Thursday, March 31, 2011
We headed out on USA 55 into Arkansas and found Highway 70 heading to Little Rock. 70 follows and stays right beside I-40 but goes through the small town which are far more interesting than the Interstate exit signs. In any case I have a problem with I-40 as it was the highway built to replace Route 66!
We stopped at a Waffle House for a very late breakfast. We always enjoy Waffle House as the staff is always bantering back and forth. We got two breakfasts for $10.80.
The GPS sent us on a wild goose chase finding the Downtown Riverside RV Park as I had entered Little Rock instead of North Little Rock. We finally found the place and bought a Passport America site for under $10 per night! It is right on the river and downtown (as the name suggests). The Passport sites have 50 amp power and water but no sewer. This is not a problem as there is a dump on the way out and we are only staying two or three nights. The digital TV brings in about 25 channels and my Virgin Broadband works well. It is raining but is supposed to be better tomorrow. Life is Good!
Here is Little Rock. Our RV Park is beside the arched bridge on the right of the photo. Imagine rain.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Rocket 88 was arguably the first Rock and Roll song ever performed! In March 1951, Ike Turner and his band, The Kings Of Rhythm, loaded themselves into a couple of cars with their equipment tied to the roof and headed from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Memphis where they had booked time in Sam Phillips Sun Records Studio. Their song was Rocket 88! On their way the speaker of the guitar amplifier was damaged either by falling off the roof or, as Ike claims, by getting wet in the rain that leaked into the trunk. In any case the paper cone of the speaker was damaged. Not having the time to get it repaired or the money to replace it, the band attempted to repair it by shoving wadded newspaper behind the cone. This resulted in a scratchy sound that Sam liked and incorporated into the recording. Jackie Brenston did the vocals with Ike Turner on the piano and Willie Kizart on the scratchy guitar. This hymn to the newly introduced Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was a hit and everything in music changed! Rock and Roll had arrived.
Imagine yourself in front of the radio in 1951 listening to the song:
And if you want to sing along, here are the lyrics!
You woman have heard of jalopies,
You heard the noise they make,
Let me introduce you to my Rocket '88.
Yes it's great, just won't wait,
Everybody likes my Rocket '88.
Baby we'll will ride in style,
Movin' all along.
V-8 motor and this modern design,
Black convertible top and the gals don't mind
Sportin' with me, ridin' all around town for joy.
Blow your horn, Rocket, blow your horn
Step in my Rocket and-don't be late,
We're pullin' out about a half-past-eight.
Goin' on the corner and havin' some fun,
Takin' my Rocket on a long, hot run.
Ooh, goin' out,
Oozin' and cruisin' and havin' fun
Now that you've ridden in my Rocket '88,
I'll be around every night about eight.
You know it's great, don't be late,
Everybody likes my Rocket '88.
Gals will ride in style,
Movin' all along.
The story of Stax Records is a very interesting and important story. It goes to the heart and soul of music, life and racial politics in the late 1950’s and early 60’s South. Bear with me and I will try to give you the important parts. I hope I can do the story justice.
Stax started in 1957 in a garage on East McLemore Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. It was run by a brother and sister team, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton (hence the eventual name “Stax”). It had very simple beginnings but soon started picking up some brilliant talent starting with Otis Redding. The “House” band was Booker T and The MG’s, a mixed race band. The label became known for “Black” music even though the owners and many performers were white. Stax was very proud of the fact that “there were no colors once you walked through the door. There were only people and talent”. Many of the groups they recorded and made famous were racially mixed groups and this fact alone helped break down the segregated society of the South. If you wanted to have a mixed group like Booker T And The MG’s, The Mar-Keys or the Memphis Horns play in your all white club, you had a problem. If your patrons demanded Otis Redding, you had a bigger problem. Clubs soon became integrated.
The Memphis Horns (Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson and Tom McGinley) were one white and two black performers. They spent so much time together they were like brothers. There was a Dairy Queen near the studio where they would stop to eat on the way home. This place had “Black” and “White” windows where you placed your orders. The white member of the group (I forget who he was) always stood in the “Black” line with his friends and it was only when he was threatened and abused by the rednecks that he remembered he was white. This was just the way it was with Stax. Inside the studio Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Dream” lived, far ahead of it’s time. Outside was a different world.
