Monday, April 25, 2005

I’ve just returned from a Southern blitzkrieg—Tash and I saw Clarksdale, Mississipi, Vicksburg, Mississipi, New Orleans, Nashville, and Memphis all in a week. We’ve drowned in music and so much greasy food that my teeth feel kind of loose.

Cat Head Music, based in Clarksdale, was sponsoring its annual Juke Joint Blues Festival, featuring a spectacular array of the Delta’s finest local talent. Considering that Ike Turner, Son House, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson all come from Clarksdale, and the legendary crossroads where Robert Johnson traded his soul to the devil is also in Clarksdale, you’d imagine a juke festival of local artists to be a sweat-soaked shouting powerhouse.

We got started Friday afternoon at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club. Meant to evoke the feeling of a giant juke joint, Freeman’s club feels more like the marketing people at Hooters having a go at Real Authentic American Blues. However, Clarksdale isn’t but so big, and anyplace with a stage in town is going to host some amazing acts. About 30 seconds after walking in the door, we met Puddin’, as seen below:

The man was actually sitting there hustling people at three-card monte, wearing a gold chain and a bunch of giant shiny gold rings. He spoke in a mushy south-mouth that I found difficult to understand and seemed like another language to Tash’s Aussie ears.

He put his hand on a woman’s buttock and upper thigh shortly after winning a few “hands” from other club patrons. She turned around to say “Puddin’, what you up to?,” to which he responded, “Naw, baby, I was just checkin’ You ain’t got nothin’ in yo’ pocket…”

A few beers into the afternoon, Puddin’ shared with me that he was no longer able to achieve an erection without pharmacological assistance. I told him that I was sorry to hear that, and he grimaced, going “pshh,” with a dismissive wan of the hand. “Lemme tell you somethin’, son. Man with a hard-on spend money, spend money, spend money. Man without a hard-on got nothin’ to do but make money. So I’m cool.”

This is Mister Tater, the Music Maker.

If Puddin'was difficult to understand, Tater needs freaking subtitles. He sings, dances, plays guitar and bass, a one-man blues explosion. He's never happier that when he's performing, except when people are treating him like a superstar. He's got this inner radiance that shoots right out of his smile, which comes really, really easily. He explained that all of his life-pains, all his frustrations and everything else just flies out of him when he makes his music, and it's what he lives for.

Below is Mister Tater's signature Stage Kick, followed by a shot of him performing live that night.



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