photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

With a few days on my hands after meeting with SIX in Branson, Missouri, I decided to return to a magical place that I had only been to once before; Clarksdale, Mississippi, home of the infamous Robert Johnson folklore, the “Crossroads”, that was once home also to Son House, a small town with a  legend that casts a big shadow.

blues trail 03Back in 2007, I had met Adrian Kosky from Australia, in Nashville during a songwriter’s conference hosted by NSAI at the Opryland Hotel. Adrian had come up with some interesting self-penned blues that he played on hand- built Dulcimers. We did some acoustic jamming and got along pretty well.

Mississippi Cotton by Hopson's Commissary - photo - Brad Hardisty

Mississippi Cotton by Hopson’s Commissary – photo – Brad Hardisty

Adrian and I went to Gruhn Guitars on Broadway. Adrian was looking for a vintage Gibson melody maker, but, I found a 1936 Gibson Electric Hawaiian that became part of my arsenal.

2007 Hopson's Commisarry, Adrian Kosky and Brad Hardisty

2007 Hopson’s Commisarry, Adrian Kosky and Brad Hardisty

Adrian was on his way to Clarksdale, Mississippi in a few days to film some scenes for a blues documentary he was working on. He invited me to meet up with him to do some jamming in Clarksdale on film.

2007, Clarksdale, Mississippi, Adrian Kosky & Brad Hardisty

2007, Clarksdale, Mississippi, Adrian Kosky & Brad Hardisty

Man, I went out there with just a night and a day to get situated. We spent the night in Pinetop Perkin’s boyhood shotgun shack at Shack Up Inn, before going over to Hopson’s Commissary to shoot some footage.

I mainly played slide on my old 1950’s era Silvertone jumbo. The Silvertone got some major mojo after Willie King signed it at a folk festival in western Alabama. Willie “Sweet Potato Man” King, like to put a lot of soul-boogie in his stuff with almost a very countrified Howlin’ Wolf voice. I was so glad to meet him, not knowing that he would pass away within a year. If you get a chance to see the original bluesmen, don’t pass it up. It may be your only chance.

Coahoma County, Photo - Brad Hardisty

Coahoma County, Photo – Brad Hardisty

Part of that scene made it onto UStream and I have the photos to prove it, although the full production has yet to be completed.

Cotton field in Coahoma County, photo - Brad Hardisty

Cotton field in Coahoma County, photo – Brad Hardisty

The next morning, I only had a few minutes to drive through the blues district before I had to get back to Birmingham, Alabama. I vowed one day I would return and really go on some pilgrimage to get to know a place with so much vibe it resonates a 7th chord.

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

Well, time flies when you’re running around like a chicken without a head. It is now 2012 and I finally get three days where I can head south on Highway 61 to Clarksdale. Bob Dylan said it better than I could.

Sunflower, Clarksdale, MS, photo - Brad Hardisty

Sunflower, Clarksdale, MS, photo – Brad Hardisty

With some Topper Price on the stereo, I headed south on Highway 61, leaving Furry Lewis’ Memphis behind. I checked into Bally’s in Tunica after getting a web special for $24.95 a night then it was back in the blue Fiesta, blues on the stereo. I was just 20 miles out of Clarksdale when I started to see some interesting Cypress trees in standing water next to a just harvested field of cotton. I had to stop and get some shots.

Blues District, Clarksdale, photo - Brad Hardisty

Blues District, Clarksdale, photo – Brad Hardisty

Cruising into Clarksdale via the HWY 161 cutoff past a pecan stand, the road took me straight to the “Crossroads” of HWY 49 & 61. This is the place made famous in the song by Robert Johnson where he supposedly made “the deal.”

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

Abe's mascot, photo, Brad Hardisty

Abe’s mascot, photo, Brad Hardisty

At the corner of Hwy 61 & 49 is Abe’s BBQ, the same family owned joint that Robert Johnson used to get his pork sandwiches, only then it was called The Delta Inn. I stopped and ate some ribs. They were, tender, not really smoky tasting; having been used to Kansas City and Memphis BBQ, it may not be a strong contender, but, it was worth stopping in just to say, “I ate there.”