Stax always had an open door policy. They encouraged young people from their inner city neighborhood to drop in and meet the artists and if they thought they had any talent themselves, the studio was available. There is a map of the neighborhood area in the museum showing dots where many of the superstars Stax recorded lived. There were about ten of them within an eight or ten block radius of the studio and were discovered because of this policy.
The list of artists in the Stax family was breathtaking! Some of the names besides Otis Redding and Booker T And The MG’s were Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Issac Hayes, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Little Milton, The Delfonics and the list goes on and on. They all considered themselves a family.
The end of Stax started with the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King just a couple of miles from their door. Suddenly there was a color difference in the community and “it was no longer cool to be white”. Riots were going on as the black community blamed the white community for the murder. Record sales plummeted and concerts were cancelled. This financial pressure following so close upon the death of their main star, Otis Redding, caused the company to close it’s doors for good. The building was sold to the Church Of God who, despite a petition campaign and neighbourhood protests, tore the studio down. All that remained was a plaque on the sidewalk in front of an empty lot.
Today the site is bustling. The old theatre next door is the museum and in the place where the Stax studio once stood is the new Stax Music Academy and the Soulsville Foundation which prepares the Inner City kids of the neighbourhood for college and gives them a love of music. Donations accepted. It is a crowded, happy place once again!
Here are some photos. The second last one is Issac Hayes gold plated Cadillac, complete with TV and refrigerator.
Thinking I had a bad circuit board at best or a shot tank at worst, I looked up RV Repair on the Internet and found a mobile repair service. I called and they were here within an hour. He went through all the things I had done to no avail and then he started checking out the equipment. He figured there was nothing wrong with the tank as the water inside the tank was hot, it just was not getting to the taps.
He checked all the pipes and removed the backflow valve but that was not the problem and then he asked me if we had an outdoor shower and if I had used it recently. I did and I had! I had showers in Florida and had used the shower head to hose out the compartment in Clarksdale. He told me to go and see if I had turned the shower off by turning the taps off or by simply turning off the shower head. That was the problem! I had turned off the shower head and left both the hot and cold taps on. This was allowing the hot to mix with the cold in the pipes!
He put everything back together and gave me a bill for $160. A very expensive plumbing lesson!
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
This is the actual bus that Rosa Parks was riding home on December 1, 1955 after a long day at work in Montgomery, Alabama. A white man got on the bus and the driver told the 42 year old Ms. Parks to give up her seat for him. She had a hard day at work as a seamstress and the man looked like he could stand with no problem so she stayed in her seat. The man complained to the driver who stopped the bus and called a policeman aboard. Rosa Parks was escorted off the bus and arrested.
This act led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and forced an end to the discriminatory practice. One more step in a very long journey was started!
Photos were banned in the museum so I had to revert to my old sneaky practice. I see no harm in taking these photos and actually believe that these issues should enjoy wide circulation. I do not feel I am doing anyone any harm by doing what I do. I hope you agree.
This is what Ms. Parks had to say of her actions that day. This is from a 1992 interview:
“I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.”
This is Sam Philips’ Sun Records Studio. It was where Elvis cut his first record which he paid for himself. It cost him $3 to cut it, supposedly as a birthday gift for his mother, but that story is doubtful as his mother’s birthday was three months before he made the recording. Anyone could make a record and walk out the door with the single and only copy (no recording was made, the music went directly onto the vinyl). Sam Philips was not there that day but the woman who ran the place thought Elvis had something and made an extra copy which she played for Sam. He did not like the mournful ballad sound and did not think it would sell.
