The Blues Triangle: Part II

The Blues Triangle – Part II

Clarksdale, MS

Happy New Year y’all! Now is the perfect time to start planning your road trip. To get you in the mood, I bring you Part II of the Blues Triangle (finally!!!).

To continue your journey down the Blues Triangle/Mississippi Blues Trail you must stop at the Tunica Visitor’s Center. It’s by far the coolest visitor’s center I’ve ever been to. An old rustic train depot, circa 1895 that doubles as a museum. Here you can pick up all things relating to the Mississippi Blues Trail, they even have travel counselors to help with hotel & dinner reservations, recommendations on places to visit, etc.

Tip: Don’t forget to pick up your free maps here! You’ll be going through very rural areas where you might not have cell service/GPS. Also, be sure and download the free Mississippi Blues Trail app for the iPhone or Droid.

Tunica Visitor Center – Photo Credit: Tunica Visitor Center

Clarksdale, MS 

The epicenter of blues culture and history and home to many blues musicians including: Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Ike Turner, and Eddie Floyd.

Due to its rich soil the town was nicknamed ‘The Golden Buckle on the Cotton Belt” for its abundance of cotton. African-Americans were the reason for the states success and built its wealth.

Stay (really, you must): at the Shack Up Inn

The Cotton Shack

When you pull up to the Shack Up Inn you are truly going back in time. Rustic signs lead you around the gravel bend to check-in. Located in the lobby is a gift shop, bar, and stage where musicians from all over the world come to play. Grab the necessary commodities, a guitar (yes they let you borrow one for the duration of your stay), a moon pie, and some beer to take with you back to your shack.

Following a hand-written map given to me at check-in, just over the railroad tracks I find the sharecropper shack I chose, the Cotton Shack. A shotgun-style house placed/moved here and kept in its original form from when it was a working plantation. Upgraded with all the modern amenities of course: WiFi, A/C, laundry, full kitchen/bath, coffeemaker. The owners Bill Talbot and Guy Malvezzi, have done a phenomenal job of keeping this place up, a truly unique and authentic place like no other. This was by far the best place I stayed on my trip.

Tip: This place sells out well in advance, be sure to have this booked prior to your visit.

More pics of the Cotton Shack because it’s so damn cute:

Kitchen leading out to the porch

Bathroom w/ clawfoot bathtub

Bedroom/Living Space

The Shack Up Inn Property:

Hopson Plantation Commissary

The Shack Up Inn is located on the grounds of the former Hopson Plantation, where in 1935 mechanized cotton farming was introduced. Pinetop Perkins used to drive a tractor on the land harvesting cotton on thousands of acres of land. While living in Clarksdale he mentored Ike Turner on piano & Earl Hooker (John Lee Hooker’s cousin) on guitar (

Soundboard & Bar to the right

The stage

Bottles decorate trees across the property and the posts of my front porch to ward off evil spirits.

The neighboring shack overlooking the cotton field. This one’s not available for rent.


Stone Pony

The Stone Pony has excellent pizza, this coming from someone who lived in NYC for many years. This was one of very few restaurants open late, be sure to plan ahead. A great place for a solo diner to sit up at the bar too. I spent many a time eating solo and keeping track of my daily activities in my journal. You think you’ll remember all the details but trust me, write it all down and be descriptive!

Tip: be sure to check out calendar of events and hours of operations before visiting Clarksdale. This will help you plan the best time to visit. While they make sure there is at least one place that has live music nightly, you may want to visit on the weekend to soak up more of what this city has to offer.


The Crossroads

The Crossroads, the intersection of Highway 61 and 49 where it’s said Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for being a legendary bluesman.

Delta Blues Museum

Delta blues was one of the earliest styles of blues first recorded in the early 20s, originated in the Mississippi Delta. This style of the blues can be explained as country blues with guitar (slide guitar usually played on a steel guitar) harmonica, and voice as the main instruments.

