On Friday morning we started the drive to Memphis so we could meet up with a fellow Nova Scotian! Jamie Williams went to Dalhousie University with Drew, in the same Mechanical Engineering program, and he became a good friend there. He and Drew used to play music together at the campus bar, the T-Room, and we were looking forward to seeing him!
We found a great (affordable) campsite only a 15-minute walk from Beale Street downtown, and parked our camper. Jamie came and met us there so we could jam for a bit, then we ventured into the city of Memphis. We walked around Beale Street for a bit, trying to decide on which of the blues bars we would go to, and finally decided on the Blues Hall Juke Joint. There was an incredible musician there named Brandon Santini who could wail on the harp, and had a great voice. His band member could really play the blues on the guitar too – we were extremely impressed. Being on a major delta blues kick since visiting Clarksdale, this was just what we needed. Danielle could barely keep her feet still and got a bad case of the dancing bug!
After the Blues Hall we decided to be as touristy as we possibly could, and went to BB King’s place on Beale. We enjoyed some great food there – and of course music! – and we tried catfish for the first time, which was deeeelicious.
The next morning we set out for Sun Records, the famous place where artists such as Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis once recorded. We were awestruck walking around the recording studio which has been kept the exact way it was when it was first built. It has the same floors, same lighting fixtures, same walls… and even the exact same microphone that Elvis used when he recorded there. You are allowed to hold it and sing into it – so Drew took the opportunity to do his best Elvis impression. It’s so neat that you’re allowed to walk around the studio and touch things… it’s a really hands-on tour. Our tour guide knew a lot of her music history too, and we were really interested in what she had to say. You can even still record there – but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg!
Our next stop was the Gibson guitar factory tour. We were disappointed that the workers wouldn’t be in since it was Saturday, but it was still cool to see how they are made and what it the guitars look like at each stage of the process. Drew was inspired to make his own once we get home again!
That night we grabbed some delicious po-boys while enjoying some live blues and bluegrass music, and then explored downtown a bit more. We paid our respects to Martin Luther King Jr at the Lorraine Hotel, and ventured off a bit from the downtown core. There were two incredible musicians who played guitar and sang together at Stax late that night, and they gave all their covers the credit they deserved. You could tell these two had been playing together for a loooong time, their timing and harmonies were impeccable, and the lead guitar player could shred an acoustic guitar better than anyone on Beale. They even found out we were from Canada and played us a Neil Young song!
When we got back to the campsite that night, we noticed we had new awesome neighbours – staying in a VW Westphalia. While we were playing some guitar in the Boler, one of the VW residents came and knocked on our door… and that’s how we met Corey and Emily!
Corey and Emily are just starting their trip which is really similar to ours – except instead of music they are really interested in sports such as mountain biking and snowboarding. They are a really awesome couple, and we got some time to hang out with them in the Boler the next day. Talking with them brought back memories of when we first set out. We wish we were starting all over again! We gave them some tips of things to see down south, and they gave us in exchange some tips for up north! We wish them both good luck on the rest of their trip, and hope that we cross paths again! Here is the link for their travel blog : www.wheresmyofficenow.com.
Later that day we started our journey back to Clarksdale, but made a pit stop along the way. We are big fans of Levon Helm from The Band, who grew up in Marvell, Arkansas (only just a small detour from our route back to Clarksdale). Although we can’t be sure if it was the right road or not, we drove around an area we assumed was close to where he would have grown up. It was beautiful whether or not we had found the right spot, and we were glad to have seen it.
When we arrived back in Clarksdale, we started preparing some of our songs for the show we’d be singing at on Monday! On Monday night, we had two options for our evening, and enjoyed both: absolutely phenomenal free food at the Hopson Commissary (barbeque spaghetti!) and live music, and then we ventured over to Sean’s gig at the Blues Berry Cafe downtown. Sean “Bad” Apple is an incredible blues musician, and we were really impressed with his stage presence and overall performance. We met a lot of awesome musicians that night, including Watermelon Slim, who sang an incredible version of a song that is a classic back home: “Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers. Jesse Carter and Robin Lane were an awesome duo; Jesse can really wail on the guitar, and Robin played one of his own awesome custom-made instruments, a washtub bass. We were also introduced to Daddy Rich, who sings great and plays the bass, and Ice Man played the drums most of the night, but he surprised us at one point by singing a song – and he could really sing! We were pretty intimidated to get up and play for all these extremely talented musicians – some of whom are pretty well-known, but we did it nonetheless! We even got some accompaniment from Sean at one point, and Daddy Rich and Watermelon Slim played their harps along with us on John Prine’s classic, “Angel from Montgomery”.
