BLOG Mandolin Jack tour September - October 2014

Memphis Stax museum


Lost in Memphis. I do the usual tourist trick, when having to ask the route from a police officer, hold a map in one hand and speak with a very clear English accent! I got lost again but look where I ended up!

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Clarksdale, Mississippi

The home to so many blues musicians, from my original hero Gus Cannon to Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters, just to name a few. It felt good to stand on the railroad tracks, the only way to travel for many travelling musicians.

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New Orleans

Before I was sure I would actually get to New Orleans I watched the TV series 'Tremé' and soaked it all in. Imagine my excitement, when, trying to find somewhere to park in the city, I turn off a street beside the Louis Armstrong Park to find I've pulled up in a street called Tremé.

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To Kill A Mockingbird

I read the book for the first time just before I came away, although I've seen the movie, once years ago and again recently. Hey! I'm driving up through Alabama - I have to visit Monroeville, to see where Harper Lee came from, and soak up more of the history by visiting the courthouse.

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The 5-Spot, Nashville

And talking of TV shows, The Good Intentions managed to get to play in two places made famous by the TV series 'Nashville'. The first was The Bluebird Cafe, and the second, by far more fun was The 5 Spot in East Nashville. Here we are with the amazing Jon Byrd.

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Finally come to the last gig. A great night at Van DeLisle's Black Dog House Concert. I do a warm up and The Good Intentions join me for my last song, before blowing everyone away with an amazing set and getting a well-deserved standing ovation.

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Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana

Tuesday 23rd through Friday 26th September

Tuesday 23rd September arrive in Nashville. The following morning I drive from Nashville to Memphis down I-40. Once off the Interstate, I get lost around confusing Memphis back-streets when WHOA! There's STAX! So I get a chance to go round the Stax museum - the "real" thing even though it's rebuilt. I'm not a huge museum-lover and glass cases with things like "Steve Cropper's Guitar" doesn't do much for me; however being in the old theatre that got turned into a studio with its sloping floor and huge monitor speakers gives a real feeling of what it would have been like back in the day. Hit the road, Stax!

  • Stax Stax
    Inside STAX Studio #1
  • Stax Stax
    Inside STAX Studio #2

Next to Clarksdale down Highway 61 (The Blues Highway). Get to Clarksdale at sundown just in time to get into the Blues Museum there too. Out of all the blues musicians that have lived or worked in Clarksdale, the biggest buzz is seeing my first blues hero Gus Canon so prominently displayed. Driving 'round Clarksdale I meet Red (of Red's Juke Joint fame) loading up his truck. Unfortunately Red doesn't open up on Wednesday nights but we have a nice chat and hope to meet up again later. Later local musician Deke and some guys from Hungary turn up and blow some funky mouth-harp to my mandolin; but no Red! So to listen to some music I have to go to Ground Zero Blues Club but it's some of the worst blues I've heard anywhere! Sorry, guys, but you shouldn't be playing that damn tourist music!

I need to hear some good blues whilst in Clarksdale!! I dig out my Greg Allman CD and play "I believe I'll go back home" at full volume in my car!

  • Blues Highway Blues Highway
    The Blues Highway through Mississippi
  • Ground Zero Ground Zero
    Ground Zero club in Clarksdale, Mississippi
  • Set off from Clarksdale extra early on Thursday, driving down 61 in the early morning sun through the cotton fields, watching small crop-dusters buzzing the highway, to Vicksburg for coffee at Café 61 in the old town; cobbled streets, pumped jazz and a funky old record shop, very cool. Breakfast of bagels!