The state’s oldest music museum, est. in 1979, is filled with the history and heritage of the blues. Overflowing with memorabilia, there is information on everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the blues. Be sure to check out the Muddy Waters expansion/exhibit, a truly magnificent collection of all-things-Muddy reminiscent of the log cabin he grew up in.

Address: 1 Blues Alley, Clarksdale, MS 38614
Hours: Monday-Saturday; 9-5PM
Admission: $10, Blues Society Members: $5

***No photos or video allowed in the museum***

Downtown Clarksdale:

Cathead Delta Blues & Folk Art, Inc. Photo Art: Chuck Lam

Owner Roger Stolle, known as “Clarksdale’s Blues Ambassador”, owns Cathead Delta Blues & Folk Art, Inc. a record store/art gallery/souvenir stand that promotes the Mississippi Blues. Be sure to stop by when you’re in town, this place is oozing with blues history and artifacts.

The owner of Cathead has also created the world’s first blues music reality show, along with Jeff Konkel called, Moonshine & Mojo Hands: The Mississippi Blues Series. They take you through the back roads of the Mississippi Delta and Hill Country region showing you where blues music is very much still alive. A local’s tour guide through the area with interviews, music, and more. A must see series for lovers of the blues!!! What in the hell is a mojo hand, anyway? It’s a “prayer in a bag”, or a spell that can be carried with or on the host’s body. Alternative American names for the mojo bag include hand, mojo hand, conjure hand, lucky hand, conjure bag, trick bag, root bag, toby, jomo, and gris-gris bag.

Hambone Gallery


Open since 2005, Hambone Gallery, bar, and music venue is owned and operated by musician and artist Stan Street and his wife Dixie. A great little spot to check out live music while you’re in town.

Ground Zero Blues Club owned by Morgan Freeman

My visit to Clarksdale was not nearly long enough, so much more to explore in this great city!


Here are a few famous Delta blues musicians you should know about, if you don’t already. Many of them crossover to many different styles of the blues, this is a very brief overview and does not do them justice, dig deeper to learn more.

Photo Credit: Unknown

Charley/Charlie Patton: considered the “father of the blues,” this guitarist/singer is the most important American musical figure of the 20th century. He was a musical influence of every Delta bluesman. As a child he moved to a 25K acre cotton farm and sawmill, Dockery Plantation, known as the birthplace of the blues. Charlie’s musical style was developed on this plantation with influences from one of the earliest figures in the history of Delta blues; Henry Sloan. Known for his showmanship, he played the guitar on his lap, and behind his back, and when he sang his vocals were so strong he needed no amplification. He was popular around the Southern parts of the U.S. and played regularly at plantations and taverns. This photo is the only known photo of Charley, taken in 1929.

Photo Credit: Unknown

Robert Johnson: the “King of the Delta blues singers” and the original master of the blues. Known first as a harmonica player, he was a gifted guitarist, singer, and songwriter. His songs romanticized the hardships of the times and reached global audiences. Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers Band, among many others, all famously recorded his tunes. The influence he had on not only blues, but rock ‘n roll, is unprecedented. In his short 27 years on this earth he recorded 29 tunes from 1936-1937. He was a “road” musician mostly playing on street corners, in juke joints, and on the Saturday night dance circuit. To please audiences he rarely played originals but rather popular tunes of the time. Robert’s early life and biography still remain somewhat of a mystery. There are only three known photographs of Robert that have been declared authentic, including the one to the left.

Photo Credit: Dick Waterman


Son House: known for his slide guitar playing and his undeniable emotive singing, at age 25 he began playing blues music after years of being involved in the church as a pastor and choir director solely focusing on sacred music. His unique style was derived from his preaching which he incorporated into his singing and rhythmic guitar playing. His career was reignited when he was found by Dick Waterman (the photographer of this photo), along with many other bluesman, during the folk music revival.