We met Rat that night, the owner of the Riverside Hotel, and he invited us to come and visit him the next day. The Riverside Hotel has an incredible history: it was where African-American musicians would stay while visiting Clarkdale, and was originally a hospital. It’s the place where the phenomenal Bessie Smith passed away, and other iconic artists stayed there such as Muddy Waters and Ike Turner. We were really lucky to sit down with Rat during our visit, and he has some incredibly interesting stories to tell. He had some very wise words, and the visit gave us a whole new view of Clarksdale from his perspective. He raised his rates $5 dollars 18 years ago and they’ve stayed the same ever since, how many hotel owners can say that?? We plan to stay there for sure if we ever return to Clarksdale.
On our last night in Clarksdale we went to Hambone, which is a studio to a lovely couple, as well as their home, their shop, and a place where they host live music every Tuesday night. So cool. That night they were featuring a local boy, Kingfish… who is only 14 years old! We were blown away by him, and knew that we were seeing a star in the making. He was incredibly talented on the guitar, and could sing too, which is impressive at such a young age! Daddy Rich and Stan Street (the owner) played along with him on the bass, drums, and harmonica, as well as lending their talented voices to the show.
We were sad to leave Clarksdale, but we left with a part of our trip that will leave an impact on us both forever. We promised Sean that we’ll come back to the Juke Joint festival next year (you can hold us to that!) and are really going to miss that place. We thank everyone who made our visit there so real, and also to places like the Hopson Commissary who extended their help to us in so many ways.
Our next stop was to head back to Memphis to meet Don at the Bluff City Land Rover dealership! We were supposed to visit a place called Prairie Wildlife in West Point in Mississippi, but unfortunately with our budget on gas and the length of time we had left in our trip we were unable to make it. We’d like to leave the link to the Prairie Wildlife here though, which is making a serious effort to wildlife conservation in the area. If you ever make it down that way, we hear that the owner there is an A+ chef!
Don was extremely kind to us, and showed us around the dealership. We met so many nice people there, and everyone came out to examine our rig, and thought it was pretty awesome. Our series truck looked pretty funny next to the 2013 Range Rovers and Land Rovers… not to mention the Jaguars they sell there too! There was a representative from Land Rover North America there to meet us, and we were also introduced to Shirley, Dennis, David, and many other people from the team there.
Don took us and David (a lovely man from England who just recently retired from the dealership) to lunch at Huey’s, and we had a great discussion including everything from Houseboats to Land Rovers! We are planning to build and live on a houseboat this summer back home, and Don had some great tips to share with us about that, since he himself has owned various houseboats in Tennessee. David is extremely knowledgeable about Land Rovers, and he lives 30 miles in a beautiful area outside of Memphis. He offered to let us stay with him and his wife that evening – and we graciously accepted!
When we got back to the dealership, Don mentioned that he might have some t-shirts around that we could have… but then surprised us and took us into the Land Rover store so we could get some warm Land Rover apparel for the rest of our trip. We can’t thank Bluff City Land Rover enough!
We followed David home afterwards, and his and his wife Jenny’s property is absolutely beautiful. Drew was especially taken with their garage filled with lots of great cars! David owns a 1932 Ford, and we got to get a close look at it. He also owns a Land Rover, a series 3. They took us out for dinner that evening at a delicious place called Olympic, and we couldn’t believe the amazing portions of incredible food we got! We even had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. It was an exceptional Valentine’s Day, and we were so happy to have a double date with David and Jenny! Keep in touch guys!
People are so kind to us all the time it’s incredible. Someday we will Pay It Forward! We are now en route to Nashville, Tennessee!