US road trip diary: Day Two – At the (flooded) crossroads

crossroadsAfter last night’s shenanigans with the Old Bill, today was going to be more Walt Whitman than Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady, so I went to search for nature, not danger.

Back through Arkansas, no choice, last night’s life-changer, so onwards to Hot Springs to, well (boom-boom), jump in a hot spring.

Different, boring, a town built by the Mafia in the 1920s, all glitz and bling and natural hot water. The Boston Red Sox used to train there, gone to seed, but the only US national park that runs through a town, and the smallest one in America.

Disappointed, Spring Break, town full, got back on the road to Memphis, decided to change plans and go to Clarksville, Mississippi, the place where Bessie Smith died in 1927, went the very scenic route, crossed the mighty, engorged Mississippi river (never seen it before) and headed for the alleged home of the Blues, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for music at the crossroads, only to die aged 19.

A town called Clarksville, flooded not by the Mississippi expanded, but the worst rain-storm in 140 years.

Arrived, expected schmaltz, but found glory, a town of benign, crazy people like that book about Savannah, Midnight in the House of Good and Evil or something like that.

Expected tourist New Orleans, but went to a renovated open air cinema, the Roxy where Ike Turner was a cashier and Sam Cooke played between movies. Unbelievable, if in Shoreditch, a $10 million project. Twelve people at the bar.


Outside stage, at the back of the juke joint (American for shebeen), heard stories about Clarksville and Sam Cooke who was born there, asked where I could buy cigartettes, told the local grocery had closed a week before because the owner had been shot.

Then went to Red’s, a blues bar where Robert Plant and Keith Richard came, but never played. There were 30 people there and the band was amazing.

Clarksville is one of the fifth poorest boroughs in America, all 300 kids (95% black) failed the national algebra test, automation destroyed industry in 1970s, but people are coming back, population up to 20,000 now, up from 18,000 two years ago.

Like Hackney before Hackney was even Hackney, the King of Foreclosures, a three-bedroom mansion downtown costs $60,000. It was one of the best nights of my music life, and I was almost crying with happiness watching proper legacy, fucked-up blues.

I’m not bothering with New Orleans on this trip now, I would only compare it with the magic of Clarksville, ripe for hipsters, perfect for students of the blues.

Might pop into Graceland tomorrow on the way to rest up for some time writing in the Smoky Mountains in Tennesse, but today was as much Moriarty/Cassady as it was Whitman, but it also had Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Sam Cooke and the delta Blues I thought were now homogenised. It was a truly magical place, Clarksville, I implore you to go there.

I’m so privileged to have been there at this time, it will soar from here, mark my motherfucking, happy, happy, happy words.

US road trip diary: Day One – the Texan cops

I originally wrote this trip up on Facebook on the road in the spring of this year. Others were asking about it, so I’m republishing here every day this week.


Before I hit the road, my new best friend is Dave Silverman (pictured left), really top bloke and non-show off genius, worked with Jobs, the director of Monsters Inc, The Simpsons Movie and countless episodes including most of the Halloween ones.

He had the grace, after I asked for a photo for my son last night, to ask me whether I’d like him to draw my son something. I naturally came in my pants, and he drew a picture of Krusty The Clown and a message for my boy, wonderful to watch, took about 30 seconds. Bloody brilliant.

Did the music session, mentioned the Clash three times, then went to look for America. Came off the freeway going north to Dallas, got lost near Tyler, but accidentally found beautifully deserted Palestine Lake, had a dip, no fighting there between Semites, just big catfish.

Back on the road, decided to add Arkansas and Oklahoma to the list of states visited, motel it there and then tomorrow to meet a friend of a friend who lives near the CROSSROADS in Mississippi where Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil to become the amazing blues guitarist he became.

There’s big flooding there (currently – sorry), but will find out tomorrow, we’re going out to a proper local blues bar tomorrow night in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

So, I’m at a motel called The End Of The Trail in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, it surprisingly has the internet; proper dump for truckers. However, I am still shaking as I drink this beer after events an hour ago (11pm).


Pulled over by the Police. Fuck. Got out, told I was doing 67mph in a 40mph limit. Then told that I was wobbling when I walked, looks like you’ve been drinking, sir. No I said, nothing all. (Not since 1am, but still worried it might be in the system).

Shone torch in my eyes, said they were pinned (might have been reasons for that as well), was I on any medication? No, just tired after driving 400 miles.

He told me to sit back in the car. Five minutes, later two cops come over, having trouble believing my story that my eyes are pinned because I’m tired and I was only going to Oklahoma to add a state to my list.

But the Engish accent was working and I stlll had my SXSW badge around my neck and that helped. Finally got let off, not even a caution, shook hands and lost another one of the dwindling lives.

And during it all, Badlands by Bruce Sprinsteen was playing on local radio in the car. So, I’m wearing the SXSW badge until I leave on Monday.

Onwards….but nowhere near Arkansas.