Henry “Son” Sim & Muddy Waters (on right) at Stovall’s Plantation in the summer of 1943. Photo Credit: John W. Work III

Muddy Waters: guitarist/singer/harmonica player who started out playing Delta blues, best-known as the “father of modern Chicago blues.” Grew up on Stovall Plantation right outside of Clarksdale. By age 17 he was playing the guitar and harmonica emulating local musicians Son House and Robert Johnson. He influenced not only blues music but R&B, rock, folk, country, and jazz. It’s said that his amplification is what linked Delta blues with rock ‘n roll. Check out this great video from the Newport Jazz Fest in 1960, with James Cotton on the harp.


Photo Credit: Robert Knight


John Lee Hooker: the “King of the Boogie” guitarist/singer, also known for playing Detroit blues. “The Hook” was born near Clarksdale, MS to a sharecropping family, his stepfather introduced him to the guitar. In the early 40s he moved to North Detroit where he worked as a janitor at the automobile factories by day and played the house party circuit by night. His career spanned decades and as he entered his 70s he found himself in the most successful era of his career.


Photo Credit: Unknown


Jessie Mae Hemphill: one of the few female performers of country blues, Jessie Mae was a multi-instrumentalist whose musical career started in a local fife (similar to piccolo) and drum band at the age of 7. She specialized in North Mississippi Hill Country blues playing mostly at family and informal settings. She didn’t start recording until she was in her late 40s and it wasn’t until the early 80s that she gained international recognition as a vocalist and guitarist.


Photo Credit: Unknown

Skip James: a Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist, and songwriter. His guitar style is known for its dark tone (open D-minor tuning) and intricate fingerpicking technique whose style is more in common with the Piedmont blues. In 1931 he recorded 18 tunes, most notably ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’ which didn’t get the credit it deserved because of it being released during the middle of The Great Depression. He drifted off into obscurity after that record and became a choir director and minister. It wasn’t until the 1960s blues revival that he returned.


Photo Credit: Frank Driggs Collection

Howlin’ Wolf: a Chicago blues guitarist and harmonica player known for his undeniable booming, growling voice. Nicknamed by his grandfather who scared him as a child with tales of “howlin’ wolves” in the area that would get him if he was bad. He met Patton in the 30s and it was Charley who taught him the guitar and showmanship tricks. He was also influenced by country singer Jimmie Rodgers vocal yodels, he tried to emulate them but they came out more as a growl/howl. His harmonica style was modeled after that of Sonny Boy Williamson II who taught him how to play in 1933. Williamson later married Howlin’ Wolf’s half sister Mae.

Photo Credit: LMI/The Estate of Elmore James

Elmore James: known as the “King of  the slide guitar”  Elmore was a distinguished singer, songwriter, bandleader, and blues guitarist who began playing music at the age of 12. Strongly influenced by Robert Johnson, there is still a dispute on who wrote the tune Elmore become famous for, ‘Dust My Broom.’ His guitar sound came from the unique placement of his pickups and his hollow-bodied acoustic which sounded more like an amped up solid-body guitar. His influence on other musicians is unprecedented, most notably Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, Albert King, and Stevie Ray Vaughn to name a few. This is the earliest known photo of Elmore James, taken in the late 1930s.



Photo Credit: Unknown


R.L. Burnside: guitarist/singer, played acoustic/electric North Mississippi hill country blues and Delta blues. He started playing the harmonica and guitar at the age of 16 and was taught by none other than neighbor Mississippi Fred McDowell. He played musical only part-time due to his other occupations of farming and fishing and his music didn’t take off until the last 20 years of his life. R.L. credited Muddy Waters (his cousin-in-law), Lightnin’ Hopkins, and John Lee Hooker as influences in his adult life. Members of his family continue his musical legacy, most notably his sons Duwayne and Garry and grandson, drummer Cedric Burnside.