Elvis kept hanging around the studio until eventually Sam had two session players in the studio with nothing to do and had Elvis try a few songs. They sang and played ballads for a long time but nothing appealed to Sam. During a break Elvis spontaneously broke into a Blues song and the players soon picked up on it and started playing along with him. It was Elvis’ rendition of “That’s All Right Mama” and Sam’s ears perked up. He liked the blend of Country and Blues Elvis gave the song and recorded it. Sam had a friend who was a DJ and gave him a copy. The DJ played it once and the phones started ringing in the station. They ended up playing the song 14 times that night and a star was born! Elvis was not Sun’s most valuable star, that distinction belongs to Howlin’ Wolf, the Blues singer.
Sam eventually realized he did not have the money or facilities to continue with Elvis and sold his contract. The sale gave Sam enough money to pay off his debts and modernize the studio. Soon three more stars appeared at his door, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. The rest is history!
Sam Philips at his recording equipment.
“The Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis!
Me and The King! The microphone I have has “always” been around the studio and may be the one Elvis himself used!
Monday, March 28, 2011
Memphis’ Lorraine Motel was the site of the 6:01 p.m., April 4th, 1968 killing Of Dr. Martin Luther King, civil Rights leader and anti Vietnam War Crusader. He was shot in front of room 306 where he stood on the balcony talking to members of his team in the parking lot. The site has been preserved and is now the National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Motel. The site consists of the motel, the surrounding land and the buildings across the street where the fatal shot came from.
The Lorrain Motel and room 306, in front of which King was shot:
The Motel and parking lot:
The buildings across the street. The police insist the fatal shot was fired by James Earl Ray from the window on the second floor, top right.
Here is James Earl Ray’s bathroom window, partially open as it was that day. This shot was taken from as close as I could get to the balcony outside room 306.
The actual bathroom window is inaccessible due to a Plexiglas surrounding erected to replace the bathroom walls and to protect the room. This shot was taken from the taller window in the next room and gives an almost identical view. The wreath on the motel balcony was where King was standing. I resorted to my old photography tricks learned in Dallas at the Kennedy assignation site where cameras were also banned inside the buildings. This photo was shot from the hip while I looked in a different direction. Pretty sneaky, eh?
So, what is wrong with this picture? Well, if we believe the official story, everything fits. The problem is, many people including the King family did not believe the cover story and started their own investigation. It was then that the “evidence” started to fall apart. There was a conspiracy trial in 1999 in Memphis that found that there had been a far reaching conspiracy in the murder. The participants in the killing were found to be the Mafia, FBI, CIA, Military and the Memphis Police Department. This trial was hushed up and the findings suppressed.
What was so dangerous about the 1999 Memphis trial that it had to be suppressed? The evidence presented — under oath and on the record — made it abundantly clear that the reports of the 1997 House Select Committee on Assassinations, of the Civil Rights Commission appointed by Clinton’s AG Janet Reno, and the New York Times were all wrong. James Earl Ray did not murder King.
The all Black police detachment that normally protected King when he was in the city was replaced that day with no reason given. The only two Black firemen from the station across the street were told to take the day off while the army told the fire chief they needed his rooftop that day to photograph and observe King. They carried a package to the rooftop which they said contained “cameras”.
The owner of the building next door swore under oath that the bag that contained the weapon police insisted was used by James Earl Ray to kill King was dropped off at his door ten minutes BEFORE he heard the shot.
Federal Judge Joe Brown found in another trial that this gun was not the murder weapon, that the bullets did not match, the scope had never been sighted in and that the gun was incapable of making this accurate a shot.
Loyd Jowers, the defendant in the conspiracy trial was connected to the Mafia and admitted that he was involved in the assignation of King, that he had participated in the killing. He also stated that he had received a “smoking rifle” from a Memphis Police Department marksman which he later disposed of.
Immediately after the shot, two men ran from the bush area in front of the building across the street. One jumped into a green Chev and burned rubber leaving the scene right in front of a Memphis Police car which gave no apparent notice. The other fleeing man jumped into a different police car which drove away.
All this evidence they uncovered was put before a jury in Memphis, TN, in November 1999. 70 witnesses testified under oath, 4,000 pages of transcripts described the evidence, much of it new. It took the jury 59 minutes to come back with their decision that Loyd Jowers, owner of Jim’s Grill, had participated in a conspiracy to kill King, a conspiracy that included J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Richard Helms and the CIA, the military, the Memphis Police Department (MPD), and organized crime. That verdict exonerated James Earl Ray who had already died in prison.
