’s the dedication with some of the local musicians. King Edward, who is actually from here, King Edward Antoine. His brother Nolan Struck came up around Lafayette but King Edward has been in Jackson … That’s him with the bowler hat on. He still can pull out some French. He’s always surprised when anybody knows anything about him.
There’s Po Monkey’s again, this iconic place just north of Cleveland, Mississippi. That’s Willie “Po Monkey” Seaberry operates it. He is a farmer. He farms the cotton on the property right around it. He’s not owned the farm, but he also lives in the back of this place. It’s open on Thursday nights and it’s a discotheque. It’s been a discotheque since the 60s. I don’t know that there’s any tradition of him ever putting on live bands. This has created issue with the development of cultural tourism. People want to see a band in a Juke Joint. Recently, people they want to come down and film a band playing at a Juke Joint. Sometimes film companies will hire a band to pay Po Monkey a couple of hundred dollars, and then try to recruit people.
It’s often very difficult, probably for the film makers, to recruit the people they’d like to see dancing, African Americans. Usually a bunch of college students come over so it becomes an odd thing for the film makers, for other people who are in search of the authentic experience. It’s a very authentic experience, I think, on Thursday nights when you go there. They’re playing not quite hip hop but mostly Southern soul and RnB. When there’s not some tourismy kind of event going on, it’s a packed place where people are dancing. It actually is a Juke Joint in the sense that people there are relaxed, they dance. They used to have strippers there on Monday nights. Now that there’s a lot more publicity, he doesn’t do that anymore.
Speaker 2: No loud music.
Scott Barretta: No loud … It’s interesting that means loud music, it’s not loud music. It’s rap music, okay, and that’s something which I think is very interesting. If we look at development of Juke Joints, maybe you can … You think about there’s generally, particularly among musicians, a very strong dislike of rap music which carries a social component.
It’s not just a musical one, but I think you can see that there’s a lot of different forms of music which were, more or less, acceptable. If you play Motown, if you play Muddy Waters, if you play Tyrone Davis 70s music but there’s a cut-off. You don’t play hip hop, right? At the Juke Joints, it is, I wouldn’t say it’s rooted in the past necessarily, because there’s still a lot of contemporary Southern soul artists who get played at these type of places.
Speaker 2: There is a difference between hip hop and rap.
Scott Barretta: Yeah, yeah, exactly, yeah. Among the proprietors who are 70 years old, the whole different signifiers. No hats turned to the side, no pants pulled down and they call these places Grown Folks Lounges. Grown Folks mean you act respectable, you don’t have your pants hanging off and so there’s respect. That’s an interesting issue for the survival, I think, of the Juke Joints. If you don’t want that, well hip hop started in the 70s so you’re starting … Maybe it’s the case that people who are hip hop fans back then, are now grown folks that don’t want to be messing around with the current forms of it.
Speaker 3: What kind of folks did you say?
Scott Barretta: What’s that? Rum Folks? Grown, G-R-O-W-N. You see that a lot as a signifier for, this is for adults. Don’t come in here.
Speaker 2: 30 and older.
Scott Barretta: 30 and older, right? Yeah, exactly, right so that’s … You see that often Grown Folks Lounge. You kids go over there, older people, you can be here. You don’t have to be around young people with all those implications, whatever. Old people always think young people are rude and their music is too loud, whatever. Anyways, you can see he’s saying there, “All pictures taken 5 dollars.” There’s actually somewhere you can put money in if you’re not there. Let’s see what else we’ve got here.
It’s an incredible place from a folk art perspective. He has all these monkeys hanging from the ceiling, photographs and you can bring stuff in. It pretty much developed probably organically. He also tends to, particularity if there’s more tourists there, he’ll switch outfits. He has a lot of very colorful suits, and he’ll change suits 5 times in a evening. He also has some pretty X rated jokes, jack in the boxes things where things pop out which are not dolls. There’s a … I’m not going to go into that too much. He does some things which are pretty shocking from a …
Speaker 2: Entertainment.
