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Ground Zero

by Kathleen Walls

 

If you are die-hard Blues fan there is one place that will bring the Blues into your life like no other place on earth, Ground Zero Blues Club. Ground Zero is not just another blues club. It is as close as you can get to the roots of the blues.

Ground Zero

Now, you might be wondering why a blues club, no matter how special, is being featured on Inn Roads . The answer to that is simple. Ground Zero has a secret. While downstairs is a rocking howling juke joint, upstairs are seven delicious retro-decorated apartments you can rent to complete your blues experience.

When you arrive in Clarksdale, Mississippi and visit the Delta Blues Museum, look just down the street and you will see an ancient brick cotton-warehouse with an old settee, an oilcloth covered table, a rusted burner and several other items usually associated with porches of the "down 'n out." You might wonder "is it safe to go into there?"

Morgan and Bill Photo credit Ground Zero

Not only is it safe to enter, you will miss the time of a lifetime if you turn away. Think about where the blues originated: Not with the already rich and famous. The porch, like the building itself is a carefully crafted version of authenticity.

The club opened in 2001, owned in part by Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett, a local attorney and former candidate for governor of Mississippi. Many people who only associate Morgan Freeman with his Hollywood persona do not realize he is a Delta native and has a home in Clarksdale near Ground Zero.


What they created has become a legend, not just locally but around the globe. The inside is still more authentic juke joint. Every square inch of the walls are covered with graffiti. Bill explained how that came about and why it is encouraged. "On opening night the place was packed and one young lady wanted to get up from her bar stool for a few minutes but not lose it. Someone gave her a marker and she wrote her name on the stool." A tradition was born.

Quirky upstairs hall

While we were there , a couple from England arrived even though it was Monday and no band was scheduled. They were spellbound listening to Bill Luckett tell about the beginnings of the club. Bill told us visitors from all over show up at the club..The names and messages on the wall graffiti bear him out. They want to eat fried catfish and fried green tomatoes and hear both big names and local blues musicians. After all this is where it all really began. W. C. Handy, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf are all from around here. The crossroads where Robert Johnson reputedly sold his soul to become a great blues musician is just down the road. Bill Luckett reflected on this and felt that the Crosssroads "is more about a state of mind than an actual place."


Supposedly the crosroads where
Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil

Whether the crossroads is a real place or a state of mine, Ground Zero encapsulates the soul of Delta Blues. The place has been showcased on CBS' 60 Minutes , CNN, Turner South, The Food Network, The Travel Channel, and The Discovery Channel and was the site for filming of Last of The Mississippi Jukes and Blues Divas . Named in 2005 as one of the "Top 100 Bars and Nightclubs in America.� It has been featured in publications such as National Geographic Traveler , Southern Living , USA Today , Esquire Japan , Food and Wine, The Washington Post and TV Guide and others .

The apartments upstairs, in what was once the loft of the cotton warehouse, are a way to keep the blues experience for more than the time of an actual performance. They are named The Delta Cotton Company Apartments. Each of the six suites are furnished as they might have been in the forties or fifties and decorated with wonderful blues posters of artist or festivals.


Good Middling also known as Morgan's Apartment

Each apartment is named in the tradition of the old cotton warehouse for a particular grade of cotton. "middling" or "ordinary" and then graded as "strict low, good" or "low." The ratings have nothing to do with the value of the apartment. It's just more of the "keeping in character" that is done so well here. The apartments were designed by the owners' wives, Myrna Colley-Lee and Francine Luckett to fit the personality of the club.

Apartment number 1 as you enter the graffiti covered hall is "Good Middling" and often referred to as �Morgan's Apartment� since this is the one he used while his house was being built. It offers a king size bed, a great combo living/dining/kitchen area and a private bath. All of the apartments have kitchen facilities and at least one bath. Since this apartment is built across the front above Ground Zero Blues Club, it offers a wonderful view of Blues Alley.

Strict Middling

I stayed in the second apartment, "Strict Good Ordinary," with a window overlooking ht esde of the club and a great view of Delta Avenue downtown.

The apartments range from "Low Middling," an efficiency, to "Good Ordinary," a large two bedroom, two bath suite.

One of the most fun things is reading the graffiti on the walls of the hall. It does stop at the door of the apartments. They are pristine within. One visitor wrote "I love the nights I can't remember with old friends I can't forget."

 

Another philosopher wrote, "Know who you are. Know where you are from. Know where you are going."

Perhaps my favorite said it best. "If you can't improve on the silence, don't say anything."

One thing about silence, if you are there on a band night, remember you are on top of a juke joint. The music will envelop you but after all if you're there on a band night why would you be upstairs trying to sleep when the blues are rocking out downstairs?

One good thing about staying here is if you should get carried away with the music while at the club and imbibe more than you should, you don't have to drive to your lodging, just stumble up the steps. And unlike Robert Johnson, you don't have to sell your soul to stay here. The rates are much more reasonable.

Ground Zero blues Club http://www.groundzerobluesclub.com

 

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