  • bagel in vicksburg bagel in vicksburg
    Eating a bagel in Vicksburg, Mississippi
  • Ponchatoula Ponchatoula
    Pretty Ponchatoula, Louisiana
  • From there it's down through the tip of Louisiana to Baton Rouge, down the road called The Scenic Highway between the Exxon Mobil Resin Plant and the railroad. Hmm! Not particularly scenic! Via a town called Slaughter (for those of you who are Buddy Bolden fans). I eventually find my way to Boutins' Restaurant in Baton Rouge where there should have been a Cajun band playing, but instead it's a keyboards-based swamp-rock band ... OK but not what I've driven to Louisiana to see. It would have been a totally disappointing night, except for a couple who came and set at the table next to me. They got up to dance and were a joy to watch .. like slow jiving but in perfect symmetry.

    The following morning, however, I head off early; down the Louisiana back roads through Hammond via pretty Ponchatoula & Madisonville. Beautiful. Steamy. Listening to hot Louisiana swamp & zydeco on KLEB 1600AM "The Rajun' Cajun" out of Golden Meadow Louisiana. Then to Mandeville LA. This is where I click in as a Lucinda Williams fan and drive across the toll-bridge .. "the longest bridge I ever crossed over Pontchartrain". It is still the longest bridge over water in the world. I drive the half-hour clunk clunk clunk singing "Crescent City" with tears in my eyes.

  • Pontchartrain Pontchartrain
    The longest bridge over Pontchartrain
  • French Quarter French Quarter
    Strolling 'round the French Quarter looking for Willie Mae's!
  • New Orleans! Turning off Canal Street looking for somewhere to park I manage to park in the street called Tremé. The TV series leaps into focus. It's hot now. I walk the French Quarter doing the tourist bit, then, taking my life in my hands search out (and find) Willie Mae's amazing fried chicken family-owned restaurant in Tremé-Lafitte. Ah! Red beans and rice to die for!

  • Willie Mae's Willie Mae's
    Wow! Willie Mae's fried chicken! Willie Mae's red beans & rice!
  • The Shed, Gus Cannon
    The Shed, great bikers bar in Ocean Springs, Mississippi
  • I finally get to my friend Darrell's house in Mobile, Alabama late afternoon. Head off for a cold beer at The Shed out past Pascagoula, but (again) I get to hear no blues!



    Saturday 27th September through Wednesday 1st October

    Coming up is four wonderful music-filled & relaxing days in Theodore, Mobile, Alabama. I'm staying in a lovely house, a great couple and three entertaining dogs, including the quiet and intelligent Maggie. Mobile Bay is 2 minutes walk down a sandy lane, with Gaillard Island just on the horizon. It's a house full of music with a recording studio. We play until our fingers bleed! One gig sadly got cancelled, but we managed to shake a leg down at The Office Lounge down near Orange Beach. There's a lot of driving and a lot of great stories!

    Mobile is a funky town at night, especially downtown. My fortune cookie in the Chinese buffet says "You are a happy man"! How right it is!

    • Studio Studio
      The "Alabama Studio" ... the perfect location for four days of creative fun!
    • Way too soon it's Wednesday and time to make it back to Nashville. I'm sad to leave my wonderful new friends Jimi & Darrell, but I need to get back to Nashville. Having recently read the book "To Kill A Mockingbird" and watched the Gregory Peck movie again, I wanted to drive to Monroeville, Alabama to see the courthouse. It's a thrill to be in the actual courthouse that they copied for use in the film. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." (Atticus Finch). Monroe County is beautiful, and on the back road heading north I take I see no other cars for nearly an hour. Funny that I am destined to travel much of route 41 from Alabama & from Chicago both leading to Nashville.

      Red dirt & cotton. Fried chicken & turnip greens at a truck-stop buffet.

      Birmingham, Alabama.