Photo Credit: Christopher Durst

James Cotton: harmonica player and singer/songwriter, known for his animated showmanship. “Super Harp” started out playing Delta Blues, then later in life Chicago blues. His mother would emulate the sounds of trains and chickens on the harmonica, and as a young child he became very fond of the harmonica and quickly picked it up. Later in life Sonny Boy Williamson had a huge impact on him and helped launch his career, in addition to Howlin’ Wolf. Cotton’s first experiences playing in clubs, was on the front steps of the juke joints as Sonny’s opening act, a lot of the times making more tips than him. After one gig, Sonny Boy skipped town and left the band to Cotton. By the age of 15 he had cut 4 songs on famed label, Sun Records. Cotton is most well-known for being Muddy Waters harp player for more than 12 years.

Thank you for reading!

I am in no way a historian and have tried my best to be as accurate as possible. If there are any historical inaccuracies in this information, please let me know so I can be schooled and will promptly update! References and credits can be found by following links provided.

All photo credits by Nicole Lund, except where noted.

The Blues Triangle: Part I



Finally, something to share! I’ve purposely been hoarding my pics and stories for here. While I’m hoping whoever reads this is inspired to travel and step out of their comfort zone, it’s really a journal of my travels, highlighting the blues, along with a bit of history of the places I went. And selfishly I’m jotting this down so that I don’t forget it all! My way of travel isn’t for everyone, but it sure as hell worked for me and I loved every bit of it.

The first stop on my trip had to be Muscle Shoals, AL. So much music came out of that place it was a no-brainer to start there.

Side note: I was informed (very much schooled rather) by Lloyd “Teddy” Johnson Jr., owner of Teddy’s Juke Joint, that not only was I traveling down the Mississippi Blues Trail, I was actually traveling across the Blues Triangle. Here are some highlights of the first leg of my trip. A more detailed account of Teddy later…


Special thanks to Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art in Clarksdale, MS for this map!

April 24th, 2016

 The Shoals: Muscle Shoals & Florence, AL


What’s in a name? There are a few theories about where the name ‘Muscle Shoals’ came from. Some say the name Muscle Shoals came from all the stacks of mussels found along the shoals in the TN River. Another theory is that the shape of the river looks like the muscle of a man’s arm. The last theory claims that “Muscle Shoals, the Niagara of the South, derives its name from the Indians, who, attempting to navigate upstream, found the task almost impossible because of the strong current.”  Thus came the word muscle, symbolic of the strength required to “paddle a canoe up the rapids.” (City of Muscle Shoals)

Stay: At Caleb’s Carriage House in Florence. Super cute place with great amenities, centrally located, just across the Tennessee River is Muscle Shoals. Close to shops, restaurants, and the UNA campus.

Caleb's Carriage House

See: W.C. Handy’s birthplace, and Wilson Dam.


The Father of the Blues: Born in Florence in 1873, he’s one of America’s most influential songwriters and is credited for giving blues music its contemporary form. His musical style was influenced by church music and from sounds in nature. His family was not supportive of his love of music and considered musical instruments to be the tools of the devil. In 1902, William traveled through rural Mississippi to study the blues and documented and transcribed the music he heard when he returned home. A few of his most famous tunes were: Saint Louis Blues, Memphis Blues (some consider this to be the first blues tune), and Beale Street Blues.

Visit the W.C. Handy Home & Museum: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm. Take a virtual tour here.


“Life is something like a trumpet. If you don’t put anything in, you won’t get anything out.”

— W.C. Handy


Wilson Dam: took a nice bike ride along the TVA Trail and happened upon this big ‘ole dam. Completed in the early 20s, this dam was once used as a power supply center for munitions plants in World War I. It allowed a once un-navigable stretch of the Tennessee River “Muscle Shoals”, to become a major transportation resource for the Shoals area. (


Move: Bike along the TVA Trail, follow signs to the yellow bike trail and go over the Tennessee River. I rode over this bridge, to think the river could rise that high, scary! Before ya hit the trail get tuned up and buy any necessary bike accessories at Spinning Spoke Cycle Hub. I got a bike pump for the road, some lube, and another reflector. The guys working there told me to do this trail and I loved it!

