Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Rusting Tin Becomes Blues Treasure

By Ron Harrist
Associated Press Writer - 1994


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) --Isaac Tigrett, who gave the world the Hard Rock Cafe, says draping his latest inspiration with tin sheets rusting for almost a century in the humid Mississippi Delta was nothing short of spiritual. The tin, pulled from a crumbling cotton warehouse, will soon coat the latest in his new chain of blues restaurant-clubs, known as House of Blues, on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. 

The warehouse, built in 1904, is located near the intersection of U.S. 61 and U.S. 49 east of Clarksdale, a location Tigrett and others consider "probably the greatest historical point as far as the roots of blues mythology." Tigrett, 45, said it was in-spiration from his guru, Indian spiritual leader Satya Sai Baba, that gave him the idea for his House of Blues, and it was after a time of meditation in Memphis that he drove down to the crossroads and discovered the warehouse. 

"It is at this crossroads where Robert Johnson, who was a young fan of blues music and wanted to be a great blues star in the 1930s, who couldn't play much or write much, dis-appeared one summer but came back to that point to set the standard for blues," the Jackson, Tenn., native said. "One of the first songs he wrote was about coming to the crossroads and praying for the Devil to reveal himself," Tigrett said. "He did and Johnson said, `If you give me talent I will give you my soul."' The classic blues story was retold in the movie "Crossroads," a 1986 production that starred Ralph Maachio of Karate Kid fame. John Ruskey, curator of the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale said many area residents were a little surprised any-one would "want to take that old crumbling cotton warehouse and tear it down and ship the tin to the Sunset Strip." 

"But it's great when they will pay somebody for an old build-ing that hasn't been used for years, and pay people to tear it down, Ruskey said. "It's got to be good for the economy around here." Ruskey said if Tigrett wanted to take a slice of the Delta to California, he made a wise choice because "he's getting authentic material from the land where the blues began." The Clarksdale area has given the blues world names like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Otis Clay, and Ike Turner. And right down the road, big names like B.B. King, Albert King, and Howling Wolf first poured their souls into words and guitar music. "People seem to think the blues is dead in the Delta, that when these big names left, the music left," Ruskey said.

"That's far from the truth. For every musician who head off to Chica-go or somewhere else, two stayed behind." Tigrett and partner Dan Aykroyd, aka Elwood Blues, opened their first House of Blues in Cambridge, Mass., in Novem-ber, 1992, followed by one in New Orleans. The Los Angeles version will open next month. The Aenaes Group, which oversees more than $1 billion of Harvard University's endowment fund, has. provided, of dollars to help finance the venture and for start-up capital for other Tigrett's enterprises, ranging from a new blues record label to a syndicated blues radio show and a film company. The clubs, while built around blues music, also provide a live music venue for both veteran blues musicians and newcomers. Blues will be the main fare, he said, but the clubs also will feature music that uses blues as its roots. The chain also owns the largest collection of outside art, original African American-Delta art, in the county. 

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