During the early 1900’s cotton plantations dominated the Delta area. Large cotton gins bought and processed cotton to be shipped north for milling. Sharecroppers worked the land-and the work was hard. The Dockery farm was one of the largest and was home to Charlie Patton, considered to be influential in the early development of the Delta style.
Charlie Patton wrote the song “Pea Vine Blues” about a train that ran from the Dockery farm through several neighboring towns. Howling’ Wolf, Willie Brown and Tommy Johnson all traveled the Pea Vine with Charlie.Hopson Farm was one of the first farms in the Delta to fully mechanize the planting and harvesting of cotton. Pianist Pine Top Perkins drove tractor at Hopson’s. It’s said that he taught Ike Turner to play while at Hopson. After mechanization many musicians left the Delta and made their way north.
The Sunflower River runs though the county and through downtown Clarksdale – which is having a bit of a renaissance. We spent a few days exploring the town and traveling the backroads. Our base of operations was a Casino parking lot on the Misssissippi River 30 minutes from town. (Full hook-up)Cat Head Records and folk art shop is a hub of activity. The owner Roger Stolle works very hard with the community to promote the blues to visitors and locals alike. They sponsor a juke joint festival the second weekend in April.
Clarksdale boasts having the Delta Blues Museum. This has been an ongoing project that works hard to promote and preserve the collective memory of the blues. Sorry, no photography allowed in the museum. They were pretty adamant about it. They have a great collection of memorabilia which includes Muddy Waters shack from the Stovall Plantation. The shack was where Alan Lomax first recorded Muddy in the early 1940’s.
No trip to Clarksdale is complete with out a trip to a juke joint. We chose Red’s Lounge to listen to Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and Allstars. Red’s can hold maybe fifty people and it was packed the night we where there. The patrons were a mix of locals and out of town folks. The band was excellent.
It was a fun evening.
While the Delta area is still mired in poverty, there are lots of entrepreneurs looking to improve the quality of life. There is an after school arts program and coffee roaster that employs local young people and decorates the town with art. New and old restaurants share the clientele that the Blues Trail promotions have brought.
And of course– just outside of town — the Crossroads