Many say Clarksdale, Mississippi is the very birthplace of the blues. It would be hard to argue against it. Site of countless blues festivals and home to famous blues musicians like Muddy Waters and Son House, the town, in particular where U.S. Highways 61 and 49 intersect at the fabled Crossroads holds a mystique with blues fans , who come from around the world to experience the art form where it began.
The vibe of the blues starts in the Historic Blues District, otherwise known as Blues Alley. Within the city, you’ll find the Delta Blues Museum, a literal blues shrine of artifacts, memorabilia and actor Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club. This colourful restaurant / blues club was named to signify the blues-lore belief that Clarksdale, Mississippi, is where the blues began. It is ground zero for the music of which Muddy Waters sang, “The blues had a baby and they called it Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Blues music evolved in juke-joint nightclubs across the region. But most juke joints are tucked away, out of reach from the main highways, and sometimes known only by locals. That’s why Mississippi native and actor Morgan Freeman, who calls Clarksdale home, teamed with blues aficionados and Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett, and Howard Stovall in May 2001 to create Ground Zero Blues Club, as a home base for likeminded blues travellers. Naturally, they set it at the epicentre of blues lore.
No one ever set out to build a juke joint, said Luckett, they just always ended up in old buildings, and when the roof fell in they would move to another building. When Morgan and he happened upon a 100 year old cotton warehouse that became Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, it was nearly unsalvageable, in fact, the roof was caving in, and it had already rotted out several floors. It had to be torn down or repair. Soon after saving the Clarksdale building and establishing Ground Zero Blues Club, the group felt the pull that brought so many bluesmen before them to Memphis. Its a place where even the simple doorknob at the entrance speaks up.
With pool tables up front, exposed brick walls and rough wood floors, Ground Zero is a venue for listening to live music and drinking beer by the quart at night. A place where Southern comfort food of fried chicken, pork chops, catfish sandwiches, as well as platters of such locally favored snacks as hot tamales and fried grits. The place has been purpose designed to be performance oriented, where musicians sling lyrics on a juke joint stage almost every night of the week. Would Robert Johnson have been a regular here...quite possible, with Crossroads just a few blocks away.
Morgan Freeman wears his blues truly on his sleeves, as he speaks about what the music means to him https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7q_jaugoUk
Although Ground Zero occasionally features national acts, its website stresses that visitors are more likely to find the “real deal” here, where local musicians continue in the tradition of the forefathers such as Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker. Critics of the place say there are far better juke joints that have a more authentic feel and where better music is played, but there is no doubt about it that a little bit of celeb appeal has done wonders for keeping the blues alive, and drives fans to come in and taste some home-brewed music. Walk in some time and possible you would see Clarksdale son Super Chikan creating a veritable party with his whacky guitars built out of gas can, ceiling fan hubs, CBG’s..even a shotgun. With a killer sound system in the Peavey Versarray Line-Array system, expect the blues to ring in your ears long after the show.
GROUND ZERO BLUES CLUB – the blues mecca in Mississippi