On a map of Louisiana you'll find Natchitoches in the northwest part of the boot, south of Shreveport. You'll find Roque's Blues Hall in East Natchitoches, across Cane River from the historic district.
Natchitoches, founded in 1714, is one of the most historic towns in the United States. But if it's close
to the end of the month, forget history and get your blues-loving butt to Roque's Blues Hall in Natchitoches. You will find yourself in what I consider the best juke joint/blues bar in the South and, therefore, the world.|
Stanley Roque (pronounced "Rock") inherited Roque's Blues Hall from his father, who opened it in 1938. Think about that: With the exception of a short period in the 1960s, Roque's Blues Hall has operated continuously and in the same building at the same location for almost 60 years. If another juke joint can match that record, please send me its name and address.
Roque's beer prices fit my thin wallet. Even on band nights, 12 oz premium beer costs $1.25. You can buy--as I do--one of several 16 oz non-premium brands for the princely sum of $1.10. Believe it or not, I've seen 16 oz beer on sale for 75 cents--on band night!
The gentleman on the right is Hardrick Rivers, the leader of Roque's Blues Band. He has blown that golden and mellow saxophone all over the United States and Europe. He's at home near Natchitoches, now, luckily for the folks in northwest Louisiana. You should hear him sing. His smooth voice reminds me of a younger Bobby Blue Bland. It's every bit as golden and mellow as his saxophone. One of these "last Friday" nights--he keeps telling me--he's gonna sing "St. James Infirmary." He's back in college, but as far as I'm concerned he has a Ph.D. in bluesology.
The fellow on the left is Pop Hymes, the drum-beating man. Look at that look of concentration on his face. He's the guy you hear but seldom see because he's stuck in a corner. But, hey, you can't have a blues band or any other kind of a band without a drummer. So, Pop, this Bud's for you.
To the right, cast your eyes on James Lee, keyboard player extraordinaire. That brown face is never without that smile. I suspect he smiles when he sleeps and even when he argues with his wife. I know for a fact that the only kind of Beethoven his keyboard will play is the roll over variety.
Nowadays it's hard to have a blues band without a white boy, and Roque's Blues Band has two. James Wagley plays bass guitar, and Rick Seale plays lead guitar. Here's a photo of Rick. You can't tell it by looking at the picture, but he's an anthropologist. Maybe he's really a preacher because he can play the hell out of that 6-string guitar.
Over on the right is a photo of the band in action. You can't see James Lee at all because he's hid behind Rick Seale. Look behind Hardrick Rivers and you can see the top of James Wagley's head. The white boy in the black T-shirt is Kenny Cardino, and he drove all the way from Shreveport for the blues jam. Y'all, he could play!
You see that fan down on the floor? They put it there to keep those two guitars from catching on fire. This was in the middle of a blues guitar war. If you wonder who won, well, I did.
Here was my favorite part of the blues jams at Roque's. At the left, the old gentleman at the microphone is Mr. Overton "Dr. Drip-Drop" Owens, the granddaddy North Louisiana bluesman. He passed this life at the age of 74 on November 20, 1998.
Dr. Drip-Drop learned the blues from none other than Lowell Fulson, who lived in Natchitoches for a while back in the 50s. Dr. Drip-Drop told me that his favorite song was Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby." Listening to Dr. Drip-Drop was like going back in time. It was like no music touched his ears after 1960. He always sang Big Joe Turner's "Flip Flop and Fly." In this picture, he's in the process of yelling, "Caledonia! Caledonia! What makes your big head so hard?!"
He can play and sing B.B. King's "Sweet Sixteen" like B.B. King. And you ain't heard Larry Davis's/Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood" until you hear B.B. Major sing and play it. I shouldn't tell my own secrets, but every time I show up at Roque's with a date, B.B. plays "Sweet Sixteen" for me.
Lordy, Lordy, Lordy Miss Claudy, I have a fine time at Roque's.
