We woke up in the Riverside Hotel to far off train whistles, and birds outside our room. They give you the keys at the hotel. YOU lock the front door. In the morning I took a nice shower in one of the two men’s rooms. They had clean towels and a basket of assorted travel shampoos and conditioners. I walked back to my room barefoot on the worn wood floor. Glorious.
Lindy did the same (at the women’s restroom), and we took off in search of food. What is one of the main dishes in the Delta? Tamales. Hot tamales. Hicks Tamales are some of the best. We headed over to the Delta Blues Museum to drop off a letter from Gail and Scotty to their friend Shelly. Super cool person and she offered for us to go on the tour, but we had to move. We headed over to Stovall’s Farm so I could show Lindy where Muddy Waters cabin stood (they’ve moved it since to the museum) because Karin and I had gone there before when it was still on the side of the road. We headed up to Friar’s Point and then got on Hwy 61 to head to Memphis. That road is the road that many musicians would travel up to play in Memphis, and some would go farther (like Muddy) to Chicago. In Memphis there were better paying gigs, and recording studios… Like Sun Records.
At Sun, Sam Phillips recorded a who’s who of blues, country, and rockabilly. Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and that other guy. We were going to go to Graceland, but we ran out of time. I told Lindy, “it’s ok, Scotty’s house is much better, and Gail won’t cook at Graceland”. It was nice to see Lindy’s face as we rounded the corner onto Beale St. The tumblers were out and they were doing backflips down the street. We went into Schwab’s and Lindy bought a cool coat. But, it was Sun we were there for.
Matt Ross-Spang is the engineer there, and I had been talking to him about the next Mike Eldred Trio CD being recorded there. I told him about this trip, and we asked if the studio was open on Friday night. Matt said it was and booked the night for us. We showed up around 6pm (there are tours all day) and Matt greeted us with open arms. Matt is a soulful person, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He is also a great engineer and producer. He took us into the room, and it was like stepping into a time machine. Matt gets the whole “low-fi” thing. Vinyl baby. Noise. Distortion is your friend. He understands the historical significance of Sun. He knows he has a responsibility to every music fan or musician, and he upholds that. Matt Ross is one of the few people who continue to focus on the “feel” instead of the bit rate.
I played a Buddy Miller song and Lindy sang some beautiful harmonies. She has an incredible voice and I (as a fan, not a father) anxiously await her first CD. We got done with mine, and Lindy sat down in Sun Records and recorded a new song she had just written. Just her and her guitar live. Matt gave us the tracks (we also video taped a ton there), and we thanked him and headed back to the hotel to drop off guitars and to go see Hillbilly Casino…
Hillbilly Casino are insane. All of them. Even Ronnie. They are fronted by a crazy-hillbilly-spider-monkey named Nick. Geoff plays the upright like a maniac, and sometimes he and Ronnie switch from guitar to bass… It’s just nuts. The drummer is a werewolf, like for real. They drink LARGE amounts of alcohol… Like A N Y T H I N G that has alcohol in it. They have an orange plastic paint bucket onstage with ice in it and Pabst, Jameson scotch, Jaegermeister, turpentine, gasoline, moonshine, shoe polish, you name it, they’ll drink it; all while playing the craziest rockabilly, as well as Van Halen and KISS. They are EXTREMELY talented, and one of the best live bands you will ever see. If I was king, these guys would be opening the Grammy’s NOT Taylor what’s-her-name. It is an absolute blast to watch these guys play. I woke up laughing this morning. For our last night they really treated us great even letting me get up and play a few with them. To the Hillbilly Casino guys, thank you so much. My head hurt this morning, but it was well worth it. You guys are the real deal, and I look forward to seeing you soon in AZ.
What an amazing journey. Very little of this trip was planned, except for some of the key stops and those changed once we got going. The people we’ve met, the places we’ve seen, the food (serious diet starts tomorrow) we’ve eaten… All so great. So many comments, calls, emails, texts from you encouraging us and letting us know how inspired you were as parents and music fans. Thank you for that. You have no idea what that means to both of us. Our encouragement to you is to do this trip, or another one, but do it. Road trip baby! Talk to people, try things, and push yourself. Everybody has a beautiful story.
