In several years of blues bumming around the Delta, I've made many friends. But my favorite, and one of my best friends in or out of the blues scene, is Natchez, Mississippi, Bluesman Y.Z. Ealey. He is not only a great musician and singer, he is a fine man. I'm proud to call him my friend. In fact, I call him my "black brother," and he calls me his "white brother." We even made a solemn pledge to remain friends until the day we die.
While thinking recently about Y.Z., another thought struck me: one of the saddest things about racism is a white racist will never get to know a black man like Y.Z. Ealey. While contemplating that, I remembered a story Y.Z. told me about racism and how it can hurt the racist.
A few years ago Y.Z. and I had been blues bumming in Ferriday, Louisiana. I don't remember now, but we had probably visited ZZ's juke joint and the location of Haney's Big House of Jerry Lee Lewis fame. Whatever the case, we were traveling US Highway 65/84 on our way back to Y.Z.'s home in Natchez. I drove the Bluesmobile, and Y.Z. sat in the front passenger seat beside me.
Somewhere between Ferriday and Vidalia, Louisiana, Y.Z. pointed to a vacant lot on his side of the highway and said, "Used to be a big white [people] nightclub on that spot. We played there sometimes. We played a lot in white clubs back in the 60's."
He suddenly laughed as if something had tickled his funny bone. Then he said, "Man, I just remembered something!"
"What?" I asked.
"We were playing there on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve! Must have been ‘62 or ‘63, maybe ‘64. I remember it like it was yesterday!"
"We couldn't associate with the white people back then. They had a little room behind the bandstand, and that's where we'd go when we took a break. You know, we couldn't mix with the white people in the club."
"I know. I remember."
"We'd just returned from our first break. Must have been about 11 o'clock or so. Man, those white people were enjoying our music. Dance floor was full. My brother was singing. He was our lead singer. All of a sudden he stopped singing and playing his guitar. Right in the middle of a song he stopped singing. People didn't know what happened. We didn't either, so we quit playing. Place got real quiet all of a sudden. Then my brother turned around and looked at me and said, ‘All those women out there and we can't even look at ‘em. What are we doing playing for these people?'"
"He started putting up his guitar, and we did too. We packed up all our equipment and found us a black club. Played ‘til daylight."
"And . . . looked at the women," I added.
"You got that right!" Y.Z. said.