B.B. Major recently recorded a CD titled Evil Woman/Evil Ways. You can find ordering info and B.B.'s schedule on the new B.B. Major web site.
Here's some photos of the blues jam on January 30, 1998.
In this shot taken a few minutes before the band started, Hardrick Rivers and Rick Seale look very happy. You'd be happy too if you could play the blues like these two guys.
Hey! Something tells me that they're laughing at something somebody's doing to the cameraman--me--behind his back!
Okay, guys, tell the truth. Somebody's mooning me, right?
Looks like Rick's about to grease up his vocal cords with a cold Bud.
Rick and Bubba both work at the replication of Fort St. Jean Baptiste, a fort built in Natchitoches by the French way back in 1722. Maybe next blues jam Rick and Bubba will wear their 1720s French soldier's uniforms. Very cool blues juke joint attire. Might start a trend.
Hey, Katie! Don't let those damn Yankees get you down!
The dark-skinned lady leaning over my buddy's shoulder wanted to know if all us white folks were having a good time. We were!
He's in the act of singing, "I gave you seven children, and now you wanna give ‘em back!"
Sorry, Dr. Drip, some women are like that.
Dr. Drip Drop and Roque's Blues Band recorded a CD titled The Next Time You See Me. They also completed a CD of Christmas music.
You can order both great CDs direct from the Roque's Blues Band web site. Check out their web site for more info on this fine bunch of guys.
I call him Mr. Miles because, well, because I like him and respect him.
Mr. Miles and I have a lot in common even though he's an African American gentleman from East Natchitoches and I'm a wild-assed redneck white boy from East Tullos:
PgUp and look at Mr. Miles's picture again. Notice the merchandise on the shelves behind him. Yep, it's toilet paper and paper towels. The actual name of Roque's is Roque's Grocery, Pool Hall and House of Blues.
There's canned goods on the shelves out of site to the left. Roque's is a combination grocery store and bar. That ain't unusual at all in the Delta. The B & B Quick Mart in Greenville, Mississippi, is like that for example.
That's good for, let's say . . . oh, heck, your wife sends you to the store on Friday night for a can of pork ‘n' beans, a roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap. Where you gonna go? To a 7-11? Hell, no! Not if you live in the Delta!
I've also known Michael Dupree for several years. I'd guess the pool game score between me and Mr. Miles is maybe Junior 500 and Mr. Miles 495. Mr. Miles would probably say it's Mr. Miles 500 and Junior 495. Between me and Michael Dupree there ain't no doubt that it's probably Dupree 700 and Doughty 300. It's a hell of a note, is what it is. A damned shame.
But the real damned shame is the score between Junior Doughty and Stanley Roque. Folks, I'm gonna guess that it's Roque 950 and Doughty 50. (It takes a lot for a redneck boy to admit that.) When I think I'm hot and the other rednecks are getting mad and won't shoot pool with me, I'll ease up to the bar at Roque's, drink a beer or two so Stanley will think I'm in there for the blues and so it'll loosen up my muscles, and I'll say, "Hey, Stanley, I can tear up yore ass on that pool table."
He says, "Rack ‘em up!" and precedes to tear up my ass 12 games to 2 or 10 to 1 or something ridiculous like that. It's a double-damned shame is what it is.
Mike Dupree lives in a shotgun house one block behind Roque's. He doesn't have a problem with cops and Driving While Intoxicated because he walks to Roque's. Sometimes he rides a bicycle. Mike's a Cane River Creole, and his brother Patrick still lives, as Natchitoches folks say, "down Cane River."
Patrick is a bar-b-que man and looks the part. He makes the best damned bar-b-que hot-link sausage sandwiches this white boy ever tasted, and he wears size 54 x 32 blue jeans. He used to set up shop at the corner of Roque's bar, near the front door. His equipment consisted of a fork for spearing sausages, a spoon for dipping sauce, five or six packages of hot dog buns, a roll of paper towels for napkins and an electric crock pot filled with thick round sausages and secret-recipe bar-b-que sauce. His entire restaurant fit inside an empty cardboard box.