Do: You must tour FAME Recording Studios, after all, it’s really why you visit this town anyways! I got a fantastic tour from a young engineer who works there. Got to go in both recording studios, which are oozing with musical history. Lots of incredible memorabilia lining those walls. Some of the original B-3’s and other instruments used in the 60s are still being played on recordings today. Many people have questioned, is there something in the water there? And for good reason, the amount of incredible music that came out of that place (and still does) is unreal.

Hours: M-F 9am, & 4-6pm tours, Sat: 10-4pm. Admission: $10 And if you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch the documentary Muscle Shoals.

20160425_091324fullsizeoutput_44a  fullsizeoutput_450


History of FAME: Founded in 1959 by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill, and Tom Stafford, this studio has recorded the best of the best (well, for those that know what’s good). Their first hit was recorded in 1963 by Jimmy Hughes, ‘Steal Away.’ Etta James recorded ‘Tell Mama’ there in 1967. Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Otis Redding, and Candi Staton have all recorded in this studio. The list goes on…

Duane Allman frequented the Shoals often and loved it so much he pitched a tent in the parking lot to be closer to the studio (2006 Skydog: The Duane Allman Story). It’s in this very studio that he taught Wilson Pickett ‘Hey Jude’ which was recorded in 1968. Soon after, he got his very first recording contract here.

Hear: music at Swamper’s


If all else fails, go to Swamper’s Bar (named after the famous backing band at FAME who later opened their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound) inside the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa. Not only do they always have live music they have some pretty spectacular memorabilia. Be sure to tune in to 92.3 while you’re in the area, they play the good tunes for when you’re driving around.

April 25th, 2016 

Tupelo, MS:

Drive/hike on the Natchez Trace Parkway

Route: the drive from Muscle Shoals to Tupelo was along the Natchez Trace and was simply beautiful! Definitely take this route and make a stop in Tupelo.


I had a quick stopover here, I honestly had no intention of going out of my way to visit Elvis’ birthplace (I mean, I’ve been to Graceland of course) but after hearing about this awesome blues venue/restaurant from Richard Upchurch I had to check it out.

See/Hear/Taste: The Blue Canoe: a live music venue with amazing eats (I had the dirty grains with greens, things, and shrimp) corn hole/baggo, and a great outdoor patio. I’ll definitely be going back to this place!



April 25th, 2016

24 Hours in Memphis



Don’t Stay: At the Exchange Place. Nope, don’t do it. The price is right but it’s oh so wrong. The Exchange Building used to be the tallest building in Memphis for over 20 years, apparently the apartments they can’t rent out they make into “efficiencies”. When the first thing I looked for were bed bugs, it ain’t good. Shit, they needed a double bolt on that door too. (The picture above is not of the Exchange Place).

Hear: I hit up all three of these spots in one night. Go see live music at the Lafayette Room (mid-town),  Hi-tone Café (between Crosstown & Evergreen), and Rum Boogie downtown (supposedly the last real juke joint on Beale Street).



Move: do the walk ‘n see, there is so much to see in walking distance of each other downtown

Taste: Arcade Diner ‘Memphis’ Oldest Restaurant’ serving it up since 1919. 3rd generation owners still run this South Main Historic District restaurant, serving all-day breakfast. Steps from Beale Street, the Lorraine Motel, and the Blues Museum.



See (and stay if you can afford it), the infamous Peabody Hotel which opened back in 1925. It’s said that the Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of this famed hotel. Elvis Presley signed his first major RCA recording contract in the lobby of the hotel, it was typed up on the official hotel stationary.


