The Meeting Place sits on the corner of Spruce Street (E-W) and 6th Street (N-S), 1 block off Highway 1. |
You can take 6th Street from Highway 82 or turn right on Spruce Street from Highway 1. Either way, it's easy to find the Meeting Place.
Here's a shot of the Meeting Place's Spruce Street wall, the camera pointing north. The Bluesmobile, that fine example of American craftsmanship, sits just out of sight to the left.
The Meeting Place reminds me somewhat of Roque's Grocery, Pool Hall, and House of Blues in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Both places are neighborhood bars. Where Roque's has groceries, the Meeting Place has a restaurant. After dark on blues band nights, you can step outside of either place and see folks sitting on their front porches and watching the activity in the parking lot and listening to the music without having to pay a $3 cover charge.
The camera pointed west, here's the Meeting Place's front door, located on the 6th Street side of the building. There's an apartment building to the right of the camera and well-maintained shotgun houses behind the camera. Just after I snapped this photo, 2 young guys, maybe 16 or 17 years old, walked up and wanted to know what I was doing. When I explained, they said, "Wow, man, cool. Take our picture."
Now, I wish I had. But, then, I said, "Can y'all play a guitar or blow a harp?"
"No, man," they answered, disappointed looks on their faces.
"Well, y'all learn how and I'll be glad to take y'all's picture. Learn to play the blues. Okay?"
Take a look at the menu hanging on the wall behind the counter/bar to the right of the front door.
On the beverage side, note that you could drink a Colt 45 Malt Liquor for $1 even when the band's playing.
On the food side, note items #6 and #7. A buffalo is a carp-like fish. (See "A Sunday Afternoon Delta Juke Joint Fish Fry" in the Side Trip! Section of the juke joint.) Now, note item #13, the HOG MAW DINNER for $2.50.
I asked a guy sitting at the bar, "Hey, man, what the heck is a hog maw? It ain't the stomach, is it?"
"Yeah, it's the stomach."
"How do they cook it?"
"They slice it up an' cook it an' serve it on rice. Tastes pretty good. You get a lot of food for a little bit of money."
Meet Tommy Lee Simmons, the owner of the Meeting Place. They call him "Hawk."
He told me to tell y'all, "If they like good bar-b-que and good cold beer and blues on Sunday, that's what we got."
How ‘bout it, y'all? Y'all like those kinds of things?
I sure do. They're 3 of my 4 favorite things.
Meet James Thomas, Jr. If that name doesn't ring a bell, how about I call him Son Thomas, Jr.?
That's right--his father was world-famous bluesman Son Thomas, who died in 1993. James, Jr., doesn't play music at all, unfortunately, but his brother Pat does. We'll check out Pat on another trip.
In the background and behind the counter/bar you see Hawk and Shirley McMillan, the cook.
They call James, Jr., "Tex." He helps Hawk behind the bar on weekends and after 5 pm on weekdays. On Sunday nights, he collects the $3 cover charge at a table just inside the door to the bandstand/dancehall room. "We run a respectable business," Tex said. "Everybody likes it."
Tex owns a landscape business which he operates during the day. "I work for doctors and lawyers around here," Tex informed me. "They like pretty flowers in their yards. I can grow ‘em."
Over on the right, take a look at the most interesting fellow I've met in a while. I was loitering around the chest-high dividing wall that divides the front room of the Meeting Place and makes the large room into a bar/restaurant room and a pool room. Margie beat another macho man, and, between games, I turned and faced the bar/restaurant side of the room. This fellow said, "Hey, take my picture."
So I took it. Then I walked the 2 steps between us and introduced myself. As usual, I had to explain why I was in a juke joint that had probably never before seen a white man after dark. His curiosity about me satisfied, he said, "You can call me ‘Bubba' or you can call me ‘Montana Red.'"
"Which do you prefer?"
"Don't make no difference."
"Okay, I'll call you ‘Bubba.' You live around here?"
"Not very far."
"Gonna hang around and listen to the band when it starts?"
"Nah, I'm goin' home."
"You are? Why? Man, we gonna hear some awesome blues tonight."
"I don't like blues."
"You don't like blues?"
"Nah, I like country music. Merle Haggard's what I like."
"You mean Merle Haggard as in We-don't-smoke-marijuana-in-Muskogee Merle Haggard?"
"That's him. Now, Johnny Cash, he's my boy."
"I like Johnny Cash, too. Ever heard The Ballad of Ira Hayes?"
"‘Bout the Indian?" Bubba asked.
"Yeah," I answered. "Hell of a song."
"Heard it. Tell you what I really like. George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Now, that's my kind of music."
"Guess what?" I said. "You the second black man I've met that likes George Jones. You know Roosevelt Bailey from Rolling Fork? His wife's got a sister married to one of Muddy Waters's brothers."
"Nah. Never heard of ‘im. Tell you something else I like. Roy Acuff an' The Speckled Bird."
"You mean The Great Speckled Bird? Man, Bubba, I love that song. I'm probably the only fellow you'll ever meet that knows all the words. Let's sing it."
"Yeah, here. Jukebox is so loud nobody'll pay any attention to us."
Bubba started singing. Along about concerning a great, I joined in:
I will imagine that some of the fine black folks in that fine juke joint on that hot Delta afternoon thought, Man, that's the craziest white man I ever saw.
The Special Occasion Band arrived about 7 pm and started playing around 8 pm. They stopped at midnight.