Back alley in the blues district, photo - Brad Hardisty

Back alley in the blues district, photo – Brad Hardisty

I was in Clarksdale this time, really to take in the historic blues district and important landmarks. I decided to start with what I had heard about. I set the GPS for Ground Zero, the club co-owned by Morgan Freeman.

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

Cemetary on Sunflower, Clarksdale, MS, photo - Brad Hardisty

Cemetary on Sunflower, Clarksdale, MS, photo – Brad Hardisty

A little up the road, my GPS took me on a right turn down Sunflower. Okay, now this makes sense, The Sunflower Festival in Clarksdale. Apparently, The Sunflower River runs alongside the old downtown with Sunflower Road running along the side.

Ground Zero, Clarksdale, MS, photo - Brad Hardisty

Ground Zero, Clarksdale, MS, photo – Brad Hardisty

Hendrix by Rosalind Wilcox at Sun House, Clarksdale, MS, photo - Brad Hardisty

Hendrix by Rosalind Wilcox at Sun House, Clarksdale, MS, photo – Brad Hardisty

Finally, I made a couple of turns and I was a half block down from Ground Zero. I looked across the street and saw this sofa size painting of Hendrix. Instead of heading down to the club to check out the jams, I crossed the street and was looking at this most awesome serene face on Jim Hendrix. I am a Hendrix nut and was surprised to see some Hendrix in Clarksdale; I didn’t know if he was “pure” enough for Clarksdale.

Sun House, Clarksdale, MS near Ground Zero, photo - Brad Hardisty

Sun House, Clarksdale, MS near Ground Zero, photo – Brad Hardisty

Well, I was in for a few surprises this time in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The owner of the gallery was locking up. Rosalind Wilkinson invited me to come on in and opened up the door. Okay, I won’t forget this date; it was 12/12/2012 and about 5 in the afternoon. I realized after looking around that this was all her creations. A place about 6000 square feet of painting, jewelry, photos, you name it.

Tracks behind The Delta Blues Museum, photo - Brad Hardisty

Tracks behind The Delta Blues Museum, photo – Brad Hardisty

It turns out Rosalind Wilcox aka Mississippi Rosealee, is known among the Hill Country Blues Artists such as the late R L Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, one of the late true originals and their families among others. I was blown away she knew Cedric Burnside, grandson of RL and one of my favorite drummers. In fact, she introduced Lightnin’ Malcolm to Cedric Burnside which created one of the best duo recordings to come out of the blues scene in a long time.

Clarksdale Blues District, photo - Brad Hardisty

Clarksdale Blues District, photo – Brad Hardisty

Rosealee is an accomplished singer/songwriter who also plays drums for two of the oldest Mississippi blues legends, Robert Belfour and LC Ulmer. In fact LC wrote a song for her on the M For Mississippi soundtrack, “Rosealee.”

Led Zep, Robert Plant immortalized in the Blues District, photo - Brad Hardisty

Led Zep, Robert Plant immortalized in the Blues District, photo – Brad Hardisty

She had named her art/performance space Sun House in honor of Son House, another Clarksdale native that inspired Led Zeppelin and Jack White among other rockers.

an empty store front turned art in Clarksdale, photo - Brad Hardisty

an empty store front turned art in Clarksdale, photo – Brad Hardisty

Rosealee asked if I had even been to Clarksdale before. I explained that I had just one time; when I played acoustic slide guitar for Australian Adrian Kosky at Hopson’s Commissary at The Shack Up Inn, but, had to leave after filming.

Muddy Waters in the Mmiddle, Clarksdale blues district, photo, Brad Hardisty

Muddy Waters in the Mmiddle, Clarksdale blues district, photo, Brad Hardisty

“I know Adrian,” said Rosealee. In fact it turned out he was back in Clarksdale for the first time since 2007 and had just arrived a few days before. Okay, now this was getting to be Crossroads folklore.

