Spring and North Main Jukes, Covington, TN

Blues, entertainment, events, music, Night Clubs, Photography

Those familiar with the little town of Mason, Tennessee in Tipton County will undoubtedly recall the row of juke joints called “cafes” along Front Street. The same dynamic, on a smaller scale, seems to have gone on in Covington, Tennessee as well, along North Main Street and Spring Street. Places I remember from the past, like Isaac Elam’s Cafe (really a pool hall) are long gone, but there are still a few jukes in the area. Of course The Main Event seems to have closed some years ago, and I doubt that there’s any live music in any of them nowadays, but The Wolf’s Den and the Ruff Ryder’s Club seem to point back to a previous era. The list of handwritten “Rules” for the Ruff Ryder’s Club suggest that it sometimes gets a “Ruff” clientele indeed!

Authentic North Memphis Blues with the Memphis Bluesmasters at Wild Bill’s

Bands, entertainment, events, music

Memphis’ music reputation was built on blues long before gospel or soul, but authentic blues in an authentic setting in Memphis is not so easy to find. A few juke joints still exist in rougher Memphis neighborhoods, and one of the most long-standing is Wild Bill’s, a North Memphis institution on Vollintine Avenue that had a long run of popularity before closing abruptly last summer. It reopened under new ownership in December, and I read that on weekends, the Memphis Bluesmasters play there, often with Memphis blues queen Ann Hines.
So even though we were under a winter storm warning, I drove down to the rather tiny juke in a non-descript strip shopping center not far from Northside High School. When I arrived, there was already a good-sized crowd in a jovial mood. Despite the new owners, Wild Bill’s still has the funky juke joint ambiance that I remembered from my previous visit a couple of years ago, and the only real difference is that they have added a hot-wing menu and have started opening for lunch.
The Memphis Bluesmasters are a seasoned group of Memphis musicians with years of experience playing blues and soul music, on Beale Street and elsewhere, but here in North Memphis, they can let their hair down and play to the local crowd, some of whom come up and make a small dance floor in front of the musicians. Ann Hines wasn’t singing with the band on this particular night, but the female vocalist was called Miss Nickki, and she was an attractive singer with a fine and powerful voice. The material was largely taken from the standards of southern soul, with covers of Tyrone Davis, Shirley Brown and O. V. Wright songs.
At the end of the band’s first set, it was 1 AM, and I walked outside to discover that the whole neighborhood was draped in a coating of white snow that was still falling. The music would continue until 3 AM, but I decided it was best to make my way home.

Filmmaker and Blues Activist Roger Stolle Discussses “We Juke Up In Here” at On Location Memphis (@olm_trailer)

entertainment, events, Film, music

Sunday afternoon at the Studio on the Square, the On Location Memphis Film and Music Festival screened a documentary called We Juke Up In Here, a sequel to an earlier documentary called M For Mississippi. The film was made by Roger Stolle, a blues historian and the owner of Clarksdale’s Cat Head Delta Blues store, and Jeff Konkel, the owner of the amazing Broke and Hungry Records label in St. Louis. Given the subject matter of the film, Mississippi delta blues and juke joints, I expected to like We Juke Up In Here already, but I hadn’t expected the production to be so beautiful, and there’s really no other way to describe it. The scenes of Mississippi wilderness during travel sequences are vivid, the interviews are frank and informative, and the music, both that played in the jukes and that of the soundtrack is truly incredible.
Unfortunately, the ultimate theme of the film is the ways in which the Mississippi juke joints are dying out and fading, and so the movie focuses ultimately on one, the legendary Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale owned by Red Paden, a juke that simply has refused to die. So ultimately, We Juke is a bittersweet film, beautiful in its celebration of Mississippi’s African-American folklore, but with the ominous clouds of loss looming on the horizon.
After the screening, Roger graciously took our questions and discussed some of the making of the film.