The March of the Peabody Ducks is celebrating its 90th year tradition!!! The duck march happens on a daily basis at 11am & 5pm in the grandiose lobby of the Peabody Hotel (yes, really). The place is packed, everyone gathers around the stanchions along the red carpet to try and catch a glimpse of them as they make their grand exit from the elevator. 5 locally farm-raised North American Mallard ducks are escorted in by the comedic Peabody Duckmaster, eventually making it into the fountain where they stay for the reminder of the day. The ducks have a permanent residence (rotating every 3 months) on the hotel’s rooftop, a $200K structure made of marble & glass. Good God, ducks living as royalty…only in America.

Rub W.C. Handy’s statue in Handy Park for good luck! It’s a thing, do it.


In 1960, a still segregated Memphis, erected this statue in honor of its favorite African-American son. The statue became a template for the Blues Foundations’ early W.C. Handy Blues Award. In 1969, the US Post Office issued a W.C. Handy stamp. (


Blues Hall of Fame | The Blues Foundation: first things first, become a member. If you’re a blues fan please support this amazing foundation that’s keeping the blues alive.


Founded in 1980 its mission is to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and to ensure the future of this uniquely American art form.


‘Hey Hey Pretty Mama’ by Willie Dixon


James Cotton


Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 1pm-5pm,

Admission: Free for members, $10 Adults


Stax Records: Museum of American Soul Music


One of the most popular soul music record labels of all time, Satellite Records was re-named Stax Records in 1961. Named after the first two letter’s of brother and sister owners, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton‘s last names. After Estelle re-financed her home for the second time they purchased an old movie theatre and turned it into a recording studio. The floors slant helped deaden the sound, a way of trying to control the acoustics on the cheap, that ultimately set Stax sound apart from other studios.

The theatre’s concession shop became Satellite Record Shop and turned into the neighborhood hangout. Residents and musicians would come to the shop to listen to records in hopes of getting to record. In 1960 the studio recorded its first hit record and single, “Cause I Love You” a duet by Rufus & Carla Thomas. That same year Jerry Wexler from Atlantic Records offered them a deal to take over distribution, making it easier to get their records on the shelves.

Otis Redding was one of the biggest stars of the label arriving at Stax in 1962, not as a singer, but as a chauffeur for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. When his session went sour Otis took over and the rest was history.

Stax Records Hitmakers: Booker T & The MGs, William Bell, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King



The Gospel Church in the lives of African Americans: of all the musical styles on which soul music is built, the two most prominent are gospel and blues. Both expressions from the human heart of love, pain, and longing. Gospel is church-based and sung to God, while the blues is secular and often sung to another person-often a spouse or lover, present or former. Both musical forms release the participants from their immediate confines, offering refuge for the spirit.

I loved this museum so much! After a introductory video in the screening room you begin the tour in this real circa – 1906 Mississippi Delta church that was carefully reassembled inside the building. You pretty much dance your way through the museum, damn near impossible with all the greatest soul tunes playing. You’ll step into Studio A – an exact replica of the legendary converted movie theatre where Stax artists cut records, even down to the famous slant that contributed to the Stax’s legendary sound.



Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 1-5pm, closed Mondays.

Admission: FREE for members, Adults: $13





National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel:




As I walked down and saw the Lorraine Motel for the first time I was overwhelmed with emotion. Upon entering the parking lot you hear his undeniable, powerful voice overhead preaching his famous words of hope and truth. Standing in the exact location where Martin Luther King, Jr. got assassinated on April 4th, 1968, you feel as though you’ve stepped back into the 60s. Nothing has changed from the facade of the motel, cars from the 60s remain in the parking lot, and a wreath still hangs on the door of Room 306 where he was staying the night of his tragic death. This is a place everyone should take the time to visit.

Hours: Monday, Wednesday-Sunday 9am-5pm, closed Tuesdays

Admission: Free to visit the outside of the motel (including interactive kiosks), Adults $15, Members: Free

In times of uncertainty, don’t forget…


Thank you for reading, stay tuned for The Blues Triangle: Part II