Zero Tolerance Blues
CHASING THE BLUES, CHAPTER 11: Clarksdale, MS, to Memphis, TN
Before leaving Clarksdale this morning, we had one more mission—leaving our mark at Ground Zero. After the Delta Blues Museum moved into its expanded depot location in 1999, it brought more visitors to Clarksdale. With their appetites whetted at the museum, they wanted to see live blues performances, but few were available. In a vacant cotton warehouse across the railroad tracks from the museum, actor Morgan Freeman, a Delta native, and Bill Luckett, a Clarksdale attorney, seized the opportunity and opened Ground Zero Blues Club in 2001.
While the year-round Christmas lights, the mismatched folding chairs and beat-up sofas on the front stoop give hint of a juke joint aura, Ground Zero's hallmark is its monumental collection of graffiti. Every surface, inside and out, is covered with the names and stories and emotions of the thousands of people who have visited the club in the last 14 years for a taste of real Delta blues.
|Ground Zero Blues Club graffiti|
|Leaving our mark on GZ|
|Box can see Red's across the intersection.|
|Circle G show in Tunica arena|
|Sun going down on Beale Street|
After watching the percussionists for a while, we continued our search for some good blues music. Hard rocking tunes were blasting from most doors we passed until we were near the end of the block. From the Blues City Café, some soulful heartfelt blues wafted out and drew us in. Earl “The Pearl” Banks and the People of the Blues were playing their regular Saturday night gig in the café’s Band Box. At 79, Earl is one of the last of the Memphis old school bluesmen who eschew the modern emphasis on volume and coax the feeling of each song out of their guitars. A fixture on Beale Street for more than 50 years, Earl “The Pearl” has been honored with numerous awards, including a Beale Street Brass Note.
|Earl and the People of the Blues|
We stayed for the rest of Earl’s set, leaving before the rockabilly Stunning Cunning band had time to set up. As we were departing, a handful of kids and young men we had seen earlier called the Beale Street Flippers were still entertaining tourists with their gravity-defying flips up and down the street. On our stroll back to the Residence Inn, we made plans for tomorrow: letterboxing in the morning and the Sunday blues jam in the afternoon and evening. Earl "The Pearl" will be among the bands playing.