Remember how I said I would have four drinks at each bar I visited on the tour? If last Monday night at Red's Lounge - and each stop since then - is any indication, that could prove to be difficult.
The two and a half hour drive from Jackson to Clarksdale, Mississippi along Route 49, is like sidestepping time. The Delta lays out in front of you like an old tick hound on a broad front porch. This part of the world is what the late southern author Willie Morris, referred to as "one of those sudden magic places in America." Shotgun shacks and roadside crawfish boils. Kudzu and the occasional slow walking Jones. You''re driving through genuine Mississippi heading for the devil's crossroads - Route 49 and U.S. 61, where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil and later wrote a song about it. Since then, virtually every bluesman and rock & roll band from Eric Clapton and Cream, to Muddy Waters, Son House and Ten Years After have covered it. Later that night I was treated to one of the best versions of Crossroads I've ever heard.
To call Red's Lounge a dive is probably high praise. Truth is, it's a tiny broke down juke-joint that sits on the optimistically named Sunflower Avenue, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. But don't let the look of despair keep you outside. Grab a handful of ribs from the smoker out front and wander in. If you love the blues (pure blues) and don't mind getting a little beer on your shoes, you're in for a treat. Keep in mind that Red doesn't take credit, so bring a wad. And if you don't drink beer, bring your own liquor and for a small set-up fee you can make your own cocktails. Or in the case of The Bearded Man, you can get some ice and have your four glasses of Stanton's Kentucky bourbon while sitting about 10 feet from the man in the yellow pants playing slide guitar and singing so soulful it hurt
Red's Lounge owner Red Paden, "It just in us. We were born with the blues. We've lived the blues. So quite naturally we have the blues. Not enough money in it to make a livin out of it or anything. We make just enough to have a good time and most of the time that's all you need." Nuff said. Regulars at Red's treat it like home and it's easy to see why. This is the way the delta blues was meant to feel. Intimate and personal. Close. Love for the music drapes over you the minute you walk in. Watermelon Slim telling me how his woman done him wrong. Caught that other man sneaking out the back door. Tell it Watermelon...Tell it.
About ten minutes from Red's you'll find Shacksdale USA, my home for the next two nights. Trying to describe Shacksdale is not easy. I've never seen anything like it - Not even conceptually. The call it 'The Mississippi alternative to luxury lodging. ' Well, I can tell you my first impression...they got the alternative piece right. But then they opened the door to my shack, affectionately referred to as 'Redhouse Over Yonder', and I knew they did the luxury piece right as well. Not in the traditional sense of luxury, but certainly in the world of Clarksdale, the delta and the blues. So right in fact, that my final thought of the evening as they poured me into my bed was, 'this place has good mojo. Charlie remind me to buy some yellow pants.'