Day 7: December 28, 2007
Helena and Back
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In a complete reversal, Bill, the only Shackmiester absent during my visit last year, was the only one present this year. Another big difference came from the fact that all the shacks were booked by the time I made my reservation. We ended up in relative luxury in Bin #7 on the second floor. With a smile, Bill called these the "Sunshine Suites". But, instead of sunshine, we awoke to a view of a very soggy Shack Up Inn with rain still falling. When it did eventually stop, we were able to stroll around to get these pictures. The Santa Lion is one of two by the main entrance. Next is the tower and circular stairs leading to the second floor. The last picture is another view from our balcony.

One of our neighbors at the Shack Up Inn was a fellow traveling with his son. We met up with them again when we all stopped for breakfast at the Delta Amusement Cafe. We would meet again.

The plans called for a visit to Helena, Arkansas, today. We just headed north from Clarksdale on Delta which quickly became Friar's Point Road. We knew of a museum in Friar's Point and even saw a sign or two but they didn't quite get us there. A young boy sat on his bicycle at the edge of the street and I stopped to ask if he knew where the museum was. "I can take you there", he said and we were soon following the bike through the streets of Friar's Point. It was another scene that I wish I had a picture of but don't.

The museum wasn't open but a lady just down the street could unlock it if desired. We decided to head on to Helena but I now wish we had at least talked with the lady. Even if we didn't tour the museum, maybe we could have found out just what a tank and anti-aircraft gun were doing in this Mississippi town.

The old railroad depot in Helena houses one part of the Delta Cultural Center. Another part is about a half block away and both have some very nice displays. One of the more unusual displays is Sonny Payne's KFFA broadcast booth. Sonny plays blues and does interviews from the museum and an interview was in progress when we walked in. No surprise there but we were surprised in recognizing the subjects. It was the father, son, and friend that we had seen at the Inn and at breakfast. We learned that the twelve year old boy had enjoyed reading about Eric Clapton. That led to a real desire to learn more about the people and places associated with the music that inspired the guitarist. The friend was familiar with folks in Clarksdale and Helena and was helping to make that happen. We also learned that a couple of more meetings were likely. They were also booked into the Riverside Hotel for the night and were planning on checking out the music at Ground Zero.

Back in Clarksdale, we stopped by the Cat Head. Roger, the owner, wasn't in but exploring the store was a treat anyway. We even made a couple of purchases.

The Riverside Hotel is itself a piece of blues history and a key part of a Clarksdale visit. The sign out front gives a little of the building's history and there's plenty more. That's owner Frank "Rat" Ratliff talking with Alex. Rat's mother started the hotel and he is an endless source of stories about the motel and the area. The Riverside may not look like much on the outside and it is rather short on luxuries, but inside it is extremely well maintained, clean, and comfortable.

I had missed Abe's BBQ on my previous visit and made sure I didn't do it again this time. Good food fairly priced. It's pretty clear why this place has been successful since 1924.

By all reports, there would be no music at Red's tonight so we headed for Ground Zero where Homemade Jamz was playing. Billed as "The world's youngest blues band" (15, 13 & 9) the trio was pretty impressive. Dad introduced the band and played harmonica on a couple of tunes and there is little doubt that the band is his creation in more ways than one. They have recently made some TV appearances and just signed a record deal so the Jamz may soon be in a jook joint near you.

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