A Dark Collusion in a Mississippi Juke

A Dark Collusion in a Mississippi Juke
By Paul Vernon - Dec 2017


The Year was 1979 and we had set out to find Sammy Myers, the Blues singer whose classic “Sleeping in the Ground” was a favorite anthem of British Blues collectors. [To read more about the Mississippi artist, please read this interview from 1980To experience a room full of slightly drunk young Englishmen, grasping Brown Ale bottles and rocking back and forth on upright chairs to the rhythm of this tune was to be assured that all was well with our world. No matter how long it took, or to what lengths we had to go, or what energy we expended, we simply had to find this heroic singer and photograph him, for the lads back home were depending upon us! It wasn’t difficult; we had his address. Bill interviewed him for Blues Unlimited, took the photos, and we left with an invitation to see him perform that night at the local juke joint. We hung out in downtown Jackson and then, as the sun removed its afternoon cap, we went and found Richard’s Playhouse, where Sammy had said he’d be. 

It was a long, low, dark, narrow and deafeningly noisy juke joint. You HAD to shout to be heard, thereby adding to the cacophony. Boy Scouts would have to have used semaphore to offer Bob-a-Job week services.[1] I don’t think they bothered. We took seats up front, near the shoebox-sized bandstand and watched the band set up. Bill recognized the guitarist King Edwards and introduced himself. We were joined by the tenor sax player, a guy called Cadillac Shorty, who immediately told us he’d been on every Little Richard record ever made. The drummer chimed in to inform us that his was the insistent beat we heard on Isaac Hayes' Shaft.

If we wanted big time bullshit, we’d come to the right place.

When they kicked in, however, they were good and the place suddenly exploded as the tight little dance area in front of us quickly filled with a motley selection of interesting characters. A pot-bellied mid-life guy with a pork pie hat and a chomped cigar dancing with a woman twice his size. A tall, lanky solo dancer was doing Limbo moves without a pole, and getting deeply into it. We never saw him again. Two large and tightly clad women danced around each other, followed by many eyes linked directly to libidos. We sat, whitely, and observed.

Sammy came on stage and played a solid, very loud set of Blues. His voice was still good, his harmonica playing still sharp, the overall sound thick, woolly and chugging. I’d never been in a juke joint before; the pace was frantic, the noise deafening, the edge palpable. The owner, a tough -looking woman in the middle range of her life, tolerated neither trouble nor the seeds of it. Yanking one guy out the door with just one hand, for crimes we didn’t understand, she shot a glare across the room that indicated immediate rough justice for anyone else who might get above-station ideas. When the set had finished, I went to take a leak in the snug little men’s room behind the bandstand. As I was standing at the wall, Sammy Myers appeared at my side. His very limited vision and the dark that we stood in immediately colluded in his dampening my jeans and shoes. I came out shaking drops off my leg and squelching ever so slightly, explaining to Bill what had happened. “You lucky sod”, he laughed, “you’ll dine out on that story more than once”.

Notes:
[1] Semaphore - an apparatus for visual signaling (as by the position of one or more movable arms or flags)

Bob-a-Job week is when the boy scouts go round the village once a year doing jobs for a bob, which was the old name for a shilling, now 5 pence.


Popular Posts