October 28, 2011

Back to Mississippi: Exploring the Delta, part II

Freaking hell, it was cold in Clarksdale when I woke up on this day.  And still grey as a tomb, though the sun ended up breaking through the clouds after I got on the road and headed along the very scenic way towards Tennessee and Nashville.

After the same breakfast as yesterday again at the Rest Haven, I steered the Shark up route 6 to route 55 with the plan to stop in Como on the way to Senatobia in order to find the gravesite of Mississippi Fred McDowell.  Como's so small it didn't even have a stoplight, but it did have Blues Trail markers for both Fred and fife master Otha Turner.  Fred's mentioned that he was buried north of town at Hammond Hill Missionary Baptist Church on Hammond Hill Road, but the young guy at the gas station where I asked didn't know where it was.  Just for shits'n'giggles, I decided to head up route 51, which parallels the larger, four lane route 55 up to Senatobia.  Went a little ways looking for Hammond Hill Road, but when I crossed into the next county it seemed that I was on the wrong side of the north end of Como.  So I decided to turn around and head back to check out the other side of town.  Picked a random side road in which to pull a u-turn and, lo and behold, there was a sign for Hammond Hill M.B. Church that wasn't visible from the direction I'd been headed.  

That road ended at a T intersection, but there were no more signs specifying a direction to the church.  Made another random decision and headed right (The first sign said "keep right", right?).  About a mile down, tucked next to a crossroad between pine and sweetgum woods on one side and empty fields on the other, was Hammond Hill M.B., with the cemetery on the hill across the street.  I always get a hell of a kick out of such serendipitous discoveries.

Hammond Hill cemetery had many of the same style of home-made headstones I'd seen yesterday at Charley Patton's gravesite, in addition to newer ones on which much more money has obviously been spent.

From Como, the Shark and I headed up to Senatobia, then juked east toward Holly Springs to see if I could find a record shop listed on the Mississippi Music Tourist Sites map-- Aikei Pro's (Pronounced "ecky", as in "ecky thump". Some of you will catch the White Stripes connection...)  Stopped first to choke down the worst fried green tomato po'boy in the history of southern cooking (fried green tomatoes should be breaded, not battered), then asked at the lunch counter if they could direct me to the street where the shop was located.  The woman who worked there didn't have any idea, and when she asked a local who'd come in to pick up carryout, we were told that the record store had closed.  I went back out and drove around anyway, and within five minutes had found both the old town cemetery (of course, I have a built-in radar for these things) and Aikei Pro's.  Wondered whether perhaps the woman at the lunch counter was correct, because when I peeked in the door it appeared that there were piles of records and magazines and Lord knows what other sorts of junk leaning up against each other just inside.

Photo from thefrontlinemusic.com
It was hard to tell if there were any signs of life inside, though.  Started to head back to the car, where a down'n'out local started to pester me for a ride to somewhere, when the door of the shop opened and out squeezed a college-aged white girl and a grizzled little old black man.  After she thanked him and wandered off, I squeezed as far in as I could get (which was about one foot), said hello to the grizzled guy and told him I'd heard this was the place to come for good records.  He laughed and started talking, and it was an hour before I got myself back into the car.  Mr. Caldwell talked to me about how there's no such thing as hill country blues-- That's something created by the white folk because they came along and wanted to be a part of things.  All blues are delta blues, no matter whether the musician playing them came from Mississippi or Texas. He went on to describe his experience of coming to Mississippi from Kentucky after serving a handful of years in the army in Europe-- After being called a nigger for the first time in his life and being told to go back where he'd come from, he decided that, no sir, he was going to stay put.  In his time in Holly Springs, he's since seen them desegregate the local schools and elect a black mayor. I can't help but think that he had at least a little to do with that.  But he also told me that if we went back to the lunch counter that very afternoon and ordered coffee, that he wouldn't be served.  I'd like to think that's not true, but we didn't put it to the test.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have offered to buy him a cup.  He's apparently also pretty famous amongst blues aficionados (he showed me a couple of magazine articles he's been interviewed for), as well as a good friend of Junior Kimbrough.  The one thing I could actually see in the shop that I wanted to buy was a record of Junior's up on the wall, but Mr. Caldwell told me that album wasn't for sale for any price. I'm unable to embed the video from this link, but you have to go and watch it in order get a feel for the place and the man-- Portrait of a Record Dealer: Holly Springs, MS - Aikei Pro's. (If the video there doesn't work, go here. Or check the one below that I found when updating/editing this post on 3/13/2017)

Back on the way towards Tennessee, the empty roads I'd become used to began to fill up with more and more traffic.  By the time I got to Nashville, it was well after dark, I was hungry, tired, and pissed off at being challenged on the highway by assholes in SUVs.  Much as I was looking forward to the plans I had for N'ville, couldn't help but wish I was back down in the Delta at the Shack Up Inn, listening to that cold wind blow outside the windows.

Complete set of photos from this trip, here.


Peromyscus said...

You had amazing adventures and I wish I'd been along, although of course if I'd been along, they wouldn't have happened. That's not because I'm immune to adventure, it's just because some things only happen to the person they're for. Please write more and post more pictures. You are proof that testifying to history didn't close down when the books we read in school were written.

KaliDurga said...

Adventure's a funny thing. You can have one sort that's shared with people, and another sort when you go looking for it on your own. Apples to oranges, y'know?

As for history, those school books should be considered nothing but a reference guide. The article about Junior Kimbrough that I linked mentions that David Caldwell at Aikei Pro's is "considered homework for Southern Studies students from Ole Miss just down Highway 7". That's a school that knows what it's doing. He's more proof of what you said than I am, but thank you anyway for saying it.

Anonymous said...

hi kali, krewechief here, can't seem to log in with my google account today.

i so enjoyed my Memphis to New Orleans trip in '04, doing much the same thing, seeing dead people. had some successes but was unable to locate Robert Johnson's grave...any of the three. terrific photo catalogue of an intriguing region. love the way you travel, it's the little things no one notices that makes the road such a nice place to be.

KaliDurga said...

Ah, Memphis to N'Orleans must have been a great trip! I'd love to do that drive one day. Have you written about that trip? And, yes, it's definitely the little things on those little back roads that make all the difference.

Thanks for stopping by :)