Scott Barretta: When the people from Boston come down, don’t know quite what they’re thinking about that. He tends not to do that when there’s … If it’s a crowd of mostly African Americans, he tends to be a little bit more less of a character, I guess. He’s not playing the role. He’s more likely to be grumpy or just watch other people. If it’s tourists, he seems to be more acting the part but anyways. It’s a pretty fascinating place. There’s one of him in one of his fancy suits. He’s been doing this for, like I said, nearly 50 years.
Speaker 2: How old is he?
Scott Barretta: In his 70s. Unfortunately all the guys that are running these Joints are in their 70s. There’s rarely ever a son around who would seem to be the obvious heir. Like I said, with Red, there is definitely a … There are sons who might take it over but I mean he seems to have made his money, probably bought his house. He probably is getting Social Security. He can afford to run a club and not make very much money. Po Monkey, on the other hand, is charging 5 dollars to get in on Thursday nights. He probably doesn’t pay any rent and he maybe is bringing in sometimes a thousand dollars on a Thursday night. He’s selling a lot of beer, there used to be more vice there, but he only really does it on Thursday nights.
If he rents it out to the tourists then he gets, I don’t know, 500 dollars plus he gets to sell beer. Po Monkey’s got a thing going. He still does farm into his 70s, but this is not just a hobby. It’s definitely … He’s making a very good living, I mean relatively speaking when you consider that he’s not paying rent, right?
Speaker 2: You ever ask him why he calls it Po Monkey?
Scott Barretta: I’m not sure why he calls it Po Monkey. That’s his … I can’t remember what his brother’s name is, it was something else monkey. That term Po Monkey, you can find it in other places. There’s actually a Juke Joint in eastern Maryland, Maryland eastern shore, in a place called … There’s like a [inaudible 00:38:08] Po Monkey Maryland. I don’t know what the etymology of that is.
Then this place is a dancehall of sorts except this is on the coast. It’s African American place called the 100 Men Hall. It was a benevolent society. I don’t think it was necessarily built as a dancehall but, like a lot of benevolent societies [crosstalk 00:38:37] and other things like that, their original purpose as a burial society declined. In tandem with the relative decline of the Elks and all those other kinds of organizations. People tend not to belong to those kind of organizations anymore for the last 30 or 40 years. Most of them have been pretty well decimated.
It was the benevolent society in Bay St. Louis which is just east of New Orleans. It became an important venue on the Chitlin’ Circuit in the post-war era, post-World War II era. We don’t really know what was going on before then. They may have had some concerts, but it became a full fledged joint where you could see Big Jeff Turner, Ray Charles, it was that large.
Speaker 2: Deacon John also.
Scott Barretta: Deacon John, yes, Deacon John was at the opening of it. We’ve had all the touring circuit. I guess the New Orleans artists would come all the way out. I don’t know if they’d go to East Texas or not, but they would certainly go to Florida. Most of those artists who were booked by Stofalls, is that right person? Who booked them, it was a circuit that went along the coast. They would also come up and play fraternity parties in Mississippi. I don’t know how much New Orleans artists went above Jackson, but it was an important stop on that circuit. Deacon John remembers it very well.
This place was … You probably know what that means, right? It was slated for destruction after Katrina, had been serving as a disabled veteran’s organization. Had nothing to do with music after sometime in the 70s. A couple from California bought it and restored it, formed a non-profit and a Mississippi Blues Trail marker was part of the dedication. Part of the validation of it, bringing over Deacon John and other artists who played there. It’s turned into a venue that’s open, I think, once a month. They have concerts there but you can see now. The Blues Trail serving as a validation of sorts for, we have an important place. We want a marker.
