Top Five Juke Joints
- Poor Monkey Lounge, Merigold
- Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia
- Red's, Clarksdale
- Ground Zero, Clarksdale
- Vaughan's, New Orleans
VISITING JUKE JOINTS
It's believed that 'juke' is a West African word that survived in the Gullah Creole-English hybrid spoken by isolated African Americans in the US. The Gullah 'juke' means 'wicked and disorderly.' Little wonder, then, that the term was applied to roadside sweatboxes of the Mississippi Delta, where secular music, suggestive dancing, drinking and, in some cases, prostitution were the norm. The term 'jukebox' came into vogue when recorded music, spun on automated record-changing machines, began to supplant live musicians in such places, as well as in cafes and bars.
Most juke joints are black neighborhood clubs, and outside visitors can be a rarity. Many are mostly male hangouts; others are frequented by men and couples. There are very few places that local women, even in a group of two or three, would turn up without a male chaperone. Otherwise, women can expect a lot of persistent, suggestive attention.
For visitors of both sexes, having a friendly local with you to make some introductions can make for a much better evening. It can also help to call ahead to find out what's going on and to say you're going to stop by. If you arrive alone and unannounced, talk to people to break the ice - but women might want to act like they're training to be nuns.
Note that juke joints don't always keep regular hours. Some open only when the owner's in the mood (another reason to call ahead).
Tom Downs was introduced to Mississippi unexpectedly when his car broke down on I-55, somewhere in Yalobusha County, en route from Memphis to New Orleans. 'It was high noon in July,' he recalls, 'and I had some walking to do to get to a service station that appeared to double as an automotive graveyard. Old sedans and trooper cars overgrown with vines. It was a hallucinogenic experience for a Californian like me.' Tom's car avoided the same fate, but needless to say, he fell in love with the place. He also has an abiding affection for blues music and, to hear him tell it, 'pork prepared every which way.' Tom is author of several Lonely Planet guidebooks, including New Orleans and Ireland. He lives in Berkeley, CA, with his wife and children.
Excerpted from Lonely Planet's Road Trip: Blues & BBQ