Feeling blue in Mississippi

By Kevin Wierzbicki
This item appears on page 26 of the October 2021 issue.
The Crossroads sign in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Photo by Kevin Wierzbicki

As a big music fan, I like to visit places that have played significant roles in music history or that have vibrant music scenes. On my list, for a long time, was Clarksdale, Mississippi, which totally floored me on my first visit in spring of 2021.

I had heard the oft-repeated story about how blues man Robert Johnson, a mediocre guitar player at best, dropped out of sight for a couple of years only to return with fabulous guitar-playing skills — a musical miracle.

The rumor was that Johnson “went down to the crossroads” at midnight and traded his soul to the devil in exchange for the talent. That legend is set in Clarksdale, and today, a giant sign located at the former intersection of US Highways 61 and 49 marks the location of the crossroads.

I knew Clarksdale had many venues offering live blues music, like Ground Zero Blues Club (387 Delta Ave., Clarksdale; 662/621-9009, www.groundzerobluesclub.com), co-owned by movie star Morgan Freeman, who visits the club fairly often. (I didn’t see him, but when he’s in attendance, he allows photos to be taken.) Admission was only $5 at Ground Zero, and the place even had hotel rooms available right above the club.

Another cool hotel I saw was the Hooker Hotel*, named after the late blues man John Lee Hooker, a Clarksdale native. The small hotel is loaded with John Lee Hooker memorabilia.

Blues fans will want to visit the Delta Blues Museum (1 Blues Alley, Clarksdale; 662/627-6820, www.deltabluesmuseum.org). Clothes, guitars, gold records, photos and all kinds of memorabilia from a wide range of blues stars are on display. What amazed me most is that the cabin that Muddy Waters used to live in, when he worked on a plantation just outside of town, is in the museum.

I spent three days exploring Clarksdale and was never lacking for something to do. I visited Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, a great record store selling all kinds of blues goodies, including music-related folk art, and I took in live music at the Bad Apple Blues Club, Red’s Lounge and the Hambone Gallery, the latter a combined music venue and art gallery.

Located in the Mississippi Delta, Clarksdale is very laid-back, but you never know who you might run into in the small city. Eric Clapton, Ozzy Osbourne and Willie Nelson have visited, to name a few.

The city’s tourism website, www.visitclarksdale.com, was very helpful in the planning of my trip.

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*The Hooker Hotel is a private 2-bedroom residence available to rent only through VRBO (www.vrbo.com/3828162ha).