I don’t know if Po Monkey wanted a marker or not, but a lot of other places … Hollywood Café in Tunica which is … What’s the song? Walking in Memphis [inaudible 00:41:13] talks about the Hollywood Café in there which is not only a bluesy reference exactly. They wanted one so we have an issue of lots of times committees are looking for, we want a marker. Can we have a marker? Sometimes we can do it, sometimes we can’t. We can’t put one up in front of Morgan Freeman’s club, it’s not old enough. We can put one nearby that talks about cultural tourism and things like that. We have a lot of flexibility for interpreting things.
I want to quickly just address some of the issues I’ve already talked about.Oh there’s Bradfordsville, oh sorry. There’s one from Bradfordsville, Florida which I don’t know very much about that. Very interesting venue but that’s obviously an older bunker type joint. That’s a seating area out back, that’s not a hard structure. That’s a very good article by Richard Grant on Al Jazeera, about the cultural tourism. It’s probably about to disappear from the internet since Al Jazeera no longer exists, basically stopped.
Anyways you can see that Bentonia, it’s been … That place has been used in many films over the years. When Japanese would come, if they wanted a real blues environment or background, they would film there. In recent years, Yazoo County Tourism has been underwriting the festival. Jimmy Heads and Jimmy runs it. It’s not that people have taken over, but part of the way that spurred the Blues Trail has been local communities are starting to put on municipal festivals. Aiding with, how do you get people to come here? Let’s put on a festival, let’s get a blues marker, let’s put on a festival. What other kind of events can we put on that tap into this imagined market of blues tourists?
Po Monkey’s, this is an example of the Delta State, the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at the bottom. You can see that they’re advertising real Delta blues in a real Delta Juke. They’ll argue that J-O-L-K is the authentic way to spell it and that’s … They’re working with Cat Head which is a store in Clarksdale, which is a clearing house of information. I’ll wrap it up right now.
They also, when Dollar General was putting headquarters in the Delta, they bring them by to educate them about the community. They’re modifying it but also trying to incorporate it, this is official cultural heritage now. Oh and then here, I want to talk … I lately saw this issue of Garden and Gun. My girlfriend threw it down and we weren’t subscribers. She vowed to never look at it again because of this juxtaposition of, hey let’s get some shabby looking buildings and some beautiful models. It’s been an interesting process.
Initiated in 2006, the Mississippi Blues Trail consists of 189 interpretive markers that address important musicians, places and themes in the musical history of the state. Unlike conventional metal markers, the Blues Trail markers feature a vinyl panel on one side with multiple images and over five hundred words of text, allowing considerable interpretive possibilities.
The Trail serves two main purposes—historical documentation and advancement of cultural tourism, goals that might potentially be in conflict. For instance, will bringing more “outsiders” to local watering holes drive away the regulars and thus the “local color” that attracts outsiders to begin with? Alternatively, in the context of a relatively dramatic decline in juke joints with live music over the last decades can we see publicity associated with the Trail as leading to the survival—albeit in an altered form—of the juke?
These questions will be examined via examples of markers placed at longstanding venues including the Blue Front Café in Bentonia, the Queen of Hearts in Jackson, Po’ Monkeys in Merigold, Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, and the Club Ebony in Indianola.
Another topic to be addressed is how the Blues Trail has acknowledged the spots of defunct, but once vital, venues including Ruby’s Night Spot in Leland, the Harlem Inn in Winstonville, and the Club Desire in Canton. Once central to local African American communities, these venues were previously only alluded to briefly in blues scholarship and largely ignored by local historians or tourism officials.
Scott Barretta is a writer/researcher for the Mississippi Blues Trail, host of the Mississippi Public Broadcasting radio show “Highway 61,”and a sociology/anthropology instructor at the University of Mississippi, teaching courses including “Anthropology of Blues Culture.” He is the former editor of Living Blues magazine, a member of the team that created the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, and coauthor of an 18-lesson educational curriculum based on the Mississippi Blues Trail. In early 2016 he received a Mississippi Arts Commission Governor’s Arts Award in the category of “Mississippi Heritage” in acknowledgment of his work with blues.