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We Juke Up in Here – Mississippi’s Juke Joint Culture at the Crossroads DVD & CD

Broke & Hungry Records

Three Forks Music, LLC

DVD: 63 minutes plus an hour of bonus footage and extras

CD: 14 tracks; 48:12 minutes

Package, including color booklet, is Library Quality

Styles: Contemporary Delta Blues, Modern and Traditional Electric and Acoustic Blues from Mississippi

Clarksdale, Mississippi and surrounding communities: the mythical “birthplace of the Blues,” the home of one of the last real-deal juke joints, the Delta of legend that attracts tourists and international wanderers like Australian Bluesman Andy “Sugarcane” Collins, the area that produced Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and so many more. When Muddy Waters and others left Mississippi headed north, the Blues did not leave with them. This latest film from Roger Stolle, Jeff Konkel, Damien Blaylock, and Lou Bopp focuses on some of today’s Mississippi Delta juke joints, Bluesmen, and, in particular, one notable juke joint still in operation, Red’s Lounge, and its dedicated owner Red Paden. The film is told mainly from the perspective of Paden, a true Delta character and jack-of-all-trades who has been running Blues and beer joints for more than 30 years.

My suggestion is to start by viewing their award winning 2008 film “M for Mississippi” which will set the scene for “We Juke Up in Here.”

As Stolle reports, “...this [newest] film aims to gain the perspective of the juke joints themselves via their colorful proprietors and the musicians they hire – or, increasingly, don’t. Well into the 21st century, why do these long-time incubators and proving grounds of the Blues art form still exist, and for how long will they survive?”

The film is done in a loose documentary style that takes the viewer into Stolle’s 1999 Dodge van to ride along to the filming locations and listen to insightful, respectful, and thoughtful narration from Stolle, owner of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, Inc. in Clarksdale, and Konkel, owner of Broke & Hungry Records. The film is a joint production of those two entities. Four juke joints are featured: Red’s in Clarksdale, Poor Monkey Lounge in Merigold, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes’s Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, and the Do Drop Inn in Shelby. Poor Monkey’s has a large sign on the front that I found hilarious. It warns patrons of a dress code, “Not like this and Not like that” with accompanying artwork showing the prohibited ball-cap hat on sideways and not allowed, so-low-worn britches below a bare butt. Eight performing musicians are shown including a relative youngster, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, singing the title track. Also performing are Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Big George Brock, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Robert Lee “Lil Poochie” Watson, Elmo Williams, Hezekiah Early, and Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood.

The film, like all good works of art, provides opportunity for viewers to delve as intellectually deep as they want, or don’t want. On the surface, there is the vital and joyful music being played to audiences drinking, dancing and having a good time. Viewers should feel that the music contained in both the film and on the accompanying CD Soundtrack is, itself, worth the very reasonable price tag. For those wanting to exercise their brains, delve into the discussions and thoughts of the past, present, and future of Mississippi’s once thriving juke joint culture. Examine causes of decline in numbers such as the arrival of casinos where folks now get their entertainment by “putting a few nickels and quarters into slot machines and receiving their watered down whiskey drinks for free.” Listen for mentions of competition from tourist-friendly upstarts like Ground Zero. Ask yourself what kind of music is being played in the remaining jukes and compare it to the Soul-Blues increasingly popular with younger African American audiences in the South. Contemplate the phenomenon seen all across the US, not just in Mississippi, of club owners switching from live bands to DJs, karaoke, and juke boxes as they feel they can not pay today’s artists what they’re worth.

Beyond exploration of the past glories of Mississippi’s juke joint culture, the film is a celebration of men like Red Paden who carry the tradition forward into an uncertain future. Jump into the van; let’s go jukin’ and learn about the life of a juke joint, its customers, and the music that continues to bring them together.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL.

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