Red’s Lounge @VisitClarksdale #jukejointfest

entertainment, events, music, Night Clubs

There is no more authentic juke joint experience in Clarksdale than Red’s Lounge on Sunflower Avenue. Red’s has no kitchen (although there’s no shortage of good barbecue from oil drum cookers out in front), no website, no Facebook page or Twitter profile. What it has is atmosphere, history and some of the best blues you’ll hear anywhere in Mississippi. Red’s has made one concession to the modern era, however- the attractive new T-shirts emblazoned with Red’s slogan- “Backed by the River, Fronted by the Grave.” If you go to Red’s, you’ll understand.

Juke Joint Fest 2013 Schedule, April 11-14, 2013 Clarksdale

entertainment, events, music

jukebanner The Juke Joint Festival is one of Clarksdale’s two big music-related events each year, and the one I find the most enjoyable. The weather is perfect, many of the daytime events are free, and there’s no tents or roped-off areas to spoil your view of the performers on stage. It’s likely too late to get a room in Clarksdale, but it’s not too late to get a room in Tunica, Memphis, Cleveland, Indianola, Batesville etc. and drive over, and it’s definitely worth it. If you’ve never been, think of Juke Joint Festival as a South By Southwest of the blues and you’ve got the picture. A schedule of official and unofficial events can be found at http://www.jukejointfestival.com/fest_events.php. See you there.

Jukin’ in North Memphis: The Anti-Beale Street


Once Beale Street had been cleared of nearby residents and had its traditional ambience removed so that it could become a tourist mecca, those who used to party there had to find other places to kick it, and the place they seemed to choose was North Thomas Street in North Memphis. The area is off the tourist maps, and probably with some reason, since it’s a fairly rough area, although the historic American Sound Studios once held forth at the corner of Thomas and Chelsea, and the original store, warehouse and studio of Select-O-Hits was literally a stone’s throw away at 605 Chelsea. But what keeps Thomas Street jumping these days is a strip of classic juke joints that routinely fill to overflowing and occasionally get out of hand, particularly if the police come to shut down the party because there’s just too many people in the joint. CC’s Blues Club, painted in the Packers-loving owner’s favorite colors is the most well-known and venerable of the spots. It’s a virtual monster of a club, a whole city block long, and worlds of fun, particularly when there is a live band. And despite the large size, the club often fills to standing room only on weekends. Not all the establishments on Thomas feature live bands, but Mack City (the former Hughes Uptown) occasionally has been known to. One Block North, just off of Thomas on Marble Avenue has been misrepresented on the internet as a place where live music goes on. It isn’t that, but it is a neighborhood bar with incredible blues and soul records playing on weekends. If you’re ever in Memphis looking for a more authentic blues experience, forget Beale Street and head to North Thomas Street. You’ll spend less, meet some authentic Memphians and enjoy better music.

Club Tay-May, Mason TN, Summer 1991


Back in the summer of 1991, when I was hanging out with a lot of fellow UT-Martin students who lived at Gainsville just outside of Mason, a local festival gave me the excuse to be down on the Lower End taking pictures. I had almost forgotten that I had them. I even got a picture of the legendary Club Tay-May, which burned to the ground not long after. 

At the Crossroads of Blues History in Rosedale


Rosedale figures prominently in Mississippi blues lore. It is thought to be the hometown of Robert Johnson’s woman that lived “by the riverside”, and its Bruce Street was a small-town version of Memphis’ Beale Street or Jackson’s Farish Street. What is not clear is what has happened to Bruce Street. Most of the buildings are gutted, empty walls, or just foundations. As for the juke joints still standing, it seems not at all clear as to whether they are still open for business, or if they too have been abandoned. On one set of walls was spray-painted the name “Poor Eddie.” I was wondering if he had been the owner of the building before what ever happened to it happened, but I soon met Poor Eddie, who was standing with a group of men near the only joint that looked as if it might still be in business. Eddie took it upon himself to be my tour guide (expecting to be paid a little something of course), but he reconstructed the street in my mind’s eye as he named the owners of each building and what went on in them when they were up and running. In my haste to get to Greenville where relatives were waiting for me, I forgot to ask him what had happened to Bruce Street. Perhaps it was simply what had happened to the rest of the Delta-farm mechanization, extreme poverty and people moving away. All a little sad. But I gave Poor Eddie a couple of dollars for a “cold drink” and headed on down Highway 1.