Saturday, August 05, 2006

Another King (Indianola, Mississippi)

Big Dog's second cousin (his father's cousin) lives in Indianola. It's smack dab in the heart of the Delta. Delta, as in Delta Blues. In fact, I think the crossroad where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil is not too far from here!

From Tupelo, we took the Natchez Trace Parkway to French Camp and then up to Winona and then down Highway 82. This area sure has a lot of churches! Especially Baptist churches. Even miniscule towns have 4 or 5 churches. Some are large, others are in trailers, but God has many, many homes here. No wonder they call this area the Bible Belt.

The countryside is green and clean, uncluttered with billboards, shopping malls and other eyesores. Once off the Parkway, you drive down a rollercoastery road, down, down, down into the delta, vast and flat, perfect for the cotton growing that has supported it for centuries.

As we approach Indianola, we whizz past a sign declaring it the Home of the King of the Blues, B.B. King.

Wow! Who would have thought I'd be connected to B.B. King on TWO continents within several weeks!

He grew up in Indianola but was born on a plantation near Itta Bena. When we passed it on our way to Indianola, we were making fun of its name but you can be sure that when we drove back past, we were only thinking of B.B.!

Indianola is another small Mississippi town, but we were still surprised when we found out that BD's second cousin knew just about everybody in town (turns out he works as a judge and is in local politics) so he was able to take us around town to all the B.B. sites, including Club Ebony where B.B. got his first real gig.

The club, in a wooden building that's lengthened with add-ons over the years, was once a brothel. I remember reading about how jazz was born out of the brothels, but maybe there was also blues being played in the brothel lounges. (Of course, blues music was born in the plantations -- they were work songs, initially.) Mary Shepard, the current owner has been running the club for 33 years and probably saw the transition of the club from brothel to music club. Now, she's as interesting a story as Mr. King himself, so it was really fortunate for us that BD's cousin knew her as well.

What was most impressive about the club was that it had all its original honky tonk ambiance intact! It was so real! In California, so much of everything is faux-this and faux-that. I guess to find anything real, you have to travel a long way from Hollywood.

Just as I was thinking how cool everything was, a guy drove up in a white car, hip-hop coming out of his radio. Guess it was too much to ask for a beat-up old truck coming by, blues seeping out from its battered stereo, huh.

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