A sausage on a bun and dripping with sauce cost $1.50. That was probably the world's greatest fast food bargain.
One night a date and I were the last customers to leave Roque's after the 2 am closing time. It was a warm summer night illuminated only by a street light down at the end of the block and by a low-wattage bulb on Roque's front porch. As my date and I started across the dimly-lit street and toward my car, we passed Patrick Dupree in the process of placing his restaurant in the trunk of his car. "Hey," I told my date, "I'm hungry. Want a hot-link sandwich?"
"Sure," she answered.
So Patrick opened his restaurant and the trunk of his car and served us a sandwich. We stood there at the rear of Patrick's car, munching and talking to Patrick. Up rode Mike Dupree on his bicycle. He stopped beside us and, still siting on the bicycle's seat, stated, "Do y'all know that Patrick's bar-b-que has killed about a dozen white people?"
"That so?" I replied through a grin, knowing that Mike was kidding and knowing that if I died from eating Patrick Dupree's bar-b-que I'd sure die happy.
"Yep, it's a fact," Mike informed us. "Their systems can't take it. Ain't used to good food."
My date grinned then, realizing that the chubby black guy on the bicycle was kidding us and the fat black guy standing beside us. I then introduced her to the two brothers. Mike then asked us, "Do y'all know what kind of meat's in Patrick's bar-b-que?"
"Nope," I answered. "What kind?"
"Dead ‘possums and armadillos. He finds ‘em on the side of the road."
We laughed long and hard and continued eating those delicious bar-b-qued opossums and armadillos. From the darkness behind us and from the direction of Roque's, someone said, "What's so funny?"
I turned and watched Hardrick Rivers place his saxophone case in the cab of his pickup. Then he closed the door and walked toward us. He wore dark pants and shoes and a white shirt. His black skin looked invisible against the black of the night. The effect was like a white shirt walking toward me. When Hardrick reached us, I said, "Mike's telling us that we're eating ‘possums and armadillos."
Hardrick laughed and reached in his pocket for money. "Give me one," he told Patrick. "Need my daily dose of ‘possum."
So we all stood there at the rear of Patrick's restaurant and munched and talked and laughed. Mike Dupree soon pedaled away, headed around the corner and home. Patrick Dupree soon closed his trunk lid and his restaurant and got in his car and drove away, headed down Cane River and home. Now only Hardrick and my date and myself stood there, munching and talking and laughing in the dark and empty street outside a closed juke joint. At some point, I said, "Rivers, when you gonna play ‘St. James Infirmary' for me? I wrote down the words on a napkin for you. Still got it?"
"Yeah. It's in my saxophone case. I'll do it one of these nights."
After a minute or two, my date tugged my shirt sleeve. Time to go. We told Hardrick goodbye and turned and started walking toward my car. Just before we reached the car, I heard a voice behind me, mellow and like a whisper and slowly singing, "I went down to St. James Infirmary. . . ."
I froze in my tracks. I waited, listening for the rest of the verse. Nothing came. I turned. There far down the dark street stood that ghostly white shirt. Waiting, I then realized, for me to finish the verse. I sang, "And I heard my baby moan. . . ." And I stopped.
And the ghostly white shirt sang, "And I felt so broken hearted. . . ."
Back and forth and a few words at a time we sang the song. When it ended, Hardrick got in his pickup and drove away. And that was the only time I've ever heard him sing "St. James Infirmary."
It was a magic night, one of many I spent at Roque's.
In this picture, the camera points toward the bandstand. The bar sits to the left and turns the corner and extends out of sight to the far left.
I took this picture while standing in Roque's front door. I now turn and go out that door.
We'll return again some day.
God, I hope we do. . . .
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