If there is a musical navel or crossroads for Mississippi Delta blues, it must be on the streets of Clarksdale, a city that lies in the heart of the region known for the blues. Generations of young black musicians fled surrounding plantations and moved to Clarksdale, where department stores, restaurants, barbershops, and wRoX radio station were beacons of hope and excitement.
Celebrated musicians like Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Reverend C. L. Franklin (father of Aretha Franklin), and Sam Cooke grew up in and around Clarksdale. Artists like B. B. King regularly visited and performed at clubs in the city, and Bessie Smith tragically died in Clarksdale from injuries she received in an automobile accident. The city’s beloved disc jockey Early Wright played the blues and announced that “nighttime is the right time, the Early Wright time,” for over forty years at wRoX radio station.
In 1968, I recorded many hours of Jasper Love’s stories in his home at 420 McKinley Street. Love told me that his grandparents were brought to the Clarksdale area as slaves, and he vividly recalled the experiences they described when he was a child. He also remembered being “scared to death” to meet British blues scholar Paul Oliver and California music producer Chris Strachwitz. Love’s tales are set in and around the city and frame the musical worlds of which he was an important part.
Jasper Love’s friend Wade Walton also grew up near Clarksdale, and musicians and friends gathered for conversation and drinks each week in the back of his barbershop. Known for his “barbershop boogie-woogie,” Walton recalled Ike Turner’s early days, Sonny Boy Williamson’s funeral, and Howling Wolf’s reunion with his mother.
Within these worlds, blues house parties were common, and I was privi-