Morgan Freeman at Corner of the Crossroad; Clarksdale, Mississippi

Corner of the Crossroad, Clarksdale, Mississippi
excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2014

Van full of drums, driving all over the South, delivering the gospel of the groove. I had to stop here at this historical, holy place, on my tour from Topeka/Wichita/Memphis, to this stopover at the infamous crossroads, then on down to New Orleans and finally back to St. Petersburg, Florida before flying back to LA.

The intersection was run down, derelict with the remains of a blue tile greasy spoon floor with just a hint of wall left. Life is slow, not much traffic, a few tractors and trucks. There is a small sign announcing that this is where Bobbie Johnson got his recording contract with the Devil. I wanted to buy this corner and make it a drum church. The church of the groove. This van full of African djembes had come full circle back to this place where they originally had been used to survive and even thrive through the hardships of slavery. This survival energy was inspiring me to play, to share, to help heal. I had a good reason to be here. I was paying my respects to the mystery of the groove.
Now, in this day and age, the carpetbaggers were real estate brokers and bankers refinancing the working poor, still holding on to their little piece of Mississippi or everywhere else in the country where the laws had been loosened to accomodate the mortgage loan gangsters. Every country road I drove down advertised home refinancing. It was a dirty deal. I wrote a song, “…Got a piece of property, valuable property, at the Corner of the Crossroad, just the devil, you and me, at the Corner of the Crossroads….” The blood is in the mud here. It’s rural, and it’s as poor as you can get. The bales of cotton are now as large as eighteen wheelers, laying in the wet earthen fields like giant larvae.

Ground Zero is The Blues Bar at the Crossroads. It’s supported by Morgan Freeman. The walls are covered with signatures and pictures, even an old beat up Zappa poster behind the bar. But most of the names are old, forgotten blues masters that worked the chitlin circuit for decades. The gold sparkle Ludwig drum set on the empty stage was exactly the same type kit I had used with Tim Buckley.
“Birthplace of the Blues”, is printed proudly on the water tower. But more importantly for me, it is the home of the Downbeat. The home of the miraculous healing grooves.

The magic was high and my timing was impeccable. I flew back and forth from LA to where ever I had left the van full of drums and picked up the tour again. I was on the road more than I was in Santa Monica. It was a discovery trip; learning how the downbeat was working it’s healing magic all over the country. I had left the Heartland Spiritual Alliance Festival in Lawrence in my donated dodge caravan I had driven up from Florida to Cape Cod then out to the nuns in Michigan then down to KC, I had called back to LA while driving East from Wichita.
“I got a CD from somebody in Memphis…”
“It’s right here.” Cathy responded. She read me the phone number. It was a recording studio.
“Skinny White Chick is doing a session today.” The secretary said.
“Where are you?” SWC asked when she got on the line.
“I’m ninety miles from Memphis.”
“Can you come in now and do your drum magic on these songs? The drum machine ain’t cuttin’ it.”
The producer was a Sixties war horse. “Do you just drive around the country dropping in on sessions?” He said somewhat amazed after the first take keepers on the songs I laid djembe down on.
I asked him how to get to The Crossroads.
“Follow the Mississippi River south. When you get there, you’ll know….and check out that actor guy’s bar and restaurant.”
After the session, I went with Skinny White Chick around the coffee house circuit in Memphis. She was the local booker. We played at a few places. The young singer/songwriters were sincere, working hard on their craft. One had been to LA but had come back to Memphis. When they realized I had been Tim Buckley’s drummer they were very respectful. Jeff Buckley had lived and sang here, and died here, not that long ago.
A little voice inside me said, “Don’t get too high profile with this, just yet.” I didn’t want my horse shot out from underneath me again; the way Tim and his music had suddenly been removed from my life.
I asked a guy coming in to work the evening at the Ground Zero.
“Could you take a picture of me here in the front of the club with my drum?”
“Sure, Buddy.” He said and clicked away.

excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2014

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