Alas, my old blues buddy John Horton had to work and couldn't make it. But he told me not to worry. I'd hear some good music. I did. From left to right, we see Kenny Morris--a Greenville fireman--on lead guitar, Larry Wright on drums, and "Big" Rick Taliaferro on bass.
Anyone who purchased a copy of JUKE will recognize Big Rick from the awesome Nelson Street scene. In this group photo he's singing The Thrill Is Gone.
Us folks in the Meeting Place that Sunday night got a lot of blues for our 3 bucks and 1-dollar beer. Sunday nights are blues jam nights. This fine fellow, Walter Horn, a.k.a, Mississippi Slim, entertained us with what I can only describe as a combination of Tyrone Davis and Little Richard.
Mississippi Slim got down, y'all.
Lucille! If you won't do your sister's will!
He screamed and hollered and jumped up and down and got on his knees in the floor, and he carried that microphone all across the bandstand and from one side of the dance floor to the other side. What a show.
If Mississippi Slim's show wasn't enough, a guy sitting at the table with me and Mamie Davis suddenly jumped up and put on a show of his own. He wore a red "East Mississippi Lions" T-shirt and gray jogging pants. He was built like a weight lifter--muscles on top of his muscles.
Alone on the floor, he danced across the floor. The only way I can describe that dance is like this--imagine a dancing Michael Jackson with muscles. Imagine a dancing Michael Jackson with muscles duck-walking like Chuck Berry.
Earlier that evening and out in the parking lot, Mississippi Slim told me, "I was gone 25 years, but I've been back in Greenville for 3 years. Right now, I'm workin' on a farm. Drivin' a tractor. Makin' that $5.50 an hour."
Here's Ms. Mamie Davis, the Soul Queen of Greenville.
She suffered a stroke a couple of years ago, and this Sunday night in the Meeting Place was the first time she'd really tried out her voice since that stroke.
She did fine, y'all.
Here, she's singing I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home.
She agreed to an interview the next time I'm in Greenville, so y'all watch the Bluespeople! section for that interview. Mamie toured for years with Ike and Tina Turner. There's some stories there.
This photo, taken by Mississippi Slim Photos, Tractors, and Little Richard Impressions, Inc., shows me and Mamie. Do I look happy?
Notice the edge of a woman in the left of the picture. Out of sight beside her sits a very fine fellow named Willie Carr. Willie's a successful roofing contractor. Without him, there would be no Sunday blues at the Meeting Place. Willie guarantees the door. In other words, if the door doesn't cover the cost of the band, Willie kicks in the difference.
This ole troubled world needs more blues fans like Willie. I hereby call for some of you folks with more money than the rest of us to take heed of Willie Carr's generous action. Some Sunday nights he has to kick in a few bucks, and some he doesn't. This night, the door covered the band. But every Sunday night Willie Carr gets to sit there and drink beer with 2 or 3 good-looking women--1 on each arm, out of sight in this photo--and get warmly greeted by every member of the band and most of the customers.
He even bought this white boy a beer. Willie Carr's a damned fine fellow.
Along about 10 pm, Lil' Bill Wallace came strolling through the door, his guitar in one hand and the hand of his sweet black angel in his other hand.
Over 50 years ago, Lil' Bill stood on an Indianola, Mississippi, street corner and played the blues for tips. A young fellow named Riley King stood on the adjacent corner and sang gospel for tips. Poor Riley wasn't making much money. Lil' Bill said, "Riley, there's more money in blues than gospel."
Listening to Lil' Bill Wallace is like listening to B.B. King. Their voices are similar, and their guitar playing is identical. The only difference I can see, rather, hear, is that Lil' Bill can sing and play guitar at the same time. He's also one hell of a get-down-an'-dirty low-down blues guitarist. My dream juke joint blues jam band would have B.B. King, Little Milton, and Lil' Bill Wallace all trying to see who could get down dirtiest and lowest.
please also provide me with a sweet black or white angel to dance low down and dirty with.
Here's a close-up of Lil' Bill Wallace getting down and dirty. He's singing I've got a sweet black angel. I love the way she spreads her wings.
I'll bet you do, Lil' Bill.
Lil' Bill left the stage about 11 pm. Big Rick took over the vocals after that. A little before midnight, he announced "Last song,"and the band broke into a rollicking version of the Rufus Thomas classic Walking the Dog.
Thus began the damnest finale by a band that I ever witnessed.
Big Rick and Kenny started ending every song lyric with a dog howl. Ohhhhhhh! Ahhhhohhhh!
The crowd on the dance floor joined them. Then Big Rick and Kenny ignored the lyrics altogether and just howled. Ohhhhhhh! Ahhhhohhhh!
The crowd on the dance floor got louder. The crowd at the tables joined in. Ohhhhhhh! Ahhhhohhhh!
The people behind us in the pool room joined in. Ohhhhhhh! Ahhhhohhhh!
Now, while guitars and drums played furiously, at least 100 voices screamed Ohhhhhhh! Ahhhhohhhh!
Suddenly, the man in the red T-shirt jumped down in the floor on his hands and knees and scooted across the floor between the howling dancers. Frantically crawling like a dog between the legs of the dancers, he started howling. Ohhhhhhh! Ahhhhohhhh!
I never saw anything like it. I should have taken a picture, but I was too busy howling. The song ended with one last howl from all concerned and a crash from Larry Wright's cymbals. Then the lights came on, and the happy crowd poured out into the streets.
So, how did you spend the night of Sunday, May 17, 1998?