Friday, October 23, 2009

Chicago to Memphis to Ground Zero Blues Club Clarksdale, Mississippi

Ground Zero Blues Club

Owners Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett

I am sharing a trip I made to Clarksdale with my blues friends in the Chicagoland area as your contributing correspondent from Memphis. I hope you enjoy the visit.

This week we venture south from Memphis down old 61 Highway (a topic of the famous Mississippi Fred McDowell song) to play at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. This place is a converted cotton grading building and warehouse where samples of cotton from growers were assembled and graded upstairs by holding them up to a skylight in the roof. Now the upstairs area is furnished with nice apartments which are available for rent. It is known as the Delta Cotton Company apartments and here's the link:

The downstairs area is a big juke joint replete with rustic delta food and furnishings and graffiti on every surface of the place. It is a warm, inviting place to play the blues.

The club is owned by famous actor Morgan Freeman and my old friend Bill Luckett, who is a fine attorney. I believe Bill is running for Governor of the state. He is an exceptionally friendly man who is often to be seen in the club with his wife on Saturday evenings, greeting folks and tripping the light fantastic on the old dance floor.

Jumping James Cunningham and Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

After about an hour and a half ride through the verdant Mississippi delta, my brother and I arrived at the club and met our friend Walt, the club's superb sound engineer. We loaded in the gear and checked the sound as patrons arrived. This club, which I have played many times, most always has a good crowd of friendly blues fans and weekend revelers.

Eric Hughes and Leo Goff

On this night the Eric Hughes band was joined by my longtime friend Leo Goff, who is one of the few true geniuses I have been fortunate to meet in this lifetime. Among other accomplishments, Leo, known as the "freight train of pain" holds 5 land speed records, has lectured at MIT, worked for NASA, and spent a good part of last week rebuilding a 1959 Maserati engine in his shop. Not only is he a great bassist, but he can also rebuild your Ferrari for you or engineer some stuff to take you to the moon and beyond. Leo is currently being talked into building me a three wheeled motorcycle using eight feet tall airplane tires which I will drive down Beale Street on Wednesday bike nights.

Memphis Mike Forrest on his '68 Stratocaster

Ground Zero stage loaded with gear

The Leo Goff Signature Model bass by Barker

Leo is endorsed by the Barker bass company who makes his signature Leo Goff upright electric bass. It sounds tremendous and he plays it with a ferocious fluidity of manual dexterity.

Leo's inlaid signature

Eric Hughes on stage

James Cunningham on the drums

The Eric Hughes band took the stage, playing an assortment of original tunes and some classic old blues. The rollicking crowd danced, drank and ate from a menu of southern delights such as catfish and fried green tomatoes. This club is always fun. If you can't attend their shows they have them available as a live worldwide streaming feed to your computer. This month they will have Super Chiken, my old friend and band mate Butch Mudbone, more old friends Earl the Pearl and the Peoples of the Blues( I have been one of the "Peoples" many nights), and my buddy Blind Mississippi Morris who was seen in last week's blog. Also my friends in the fine Jimbo Mathus band will be appearing at the club and a fine blues jam is hosted there every Wednesday night.

Ground Zero is the crux of the blues happenings in this part of the delta. The live feed is available at:

Mike Forrest and Leo Goff

Dancers hit the floor before the set begins

Eric Hughes blows a tune on harmonica

Eric Hughes Band(photo by Jay Moore)

author, brother Jeff Tooms, Mike Forrest(photo by Jay Moore)

Razor Blade sits in for a couple of numbers(photo by Jay Moore)

During our last set our friend, Clarksdale blues man, Razor Blade sat in with the band for a couple of numbers. Razor has a great voice, is a local favorite and a sharp dresser. It capped off a great night of blues, dancing and a club full of friendly folks. Tourists from all over the world come to Ground Zero to experience some legitimate juke joint atmosphere and they are always welcomed with open arms by the friendly down home folks of the delta.

Eric Hughes(photo by Belinda Moore)

We were delighted to see our old friends Jay and Belinda Moore and we missed seeing our buddy Brian LaPrade who was down with a back injury. Get well, Brian! You could not ask for more genuine kind friends than these folks and they have become like members of my family.

Getting ready to pack up the show and head for Memphis(photo by Jay Moore)

Photo by Belinda Moore

Ground Zero is the real deal. It is located next to the Delta blues Museum and the area has several old time real juke joints. If you are a lover of the blues and want to see where it all came from, visit Clarksdale. The food, music and friendly folks will make you glad you came. Just don't linger at the crossroads and let a guy named Old Scratch tune your guitar and hand it back to you.

If you can find a way to get there, the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival is the undisputed destination of choice for true blues fans from around the globe.

Here's a link:

©2009, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms