05 Cypress Swamp Tutwiler, Mississippi

Cypress Swamp Tutwiler, Mississippi

The flat expanse of the Delta is relieved only by its low places – the oxbow lakes, froggy bottoms and cypress swamps where water gathers – or, closer to the river, by the height of its man-made levees. Over the past 15,000 years, the Mississippi has snaked its way all across the Delta, cutting and re-cutting its way through the silty topsoil on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Swamps like this dot the Delta and are evidence of a former path the river abandoned when a spring flood shifted its course.

04 Moonset Clarksdale, Mississippi

Moonset Clarksdale, Mississippi

This is the last remaining slave and sharecropper cabin along Friars Point Road on Stovall Plantation, eight miles north of Clarksdale. These cabins were built of first cut cypress logs that were split, hewn and fitted by hand. It was in a one-room cabin, about 400 yards south of here, that music researcher Alan Lomax found and recorded Muddy Waters in 1941 (Waters’ given name was McKinley Morganfield). Shortly after making and hearing these recordings – and following a dispute with the overseer about his hourly wage – Waters made up his mind to go to Chicago.

03 Hot Tamales Clarksdale, Mississippi

Hot Tamales Clarksdale, Mississippi

Robert Johnson mentions hot tamales in his hokum blues tune They’re Red Hot, and this advertisement and atmosphere of this hallway caught my eye. Backing up on the Sunflower River, The Riverside costs a little more than the chain hotels in Clarksdale (and there’s a bathroom down the hall), but being befriended by the proprietor, Frank ‘Rat’ Ratliff and the history and creaky, wooden soul of the place are more than ample compensation. According to Rat, everyone at the Riverside is family.

02 The Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale, Mississippi

The Riverside Hotel Clarksdale, Mississippi

The Riverside is located on Sunflower Avenue on the western edge of the black part of Clarksdale long known as New Africa. The Riverside is currently run by Frank ‘Rat’ Ratliff. The front section of the hotel was the old negro hospital and is where Bessie Smith was brought on Sept. 26, 1937, after being badly injured in a car accident north of Clarksdale. Justifiably billed as ‘The Empress of the Blues,’ Smith died of blood loss and internal injuries within two hours of her arrival. The room where she died remains a shrine in the hotel.  

01-Railroad Tracks Tutwiler, Mississippi

Railroad Tracks Tutwiler, Mississippi

Back in 1902, W.C. Handy sat just to the left of these tracks on a station platform that no longer exists, and heard a local musician slide a knife on the strings of his guitar and sing about “goin’ where the Southern crosses the Dog” (a reference to the Southern and ‘Yellow Dog’ railroad lines). Handy gave us our earliest written account of Delta Blues, a music that had clearly been developing as a regional style for some time. Handy had a band in Clarksdale in 1902 and began incorporating the forms, rhythms and imagery of the blues in his compositions. Handy has been called ‘the father of the blues,’ although that is somewhat misleading. A quick and literate musician, Handy authored The St. Louis Blues, which remains a fundamental part of the jazz and blues canon. In this photo, we are looking in the direction that Handy was headed, north-northwest toward Clarksdale.

David Crosby rehearses backstage…

Backstage in Kent, Ohio performing “What Are Their Names?” with Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, and Michael League Plays Music for our Green Room Series.

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