Madge & Billy: Clarksdale, Mississippi
Name: Magical Madge and Chilly Billy
Home: Clarksdale, Mississippi
Occupation: Madge runs a boutique guesthouse and Billy gives bespoke tours of Clarksdale.
When is comes to Clarksdale, Mississippi, Magical Madge and Chilly Billy are about as local as you can get. Born and raised in and around town, the smiley, self professed ‘bohemian’ couple’s love and knowledge of the area runs deep.
Even if you don’t know much about this part of the world you will most likely of heard names such as B.B King, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson - these blues legends, who laid the foundations for much of modern music, all came from the Mississippi delta and played every little juke joint in the region. The small town of Clarksdale is at the core of this incredibly rich scene with live music playing 365 days a year and often with 5 or 6 excellent options to choose from every evening.
To encourage locals and tourists alike to celebrate and support the towns rich history and lively music scene, Madge and Billy, who already run 3 guesthouses and the Delta Bohemian Tour, decided to start a blog - http://deltabohemian.com
To get a local's perspective on this amazing little town we sat down with them both and asked a few questions... Here's what they said:
On what it was like growing up here in the 60s/70s when the blues was gaining traction:
Madge and Billy explain that, while they were exposed to the blues growing up they never had any idea of its significance until they returned to the Delta after a few years living outside of Mississippi.
Billy: ‘We had WROX radio here… on weekends we’d listen to it on the way home from an Ole Miss football game with our parents, so we always heard early rights blues and gospel and so we were familiar with it through that, but probably without being conscious of it’
Madge: ‘Clarksdale was phenomenal back then. The hight streets were full of stores, kids on bikes, no one locked their house. I was introduced to Blues through someone who worked for my family. She would play gospel Blues on the radio while ironing and i loved it! Then, as teenagers we would go and buy beer underage from Back Street, which was street full of black-owned businesses including Juke joints which would play Blues music.’
On what they think makes Clarksdale special:
On her return to Clarksdale, Madge managed Morgan Freeman’s restaurant Madidi and it was here she first started to feel a very strong connection with the town. ‘Talking with the tourists and the locals who were already interacting with the tourists, I began to realise there was something special going on here’
Billy adds, ‘People come here for the blues, they come for the culture, but what they find here - it gets in their blood and they don't even know how to describe what it is’
‘The Blues was birthed out of marginalisation, because we don't make much money here it really gives us the ability to make more of a difference by being ourself - which is what people are interested in anyway. ‘
Whether it’s the music, the people or just something in the water, it’s fair to say that there is something special about Clarkesdale. Maybe it’s the fact that in this small and discreet town, you can find arguably the best live music in the world (well at least that we've ever experienced).
Because of it’s amazing history, Clarksdale has always had a handful of music lovers passing through, but with an emerging restaurant scene and a wealth of legendary live music venues, the town is attracting increasing amounts of Blues fans from around the world. That said it’s still very much a hidden gem in our eyes and everyone is there to enjoy the music and lap up the magical atmosphere that surrounds Clarksdale.
Madge and Billy’s local tips for exploring Clarksdale
Billy: ’Reds - it’s our home away from home. The furniture is never the same two nights in a row. the atmosphere, who's working there, its a very intimate space so it really depends on who’s there.’
Madge: ‘At a juke joint you are just yourself - you can get up and dance and talk
Thats why we wrote the top ten juke joint rules. They (the musicians) like interaction, they like to see you dance, they like to hear you holler”
Billy: ‘Levons on a Sunday afternoon - to be able to find live jazz and a drink - it’s like the afternoon version of Jonny Cash’s Sunday mornings coming down.’
The couple also shared a few more of their favourites which include Stone Pony for pizzas, Abe’s for BBQ, Rest Haven for a Lebanese twist and Yazoo Pass for sandwiches and fresh salads.
The Local Gem:
Billy: “It has to be the Mississippi river - getting to the river and standing out there is something thats hard for anyone to take for granted. Everything that is here is birthed out of the soul of the water’