Delta  Blues Room, Clarksdale, MS, photo - Brad Hardisty

Delta Blues Room, Clarksdale, MS, photo – Brad Hardisty

She didn’t have his number, but, he was staying at a friend’s apartment a couple of blocks away and she was content on taking me there. Well, now my mind racing back to when I met Adrian at that NSAI conference at the Opryland Hotel and we ended up jamming. He had a cool voice.

Clarksdale Blues District, photo - Brad Hardisty

Clarksdale Blues District, photo – Brad Hardisty

Adrian then invited me to be in Clarksdale a week later for filming and that was that tale.

Brad catching up with Adrian Kosky five years later in Clarksdale, 12/12/2012

Brad catching up with Adrian Kosky five years later in Clarksdale, 12/12/2012

The entrance door was locked, but, with the help of a friend, we got in touch with Adrian and he met us at the pizza parlor downstairs. There were four of us, Adrian, Rosealee, an art student of hers and myself playing music trivia all night with the DJ and a packed house.  It was a blast and all of a sudden I was with three friends starting a new Mississippi Delta odyssey.

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

Rosealee invited me to stop by later the next day and we were going to hang and she wanted to jam on some guitars and music at her art space that had a stage and amps…the whole nine yards.

Delta Blues Music, photo - Brad Hardisty

Delta Blues Music, photo – Brad Hardisty

Before heading over to Sun House, I stopped across the street at Blues Town Music looking for a slide. I didn’t find one to my liking, but, I did meet Watermelon Slim, a local who performs at Ground Zero with some great tone and some amplified acoustic slide. He showed me the fine points of playing slide with a Craftsman socket, but, I couldn’t get the hang of it.

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

There were some great old Kay, Silvertone and other cheap cool sounding guitars from the forties and fifties. I learned something from Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Jeron “Blind Boy” Paxton: you need to check out everything because sometimes that little cheap Silvertone might have the tone you have been trying to find. Character is a big deal when you are playing the blues.

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

Down the street was Cat Head Music, kind of a Mecca for blues music deep collectors. It was hard to decide what to buy. I finally decided to get the Slim Harpo Excello collection. Dude, Slim’s version of “I’m A King Bee” is one of my favorite grooves and the fact that this was little ole Nashville’s Excello Records made it something special. It turned out that Robert Plant had been in a few days earlier and went for the same disc according to the owner.  Hey, hey, what can I say, Robert has good taste.

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

I got into The Delta Blues Museum, picking up a poster of Charlie Patton before walking through the entrance watching Albert Collins on the overhead TV while checking out some fantastic memorabilia culminating with Muddy Waters cabin at the rear. I couldn’t take any pictures, but, at least I can say I was there.

Tree Temple, Clarksdale, MS, photo - Brad Hardisty

Tree Temple, Clarksdale, MS, photo – Brad Hardisty

Thursday night, we grabbed some Hibachi Chinese Buffet, a little sushi; a little okra then we went over to her place where I showed Rosealee some of the ragtime style blues I had been working on, playing on the Luna Dobro. Rosealee then played some Gospel on the guitar and sang. What a voice!  All I could do was stop and listen.

Mississippi Rosealee at The Shack Up Inn back porch, photo - Brad Hardisty

Mississippi Rosealee at The Shack Up Inn back porch, photo – Brad Hardisty

Okay, now we are talkin’ serious stuff next. Rosealee showed me some serious hill country blues open tunings and started playing some Junior Kimbrough stuff along with the timing. She knew her Hill Country Blues. Here I was getting a private lesson on Hill Country style. Wow, that evening was worth the trip down yonder, but, the company was even more impressive.

Gary Vincent, Clarksdale Soundstage, photo - Brad Hardisty

Gary Vincent, Clarksdale Soundstage, photo – Brad Hardisty

The next morning I showed up to talk with Gary Vincent, a 30 year Nashville career singer/songwriter who relocated to the blues district and opened a recording studio complex called The Clarksdale Soundstage. The first album recorded there by Elvin Bishop is up for a Grammy nomination.