Good question. Martin Luther King was adamantly opposed to the Vietnam War. He was organizing a mass protest in Washington to force the Government to abandon this war. He had the charisma, the organizing ability and the public support to accomplish this. There was also speculation that he was planning a run for President of the United States.
This was unacceptable to the American controlled multinational corporations that stood to lose billions if the USA abandoned the Vietnam War. These corporations had (and still have) the power to direct policy. King stood between them and their profits and he had to go. There was more than one rifle aimed at the Reverend King that day. If the marksman had missed or was interrupted, there were backups. His fate was sealed. He was a dead man walking!
All of this information has been suppressed. William Pepper’s (the King family lawyer) 2003 book, An Act of State, The Execution of Martin Luther King, published by Verso, gave a detailed report of the trial. The book was systematically ignored. Pepper said in February 2003 that he had been personally turned down by reviewers for major media. They did not want to put their jobs and reputation on the line. I have my copy on order from eBay.
This is Muddy Waters actual house! The pieces were picked up after a tornado and reassembled in the Delta Blues museum in Clarksdale. There is an eerie looking life size likeness of Muddy himself sitting in the cabin. The spaces between the planks would have been filled with mud and straw in the winter for warmth and opened in the summer for ventilation.
You got me working, boss man
Working 'round the clock
I want me a drink of water
You won't let me stop
You big boss man
Can you hear me when I call?
Oh, you ain't so big
You just tall, that's all
Sunday, March 27, 2011
I will vote Socialist (NDP, the closest thing we have to Socialist) again like I have in every election since I was 19. Does not require a great deal of thought, I just have to brace for the party asking for money as soon as I get in calling distance.
I read somewhere recently that "Voting in Canada has become much like scraping your foot on the edge of a curb to get the dog shit off your shoe". This describes my feelings exactly! Maybe time to try a Benevolent Dictatorship!
The birthplace of Elvis was just off the highway in Tupelo so we decided to stop. It was well worth the effort! The tiny house stands along the street with a museum at the back. The Church Elvis attended has been moved to the property as well. It is a tiny, two room “shotgun” house with the single bedroom at the front and the kitchen at the back.
Elvis’ dad, Vernon, built the house himself with $180 he borrowed from his boss at the time. Elvis and his twin, who was stillborn, were born in the bedroom of this house. When Elvis was two, going on three, Vernon made a copy of a $4.00 pay cheque from this same boss and tried to cash it. He was caught, charged and Vernon went to jail, serving eight months of a four year sentence. With little or no income, Elvis’ mother was unable to make payments on the $180 loan and the family was evicted and forced to live with relatives.
After he became famous, Elvis came to do a concert in Tupelo and drove past his old house which was for sale at the time for $13,000. He went to the mayor and asked him that if he donated the proceeds of the concert to the city, would the city purchase the property and vacant area behind it to make a playground for the kids of the area. The mayor agreed and the house was saved.
The family stayed in Tupelo for several years, living in various houses. One of the houses was right on the edge of the “Shake Rag” district populated by Blacks. Elvis was fascinated with the music that came from his neighbors at night and the singing in their Church.
When he was ten his mother took him to the local hardware store to buy him a birthday gift. He wanted a .22 rifle which the store owner and his mother talked him out of. He then picked a bicycle which his perhaps over-protective mother also refused to buy. The shop owner then brought out a guitar as an alternative which his mother agreed to but Elvis did not want. Realizing it was going to be the guitar or nothing, he finally agreed to accept the $7.50 guitar. The preacher in his Church taught him a few cords and he began practicing and taking the guitar to school with him every day to play for his friends. His teacher was so impressed that she entered him in a radio talent show where he came in fifth, winning $5.
It is hard to believe that he has been dead for 34 years and that if he were still alive, would be 76!
My Virgin Broadband would not work from Clarksdale but I could pick up a free city WIFI signal. The problem was, it came and went and would never stay long enough to send a Blog post or even read and answer an email!
