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There are a lot of elements that go into art and one of them happens to be authenticity. Being true to who you are. I ran into authenticity while at the crossroads of the blues in Clarksdale MI recently. Heading over the tracks to check out a juke joint I was stopped by a man sitting on a bench on the side of the road.
“You know me!” he exerted.
I stared back and said, “Sorry but I don’t think so.”
“You know me!” he again emphatically stated. Leaving no doubt that I did.
Deciding to play along I said, “Oh yeah right, remind me of your name?”
That was my introduction to 92 year old T-Model Ford who was slated to play the juke joint called Reds on the other side of the tracks in Clarksdale Mississippi.
When I returned a couple hours later it was with my wife and mother, both of which were traveling along on a southern road trip which included Gettysburg, Nashville, Graceland and now Clarksdale as we headed south on the Blues Highway.
Reds is basically a shack. Ramshackle and pasted together with sheet metal and glue. I would have never thought to enter but for the recommendation of a few locals. Entering was transporting. Red glowing and lurid stringed lights were the only illumination. Cigarettes, large bottles of beer and a local crowd enjoyed the scene. With a smattering of out-of-towners coming in, wide eyed and gaping with smiles of gratitude. The gratitude was due to the “authenticity” of the joint – juke joint. And the realness of the player behind the guitar – T-Model Ford.
It was real. And the playing was real too. It wasn’t the best playing, but one became transfixed, mesmerized by the scene, the smells and the sounds. Looking up T-Model Ford on the internet one finds that he has about 26 children from various women, was sentenced to prison for murder, and when he was asked how many times he has been to jail he responded, “Every Saturday night there for a while.” Hailing from Greenville I realized I was looking at blues dead straight in the eyes.
So back to authenticity. You are who you are. If you’re a bluesman, you’re a bluesman. There’s something special about embracing that which makes you, you.