L.A. Times – Mississippi juke joint’s caught the blues

Reporting from Clarksdale, Miss.— Red Paden was pouring Bulleit bourbon into little plastic cups, one for him, one for his buddy Antonio Coburn.

It was just the two of them inside Red’s Blues Club, arguably the last of the real Mississippi Delta juke joints, set downtown between a weedy graveyard and the lush eastern bank of the Sunflower River. They were mourning Big Jack Johnson, Red’s best friend, star attraction — and, arguably, the last of the great Delta bluesmen.

The pair sat at a table next to the worn carpet, patterned like a loud tie, which serves as a kind of stage, and upon which Big Jack had stomped out countless rhythms.

Big Jack had died two days earlier of congestive heart failure. He was 70. A Bud Light-sponsored sign still hung on the club’s facade, amid the peeling paint and improvised patches of plywood and corrugated tin: “Home of W.C. Handy Award Winner BIG JACK JOHNSON.”

He knew Ground Zero would draw a big crowd. It had opened a decade ago to much fanfare, the brainchild of Morgan Freeman, the Mississippi-raised movie star; Howard Stovall, a Memphis entertainment big shot; and Bill Luckett, a prominent Clarksdale lawyer running for governor. With its deep-pocketed owners and patina of Hollywood glamour, the club has become a catalyst for a rejuvenated tourism industry celebrating the blues.

L.A. Times via the Chicago Tribune
3/25/11