So, thank you Gail, Scotty, Gary, James, Todd, Scott (Herschel), Laura and all the Bunco ladies, Beebe, Zee, Jesse, and especially Rat, and Zee’s mom Joyce, Matt, Ronnie, Geoff, Nick, and the wolfman. Thank you Robert Johnson, and Muddy, Carl, Cash, Elvis, The Wolf and Ike (I wish you were alive to experience this) and all the musicians that continue to inspire us. And thank you Lindy for doing this with me. The best part of this trip was driving with you and talking with you, and watching you interact with beautiful people… Except those bitches on the elevator… And seeing you as a beautiful, soulful woman, full of poise and grace, polite and articulate, and everyday I thank God I am your Dad. Don’t ever forget the things you’ve seen this week… Except for them bitches in that elevator… And my prayer is that you’ll always keep part of these places in your heart and take your family back to soak it up. – Mike
What a trip… Yesterday, was an action packed day for sure. The Riverside Hotel is one of those places that continues to remain a home to you even after leaving. Sweet Zee kept saying when we first arrived, “you’re home now, baby!” I miss that woman. We were the only guests at the Riverside during our stay, so we took full advantage of it: playing guitar late into the night, laughing, talking… It was great. The morning was peaceful and perfect in every way. I went down to the women’s showers around 10am, tiptoeing down the hall, just so I wouldn’t disturb the silence. The bathroom is the last room in the house. It looks right out over Sunflower River, alone and sheltered by trees. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy this beauty, so I opened all the windows, and took my second favorite shower of this trip. (The first was in Senoia)
Leaving The Riverside Hotel was a bit harder than I expected. Before departing, we played two songs for Zee and Jesse and a man passing through, filming a documentary about the Delta. It was a warm experience. That’s the only way I can describe it. I just felt warm, singing in front of those beautiful people. I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to do so. After hugs and heartfelt promises of coming back in the near future, we headed out toward Muddy’s cabin. I stood right where my momma stood more than twenty years ago, and took a picture, to match the one she took before me. I love that spot. Everything’s so green right there, and quiet. The South is so quiet. We travelled along the Mississippi River for a bit, and then gradually made our way into Memphis. Daddy was really sad about leaving Mississippi. He muttered some unkind words about the tall casinos we passed before crossing into Tennessee. Simplicity and genuine contentedness is a hard thing to come by nowadays, and he saw that greed and the regular sort of bullshit that mankind seems to feed off of, was already trying to shove its way through, into the heart of America. Not cool. Heart-wrenching in fact.
I’m fascinated by Memphis. It’s tall buildings, right along-side the Mississippi banks, Beale Street, the many, many talented, but broke musicians, all around. It’s a dream if you enjoy that sort of scene, which I do. We treated ourselves to some Chicken and Waffles over at Miss. Polly’s before heading to Sun, to do what every musician dreams of doing. Record.
There we met Matt. I was sort of expecting an older, more business like uptight kind of guy when we first got there, but was pleasantly surprised by Matt. Father dearest is correct in calling him soulful. I’ve never met anyone as easygoing as this man. Immediately, I felt calm and ready. I can’t describe the feeling when we first walked into Sun. The pictures on the wall, the instruments all around, the tile on the ceiling, the windows connecting the rooms, and the tables in the very back… It was such a feeling… And that’s all I can really tell you about that. It was an experience of a lifetime, and I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to live this dream. I love Matt, and his creativity and his encouragement to do what feels right; to do what’s raw and real. Pilgrimage complete.
We left Sun around 10pm and made our way back down to Beale Street, to celebrate the end with a little Hillbilly Casino… Everyone truly is crazy, but ya know what, I wouldn’t have wanted to end this grand adventure any other way. The food, the smells, the drunk people… It was magical. Sort of. In a weird way. The boys were hilarious, but Nick… I can’t even begin to tell you about Nick, but I think crazy-hillbilly-spider-monkey just about covers it.
I miss Memphis already. I miss Nashville and Senoia and Tupelo and Greenwood and Clarksdale all so very much. I’ve grown in ways, more than one, and I feel fresh inspiration coursing through me, pushing me to finish my record and make music my all-consuming passion. All due to those six key stops we made over the last week… Blessed is the word of the week, folks. I am blessed to have the father I have, and blessed to have experienced all that I’ve experienced during these past 8 days. None of you will really get the connection my dad and I have. It’s been a strong one even before this trip, but after all this, something much bigger has come around. I get my dad in ways I couldn’t quite grasp in the past, and I’m pretty sure my dad understands my heart better then he did before. It’s been a crazy, intense week guys, and I’m glad we got to share it with you. Thank you for being a part of our journey and if there’s one last thing for me to say to you, it would be this; Get off your ass and do it yourself. Maybe you won’t take this exact route, or maybe you will, but either way, plan your great pilgrimage and grab your son or daughter and show them your soul, your heart. They want to know everything, believe me. Much love. – Lindy
We thought you may want to hear the Sun stuff, so here they are in all their raw glory! We hope you guys have enjoyed this as much as we have. Enjoy!!! – Mike and Lindy