The Clarksdale Soundstage, photo - Brad Hardisty

The Clarksdale Soundstage, photo – Brad Hardisty

The Clarksdale Soundstage - photo - Brad Hardisty

The Clarksdale Soundstage – photo – Brad Hardisty

Housed in a group of what looks like fifties era offices with a kitchen and some open spaces for hanging out and dining, the main room looks like a high concrete arched garage that either was a mechanics garage or a machine shop.

The Les Paul Room, photo - Brad Hardisty

The Les Paul Room, photo – Brad Hardisty

Morgan Freeman has his own voice over room located directly across from the control room.

Morgan Freeman's voice over desk, photo, Brad Hardisty

Morgan Freeman’s voice over desk, photo, Brad Hardisty

The Les Paul Room has a large dining table with plenty of chairs for hanging out and room to plan on how to conquer the world.

Restored Greyhound Bus Station, blues district, photo - Brad Hardisty

Restored Greyhound Bus Station, blues district, photo – Brad Hardisty

Robert Plant booked out the space for several days for his group to practice in preparation for the headlining spot at The Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.

Rosealee heading into the chapel at Shack Up Inn, photo - Brad Hardisty

Rosealee heading into the chapel at Shack Up Inn, photo – Brad Hardisty

Jamming inside the Chapel out at Shack Up Inn, photo - Brad Hardisty

Jamming inside the Chapel out at Shack Up Inn, photo – Brad Hardisty

The Chapel, Clarksdale, photo - Brad Hardisty

The Chapel, Clarksdale, photo – Brad Hardisty

Brad Hardisty at Hopson's Commissary, photo - Rosalind Wilcox

Brad Hardisty at Hopson’s Commissary, photo – Rosalind Wilcox

Mississippi Rosealee at Hopson's Commissary, photo - Brad Hardisty

Mississippi Rosealee at Hopson’s Commissary, photo – Brad Hardisty

The next day we headed over to Shack Up Inn and looked around where I had been before. Memories started coming back.  This has to be one of the coolest place to stay overnight anywhere. In fact, as a bonus, you can pick out your own cheap Kay or Silvertone to take to your room or shack for the night. A lot of musicians and foreigners walk through those doors. I got some great pictures of Mississippi Rosealee out there. I saw this pink metal glider rocker and had an idea to kind of do the Crosby, Stills and Nash album cover blues style with Mississippi Rosealee.

Robert Johnson test pressing, photo - Brad Hardisty

Robert Johnson test pressing, photo – Brad Hardisty

The Rock and Blues Museum houses an extensive collection of Rock and Roll as well as other genre memorabilia. Looking at a good copy of Slim Harpo’s Excello release, “Baby Scratch My Back” was great, but  the test pressing of Robert Johnson’ s “Love In Vain” was worth the price of admission.

Rolling Stones acetate, photo - Brad Hardisty

Rolling Stones acetate, photo – Brad Hardisty

We had a wonderful evening sharing more stories about LC Ulmer and friends and aquaintances in Clarksdale. Rosalind Wilcox is also the head of the Fine Arts Department at Coahoma Community College.  This multi-talented Wonder Woman was my tour guide for my time in Clarksdale.

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

I got some great shots of world famous Red’s, the real juke joint in Clarksdale where the line up posted on the door said it all. The weeks booked acts included Robert Belfour and Lightnin’ Malcolm…nuff said!

Down by The Sunflower River, photo - Brad Hardisty

Down by The Sunflower River, photo – Brad Hardisty

The Sunflower River, photo - Brad Hardisty

The Sunflower River, photo – Brad Hardisty

photo - Brad Hardisty

photo – Brad Hardisty

I walked down by the historic Sunflower River while I was there and really took in the spirit of the place where time has stood still and where the blues district is reviving with loyal blues fans and shop owners.

New Roxy, Clarksdale, MS, photo - Brad Hardisty

New Roxy, Clarksdale, MS, photo – Brad Hardisty

It was a gothic blues trip down memory lane in Clarksdale. I will be back.

blues trail 61– Brad Hardisty, Nashville TN     thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com

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