Many blues experts believe Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, Mississippi to be the last true juke joint in the Delta. It is located “between the river and the cemetery” on Sunflower Ave., just a couple of short blocks from Ground Zero Blues Club and the Delta Blues Museum.
When I first went to Red’s in 2005 I was told that, “It might not be open tonight, depends on what mood Red’s in.” I must have been on a streak because Red’s was open that night and was featuring the late T-Model Ford. Ford was sitting in the middle of the room playing a solid body Peavy guitar through a highly distorted Peavy amplifier. He was backed up on drums by one of his grandsons.
When he finished the piece he announced it was break time and immediately went to sit with a table of young college gals who plied him with whiskey and attention. That appeared to be the end of T-Model for the night. After too much dead air a trio of guys from Germany ask Red if they could do a set. So, one took over T’s guitar, another the drum kit, and the third pulled out his harmonica. Together they played for about an hour and were very good. When they were finished a fellow from the UK, playing his own acoustic guitar, did a solo set. By this time I was tired, had all the beer I could stand, and headed back to my motel. I later learned that T-Model did return to the floor and closed the place down long after midnight.
In June of this year I was back in Clarksdale and Red’s had a formal schedule of shows. My grandson and I went on Thursday and saw Robert “Bilbo” Walker play for a while. Walker is an older bluesman who I know of from a DVD I have about blues and Mississippi. He began the evening sounding pretty good but things abruptly changed when a disagreement erupted between he and his bass player. Couple of numbers later he got pissed at the drummer and the drummer walked off. Ironically another drummer appeared who happened to be the 16-year-old grandson of T-Model Ford. I decided this was way too much drama so we left Red’s and finished the evening at Ground Zero where open mic night was going on.
The next night we started at Ground Zero and later finished up at Red’s. The act that night was the Space Cowboy and Blues Posse with Kingfish (Kingfish being the 15 year old nephew of Space Cowboy and the band’s drummer). This was a local group and came highly recommended. The group played solid electric blues, especially the young man playing guitars. Maybe just as important, it was a drama free set.
I don’t know how much longer Red’s Lounge can keep the doors open but for the while Red is keeping them open and the roof from caving in. The “last of the jukes” remains a major attraction to blues fans from around the world. The two New Zealanders sitting next to me at the bar would certainly agree.