Days before we arrived in Clarksdale, Jimbo Mathus was busy setting up a new recording studio in the old WROX radio station. The WROX building had been boarded up since the early 50's and oddly enough everything looked as it did 50 years ago. Even the old microphones were still sitting in the same spot. In 1947, WROX hired Early Wright as the first black disc jockey in the south. The station featured many famous artists, including Elvis Presley and B.B. King, who would come by to play on the air and give interviews. The legendary blues artist Robert Nighthawk had a show and Ike Turner had his humble beginnings at the station working as a janitor. If there was ever a Mecca for the blues, Clarksdale is hands down the promised land.
The Clarksdale recording session focused on some of the bands favorite classic blues tracks. But the song "Lights Out" was one of the few originals that they recorded that night. I had heard a rough take that Joel played for me over the phone before we left for Mississippi so I was anxious to hear how it would turn out with the lyrics. One thing to keep in mind about this session is that all of the songs recorded that night were unrehearsed…and what makes "Lights Out" even more astounding is that Floyd had never seen this song before. Look carefully and you can see Floyd is glancing down at the floor reading the lyrics. His ability to look at a song and immediately feel the words is something I have never seen nor heard before. It still amazes me to this day the magic that was tapped inside those walls that night and for the lucky few who were there to witness would agree.
What hasn’t already been said about the legendary Sun Studio. It’s the birthplace of Rock and Roll where the King himself, Elvis Presley, cut his first records…as did other notables like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. But what is often overlooked is the founder of Sun Studio, Sam Phillips, was consumed by the sound of the blues. In fact, it was the blues that lured Phillips to Memphis so that he could record black musicians from the Delta. In the early 50’s, years before Elvis came through the door, Phillips recorded the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Little Milton, B.B. King, James Cotton and Rufus Thomas.
Floyd had lived in Memphis as a kid so on our first trip down south we went to Memphis looking for his family. While we were there Joel wanted to go visit Sun Studio but nobody would go with him. On our next trip to Memphis, Joel was determined to visit Sun Studio so he booked a recording session. Hey for 85 bucks an hour to stand and record on hallowed ground seems like a bargain. There were no real expectations that evening other than letting Joel have a little fun. No new songs were attempted except for one little gem that surfaced at the end of the session. The result was a cross between the blues and an old time church spiritual…very eerie. Have a listen.
has been over 60 years since New York City bluesman, Floyd Lee, left the hill country of Mississippi, and with his exodus he turned his back on a troubled childhood and a harsh life in the cotton fields. Abandoned by a mother he never knew, Floyd still wrestles with unanswered questions to his mysterious and painful past. Now at the age of 73, Floyd and his band embark on a deeply personal journey back home to Mississippi to reconnect with the family he left behind and search for the family he never knew. Along the way they are forced to deal with a tragedy which will change their lives forever. From independent filmmaker, John Gardiner, comes the powerful and gripping story of Floyd Lee.
Discontent with the available places to hear live blues music, actor Morgan Freeman and his business partner Bill Luckett opened the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The idea was to bring back the look and feel of an old juke joint (sans the gambling and corn liquor) while creating a stable safe place where the best Delta blues could be heard. Before Ground Zero, impromptu gigs would spring up with little notice in Clarksdale...live music at best was a catch as catch can situation. Boarded up for decades, the building was once used as a cotton sampling and seeding facility, but today, just steps from the old train depot where Muddy Waters left for Chicago, Ground Zero continues the tradition of serving up the blues from the spot where it all started.
While we were passing through Clarksdale, Morgan Freeman extended an invitation to the band to come and play. This show was the first time that I had ever heard Joel play slide guitar. After the show Sam Carr remarked that he had not "heard slide guitar like that since his daddy Robert Nighthawk played". A ringing endorsement considering Robert Nighthawk is considered the finest slide guitar player ever. Sit back and enjoy "Mean Ol' Frisco".