Cecily and I just returned from a fascinating and enlightening trip to the Delta region of Mississippi, known as the ‘Blues Trail’. The Delta is the birthplace of the ‘Blues’, a truly unique American genre of music that has given rise to practically every type and genre of American music. The Delta’s reputation as the place where the Blues emerged is worldwide, and we met people from all over the world, trying to experience the essence of the place, in the three days we spent there.
Cecily’s high school classmate, Richard Folsom, is a true expert on the Blues, and after attending a 50-year high school reunion together, she and Richard imagined a TV series exploring this genre and its roots through history. When Cecily got home, she and I decided to take a ‘flyer’ on trying to put together a ‘sizzle reel/sampler’ of what a series about the Blues experience would look like. It involved a road trip to the center of the ‘Blues Trail’, Clarksdale, Mississippi.
So, three months later, Cecily, Richard and his wife Jan, and I met at the Memphis airport. The Folsoms picked us up in their late model pickup truck and we travelled down famous Highway 61 from Memphis to Clarksdale. Bill Luckett, the former mayor of Clarksdale and owner of perhaps the most famous Blues Club in the world, the Ground Zero Blues Club, had offered to let us stay at his house.
Over the next three days we experienced the unexpectedly genuine hospitality of the Deep South through its residents, both white and black. Equipped with a lean HD camera rig and lavalier microphone we tried to capture the essence of what makes Clarksdale and the Delta region tick.
We ate the food of the South---fried everything!—grits, catfish, tamales, mushrooms, green tomatoes. All of it was delicious and of course not a calorie to be had!---especially at “Old Grandma’s Pancake House” in Clarksdale! Yikes! Great images and fabulous on-camera interviews with ‘real’ people.
The people, were gracious, full of stories about the famous Blues musicians that sprang out of this cradle of land famous for cotton. Many were relatives to the artists, or knew their histories, which were intertwined with the local history. All of them were proud of their heritage.
We recorded performances in famous ‘Juke Joints’ like the Bluesberry Café, Ground Zero Blues Club, the Ebony Club in Indianola, Miss., and new talent, live, at the ‘King Biscuit Blues’ radio hour, just across the Mississippi River in West Helena, Arkansas at the Delta Cultural Center.
The stories of the lives and hardships of the people, especially the Black population which is about 80% of the citizenry of Clarksdale give pause. The textures of life here, from pre-Civil War times to the present day, inform the content of the music. It comes from the hearts of these people, filled with emotion, filled with the plaintive calls for a better life, filled with the trials of a society struggling to come to grips with the bleak history of discrimination.
We are screening the footage we shot—almost 9 hours of stuff, and trying to put together a 10-15 minute piece that will communicate the potential of bringing this story to the American people and Blues fans all over the world. It is a daunting task, but hey, after almost 50 years of telling stories, Cecily and I are energized by the challenge. Our mission is to get to the ‘heart’ of the story and capture real moments from real people. I think we have some really golden material, but ultimately, you all will be the judge. Stay tuned, as they say, and we will keep you up to date on our progress, complete with samples of our work.
In the meantime, make some grit balls covered with buttermilk and corn meal and throw them in the deep fryer to sample the soul of this place…..only don’t eat too many—they’re killer fattening!