    • Monroeville Courthouse Monroeville Courthouse
      The Courthouse, Monroeville, Alabama; the location for much of "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
    • Alabama Alabama
      Empty roads through Alabama; Route 41 heading north out of Monroeville
    • Hello Nashville in the daylight. It's good to be back! Straightaway I tune my radio to WSM 650AM "The Legend"



      Thursday 2nd through Saturday 4th October

      Thursday meet up with my old friend Willi. We have a little back-porch pickin' rehearsal then drive down to the studio to listen to a rough mix of the song we co-wrote "Driving Through Nashville". Later go to the Station Inn to see Johnny Campbell & The Bluegrass Drifters. Sad to see The Station Inn being squeezed out by the new gentrified Nashville; expensive bars and cordon-bleu restaurants .. it's almost "we don't want no pickers 'round here".

      HillyBilly Mardi Gras is on Fridays at the 360 Burger Bar in Hickory Hollow, Nashville Tennessee; a great jam with Willi X Evans, Rory, John and Gary. Plus dear friends Joe LaMay & Sherri Reese drove down from Kentucky to see us and played a bit too! What a lovely thing to happen. And Mandolin Jack loves to jam on songs like Wang Dang Doodle and Every Day I Have The Blues...!

      mp4 to webm by v2.8

      Saturday is the big gig day; lunchtime kick-off at Richard's Cajun café in White's Creek, then 3:00 til 5:00 at Doc's Antique Archeology in Clinton Street, Nashville. Then I leap into a car with friend Gary to get to the wonderful Doghouse Party out at Hollie & Carl's place. Nice to do "Oil Grease & Diesel" with Gary again.

    • 360 Burger 360 Burger
      360 Burger Bar, Nashville with good friend Willi X Evans
    • The Doghouse Party The Doghouse Party
      At the Doghouse Party with good friend Gary Cavanaugh
    • The Good Intentions - Nashville & all points North

      Sunday 5th through Saturday 11th October

      Pete & Gabi from The Good Intentions arrive. After a wonderful lunch with some good mutual friends we get ready for the Bluebird Cafe gig in the evening. 6.30 start in line with everyone else outside this now 'must-visit' tourist spot. A fun gig crammed in between other high-quality acts. The show finishes with the very sharp & funny Don Schlitz, writer of many classic songs including Alison Krauss' (and Ronan Keating's) "When You Say Nothing At All".

      Monday we've got a house concert, but it's the Titans game. The I-40 is solid between me in Donaldson Pike and East Nashville - but by now luckily I know shortcuts. However in Nashville there are road closures too, around the Cumberland River bridge. OMG it's like Twickenham on Rugby Day! However we have a fun time at the House Concert with Jon Byrd and The Good Intentions. Nice to play purely acoustic. Home before the storm.

      Tuesday we're rollin' round Nashville looking for record shops. Lunch in Noshville. In the evening it's The Good Intentions again - this time at The 5 Spot in East Nashville. A lively venue with an eclectic mix of music; folk, honky-tonk, bluegrass and funk-jazz ... all of it excellent.

    • House Concert House Concert
      House Concert, Nashville with The Good Intentions
    • The 5 Spot The 5 Spot
      The 5 Spot, East Nashville with Pete & Gabi (The Good Intentions)
    • Wednesday: We get away a bit later than I'd hoped ... but at least it's after a nice lazy coffee in East Nashville. Ahead of me is a 12-hour drive to Madison, Wisconsin. However there's always time for a bit of sightseeing, because we just HAVE to stop off in Metropolis, Illinois and take a few selfies in front of the Superman sculpture!

    • Superman Superman
      Metropolis, Illinois; Superman leaps from a building!
    • illinois illinois
      Illinois ... all day!
    • 2nd breakfast is in Rube's diner, Metropolis. We head up through Illinois, the longest state I've driven through! Lunch in Effingham at the aptly-named Midway Bar. Last piss-call Paw Paw, Rockford IL. Final drive into Madison in the dark to meet up with everyone at the even more aptly named "Weary Traveler" on Williamson Street. Then we go for "after-dinner-drink drinks" at Mickey's Tavern down the road where I am blown away by Tani Diakite & the Afrofunkstars ... the most amazing Mali music played on a kora with full band including guitar, 2 congas, drums, keyboard etc. What an unexpected find in a small bar in Madison, Wisconsin! Watch this video ... Diyale (My Love) by Tani Diakite & the Afrofunkstars. Wow, I dance all night! What an amazing day!

