Red’s is the Real Deal: Mississippi Juke Joints

by on March 7th, 2015
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Clarksdale, Mississippi is sacred ground for serious blues enthusiasts. During its day Clarksdale was the most prosperous and thriving city in the Mississippi Delta. On Friday and Saturday nights the streets would be crowded and the juke joints would be rockin’. The mechanization of the cotton industry and the northern migration of the majority of the African American labor force resulted to a serious economic downturn and decline in Clarksdale as well as the Mississippi Delta in general. The contemporary version of Clarksdale has much more of a small town feel but it is still loaded with history and music if you know where to look.

I visit Clarksdale about three to four times a year. I met a gentleman named George Messenger about six years ago on one of my trips to Clarksdale. George owns and operates a club called Messengers. Messengers is a family run establishment established by George Messenger’s grandfather more than a hundred years ago. George is around 76 years of age and he remembers when it was difficult to maneuver through the crowded streets on Friday and Saturday nights. Son House, Robert Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, and John Lee Hooker all called Clarksdale home at one point in their careers. Sam Cooke and Ike Turner were both born and raised in Clarksdale.

Blues fans from around the world still visit Clarksdale on a regular basis in search of an authentic blues experience. Although the musical community is a shadow of what it once was in its heyday, there is still plenty of music and musicians keeping the musical tradition of the Mississippi Delta alive. Time and age are obviously taking their toll. Big Jack Johnson and Sam Carr, two local and world renown legends passed away in the last year. Johnson and Carr played together for years in legendary Mississippi Delta band called the Jelly Roll Kings. Honeyboy Edwards and Pinetop Perkins both passed away this past year as well. Edwards and Perkins originally hailed from the Clarksdale area. Perkins worked on the nearby Hopson Plantation driving a tractor before he moved to Chicago in the 1950s. The Hopson Plantation has been restored and turned into a blues resort.

There are only a handful of clubs in Clarksdale that feature live music on a regular basis. About ten years ago Morgan Freeman, who has local roots, opened up a club called Ground Zero. Ground Zero features local as well as nationally touring blues artists. The club mimics the feel of a juke joint, it features general soul food menu, and it has a large beer selection that is unusual for most juke joints in Mississippi. I have seen a lot of great music at Ground Zero but just up the street from Ground Zero is a real juke joint called Red’s. Red’s is hands down my favorite spot in Clarksdale. Red’s has been owned and operated by Red Paden for over twenty years. It is small, dark, and stuffy when it is filled with people. Budweiser or Busch are available and Corona pops up now and then. Red’s is the real deal. It was the home of Big Jack. Robert Balfour and T-Model Ford play at Red’s on a frequent basis. Balfour and T-Model are old timers who are still playing at the top of their game. Local musicians such as Big “T” Williams, Jimbo Mathus, and Bill Able often play at Red’s. Live music tends to be on the weekends but Red keeps a flexible schedule so that he may have music any day of the week. He charges a cover, usually $5 to $10, when he feels like it. The clientele at Red’s varies with the weekend. During big festival times such as the Sunflower Festival in August or the nearby King Biscuit festival in October, Red’s is overrun by out of town tourists. On a regular weekend the crowd tends to be more local, less crowded, and more enjoyable.


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