We are now in Memphis and have good WIFI from the RV Park. I will catch up…
Friday, March 25, 2011
My credit card was “Denied” three times in a row over the last two days so I called them today to see what’s up. They asked me if I had purchased $1000 worth of clothing at Macy’s San Francisco plus $300 worth of something in a “market” in San Francisco on Wednesday and I said “NO”! Well, someone has helped themselves to my credit card number and had a friend go shopping!
They noticed the extra purchases in a different geographical area and put a “hold” on the account. They have now cancelled my card and put a “disputed” note beside five charges from California. I will have to straighten it out when I get home. I called one of my other credit cards to make sure it was OK to use which it was, so we are home free!
I think I know what the problem is. When I buy gas, I cannot pay at the pump as Canadians do not have a 5 digit Zip Code so we have to leave our card with the cashier while we pump. Some unscrupulous minimum wage worker figured out a way to supplement his/her income by swiping my card an extra time or two.
We are in Clarksdale and went to the Ground Zero Blues club to see what is going on tonight. The music starts at 9:00 and their limo is picking us up at 8:00 so we can get there in time for dinner. The limo is free so all we have to do is tip the driver! Good deal!
We are parked in the Clarksdale Fairgrounds RV Park. It is full hookup with 30 amp service and only $15 per night. There is a steel box where you put your money and space number. Almost free!
Thursday, March 24, 2011
We are so close to Clarksdale, Mississippi that we cannot give up the chance to visit it. It will add about a hundred miles onto the trip but it is “Ground Zero” for the Delta Blues! It was here where, legend has it, Robert Johnson made his deal with the Devil!
"Undisputed facts about Johnson's life are few and far between. More often than not, his legend has obscured the few grains of truth which can be discerned. According to the myth, the young bluesman desperately longed for fame and fortune. Johnson was not satisfied with his own musical abilities and felt that he needed more talent to achieve success. He was already bitter toward his creator, blaming God for the death of his beloved wife and unborn child. Despondent and irrational, he made a momentous decision. At the stroke of midnight, he walked down to the windswept crossroads at the junction of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, MS. Reciting an ancient incantation, he called upon Satan himself to rise from the fires of Hell. In exchange for Johnson's immortal soul, the devil tuned his guitar, thereby giving him the abilities which he so desired. From then on, the young bluesman played his instrument with an unearthly style, his fingers dancing over the strings. His voice moaned and wailed, expressing the deepest sorrows of a condemned sinner."
It turns out that Tupelo is The Birthplace Of Elvis Presley! The house where he was raised is now a museum so we will head there in the morning before completing the run to Memphis.
It is a little cooler here and getting more so as we head northwest. Still pleasant, but it feels noticeably cooler to our Florida warmed blood! I will post photos from Elvis' house.
* One of my readers commented to tell us we were welcome to park in their driveway in Atlanta. Thank you very much "hobopals", maybe next time through!
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
We left the secondary road and joined I-20 at Augusta, Georgia. I would love to have had more time to explore this old city but we had a goal for the day and did not stop. Augusta is the birthplace of The Godfather of Soul, James Brown and the city is very proud of it’s son!
We stopped for the night about 35 miles short of Atlanta at a Walmart that had no signs saying we could not park. We asked the greeter and she sent us to the "manager" who said they did not like it because some large vehicles had run over their rock garden. We assured him we were harmless but he said his policy was to say "no" but he then said that he goes home at 8:00 (wink, wink). Kind of silly but we took that to mean we could stay so we are.
There is a hair cutting place in the Walmart so I went for a hair cut. She asked how short I wanted it and I gave her my standard, "quite short. I like it so I hardly have to comb it". Well, I will not have to comb this one for several weeks! It is not shaved but pretty close to it! It is about 1/2 inch at the longest places! It does feel good though and if it gets hot on the way home, I will appreciate it.
We will head towards Memphis tomorrow with a visit to Graceland. I usually object to spending $30 each for tickets to attractions but after-all, it is Graceland!