    • Monoma Bay Monoma Bay
      Our wonderful host Andy points out where poor Otis Redding came down in Monoma Bay, Madison, Wisconsin
    • Friends Friends
      Good friends Josh Harty & Jess with our new bass player Brian Anderson (only temporary unfortunately!!)
    • Tani Diakite & the Afrofunkstars Tani Diakite & the Afrofunkstars
      Tani Diakite & the Afrofunkstars - the amazing band we happened upon in Mickey's Tavern, Madison
    • Thursday: Madison is a lovely town; small, walkable, nice buildings, friendly people We breakfast in Lazy Janes. We stare sadly into the distance where Otis Redding's plane came down in Monoma Bay. Evening gig is in the Brocach Pub, Madison, where The Good Intentions are joined by excellent upright string-bass player Brian Anderson from New Glarus, WI. The wonderful Josh Harty who has organized this leg of the tour kindly does support for us.

      Friday. If you're ever in Dubuque, Iowa, take a look inside the Hotel Julien, reputed hideout of Al Capone whenever things got too hot in Chicago. And of course, if you're there, with that connection, you have to brunch at an Italian restaurant!

    • Dubuque Dubuque
      Dubuque, Iowa; bolt-hole for Al Capone
    • The Rozz-Tox The RozzTox
      The Rozz-Tox, Rock Island, Illinois
    • stuffed parrot stuffed parrot
      Brian originally thought it was a real bird, but discovered it was a stuffed parrot
    • Next stop the Quad cities, and to Rock Island Illinois for a quick interview on WVIK Augustana College radio 90.3 FM then to the Rozz-Tox where soundman/stage producer Ian Harris gives us one of the best on- and off-stage sounds I've heard! It was a good gig too!

    • chicago chicago
      Chicago with The Good Intentions
    • The El The El
      The El, Chicago
    • Lake Michigan Lake Michigan
      Lake Michigan, Chicago
    • Saturday: Last day with The Good Intentions! We drive to Chicago for the Van DeLisle house concert. I manage to sneak in a trip on the Chicago "El" (or is it "L"?) downtown and walk beside the ever-blue Lake Michigan. The Good Intentions are amazing as ever, and me & Brian the bass player have cemented into a tight backing band! Great fun. A lovely venue, sweet people who give us a standing ovation at the end. A perfect conclusion to a great tour!

    • The Good Intentions The Good Intentions
      The Good Intentions at the Van DeLisle Concert, Chicago
    • The Good Intentions The Good Intentions
      The Good Intentions at the Van DeLisle Concert, Chicago
      • LonesomeRoad LonesomeRoad
        The Good Intentions join Mandolin Jack for "Lonesome Road"
      • Van DeLisle Van DeLisle
        A wonderful evening at Van DeLisle's


Chicago to Nashville

Sunday 12th through Wednesday 15th October

  • Chicago Farewell Chicago Farewell
    Saying goodbye to Chicago and our wonderful hosts!
  • The end! A final somewhat-lonely drive from Chicago down through Indiana, a long, tedious slow road. Started with a trip going round a large flea-market a little way south of Hammond and picked up a few items. Then a couple more long hours south to get a mediocre brunch with totally uninterested waitresses in a "family" restaurant in Kentland, Indiana .. you know who you are! Got a little lost in Evansville and just made it to Nashville before the storm. On that first night back, I stayed in a hotel near the airport - big mistake! It was full of blue-rinse Opryland coach-tourists!

    One last day in Nashville to catch up with a few friends; then on Tuesday midday I'm in Nashville airport just about to start on an unimaginably long 22 hour transit back to London, PHEW!

    I arrive back in through the front door sometime late Wednesday afternoon!