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Rail Paul

Clarksdale MS

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Washington Post has a nice article on this dusty Delta town, deep in the heart of blues country.

 

Musicologists consider Clarksdale the epicenter of blues, and it has the pedigree to support this claim. Musical legends who have lived or passed through the town include Sam Cooke, who was born here, and Ike Turner, whose green clapboard house still sits on Washington Street. Muddy Waters was raised on the Stovall Plantation outside of town, and you can poke around his sharecropper cabin in the Delta Blues Museum or pay homage at a stone marker littered with picks. In 1937, Bessie Smith, who was on her way to perform in Clarksdale, died from car-accident-related injuries at the G.T. Thomas Hospital, which is now the Riverside Hotel. Die-hard blues fans who don't mind a bit of seediness can sleep where Turner and Sonny Boy Williamson once overnighted.

 

Most famously, at the crossroads of highways 61 and 49, the early-20th-century bluesman Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the Devil for the gift of a guitar. (A guitar-shaped monument marks the spot, though the "original" location is at the intersection of East Tallahatchie Street and Martin Luther King Drive.) And in the past year, Elvis Costello has recorded at Malvezzi's studio and Robert Plant has swung through town, in search of that ineffable blues feeling that helped shape Led Zeppelin's music.

 

Clarksdale, though, is no Beale Street-in-progress. Its abandoned storefronts are still waiting for retailers to take over, and its Blues Alley could fit inside one square of the legendary Memphis strip, about 75 miles north. (The town was not affected by the recent hurricanes.)

 

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The NY Times has a 36 Hours feature today on this Blues Highway landmark town.

 

Just as you've become accustomed to the sense of being somewhere else, step into Madidi (164 Delta Avenue, 662-627-7724; www.madidires.com), a restaurant and cosmopolitan oasis, below. The Levingston salad ($6) — baby arugula cloaked in cucumber and blue cheese — refreshes, and the spicy catfish cake ($8) is a comfort. Striped bass is served with cardamom and coriander on grilled green tomatoes ($23). Madidi is partly owned by the actor Morgan Freeman, who lives in nearby Charleston. After dinner, stroll through the small downtown to Mr. Freeman's other venture: Ground Zero Blues Club (364 Delta Avenue, 662-621-9009; www.groundzerobluesclub.com). A former cotton warehouse, Ground Zero is Clarksdale's top blues spot. The local favorites in Clarksdale include Super Chikan, Jimbo Mathus (former leader of Squirrel Nut Zippers), the Deep Cuts and that cantankerous sweetheart, T-Model Ford.

 

Saturday

 

9 a.m.

4) Back-Door Museum

 

Breakfast at the Delta Amusement Blues Cafe (348 Delta Avenue, 662-627-1467) isn't anything you can't get on a grill elsewhere, but the sense of small-town intrigue is straight out of Eudora Welty. You can hear the laughing and cursing over poker and dominos even when the games aren't being played. Walk out the back door to the Delta Blues Museum (1 Blues Alley, 662-627-6820; www.deltabluesmuseum.org; $7 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 12). Alluringly low-tech, it delivers not only the music but also the culture that produced it.

 

 

Clarksdale

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Wow. Thanks, RP. That does sound like an atmospheric stop. I think I'll have to adjust my route on one of my upcoming trips to roll through there.

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Wow. Thanks, RP. That does sound like an atmospheric stop. I think I'll have to adjust my route on one of my upcoming trips to roll through there.

I highly recommend on passing through here. I have eaten at Madidi and Mr. Freeman was there at the time as was a most gracious host. The bar was pretty rockn the night i was there. I might have to go back. It isn't all that far from Helena Arkansas, the home of the original King Biscuit Blues Festival which happens the weekend of my birthday. I hear a trip coming on. Jaymes, want to meet up and join me on the levee to listen to some great blues?

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I also ate at Madidi and enjoyed it although I found much of the food there and in the South in general much sweeter than I'm used to. Didn't see Morgan Freeman and when I later went to hear some blues at Ground Zero I was told that the band that night "by request" was playing 70s pop. When I protested in the form of "my good man I have come all the way from London England to hear the blues" I was told "folks round here don't want to hear the blues ALL the time, ya know" :)

 

Go to eat at Doe's Eat Place in Greenville. A truly amazing Southern restaurant experience. Helena, Arkanas is a very scary place.

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In Clarksdale right now. We had a light supper at Madidi -- delicious shrimp with grits and tasso ham gravy. Felt bad about not trying more (especially since the chef was really friendly) but we'd stopped for BBQ on the way up from Jackson and while many hours had passed in the meantime we were still pretty full...

 

Anyway, we caught Watermelon Slim at Ground Zero. Good show, great crowd. Wish we were staying longer, Red's also looked pretty great. Plan is to do some record shopping & sightseeing tomorrow, then on to Memphis. :)

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Definitely get to Clarksdale if you get a chance. The people are really cool and there's so much history to the area.

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Thanks for the great pictures, and the report.

 

Curiously, I was just speaking with a fellow at the WBGO-FM fund raiser who recently returned from Clarksdale. He did the New Orleans - Clarksdale - Memphis trip. The route touches a number of shrines and important locations on the Freedom Road, leading northward to Chicago / St Louis, etc, and many jazz roots.

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We were on a tight schedule and traveling with other people -- next time I do this trip I would really take a lot more time in and around Clarksdale. I wasn't sure what to expect when I booked the trip but it's just interesting to drive around. The Tamales were red hot but the lady selling them was even shorter than me.

 

Here are a couple more pics I found last night:

 

5019892667_cc58b8ce2d.jpg 5019896551_b90cfc140f.jpg

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I'll be in Clarksdale next month for the Sunflower River Festival. Getting my intel together and will report back. Possible restaurants: Ramon's, Hooker Grocer, Ranchero, Yazoo Pass. If anyone has any newish information to share, please do! The festival is spread out over many of the local music venues, so it seems like I'll see much of what the town has to offer.

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