A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘Studio 51’

Durant, Mississippi

Posted by graywacke on March 10, 2010

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (now pretty much an every-other-day blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

Dan –  Finally, I broke away from the Northern Plains (and TX).  I landed deep in the heart of Delta Country, in . . . MS; 29/29; 4/10; 3; 152.4.  Notice that MS has ventured into PS-land.  Anyway here’s my landing map, showing my proximity to Durant:

Here’s my broader view:

Here’s my GE shot, showing a woodland setting:

I’ll back out just a little from my close-in landing map, to show my proximity to a previous landing:

This should look familiar to you (and other faithful ALAD readers); the nearby landing is my January 25, 2009 Pickens MS landing.

The main feature of that post was one Elmore James, a legendary slide guitar Delta blues player who was born in Richland, which is between Pickens & Durant.  In that 2009 post, I showed a picture of his tombstone, but I failed to mention that he was buried in Durant.  I’ve come full circle with Mr. James; I feel obliged to feature him once again.

But first, just a little about the town of Durant, from Wiki:

Durant is a city in Holmes County, Mississippi, United States. It was founded in 1858 as a station on the Mississippi Central Railroad, later part of the Illinois Central.  Durant was named for Louis Durant, a Choctaw chief, who had lived on a bluff just across the nearby Big Black River. The population was 2,932 at the 2000 census.

So, Louis Durant was a Choctaw chief, eh?  Could’ve fooled me!  You’ll note a reference to the Big Black River.  It is, in fact, the watershed in which I landed (5th hit, making the Big Black the 139th river on my list of rivers with five or more hits); on to the MM (736th hit).  In honor of the Big Black making the five-or-greater list, here’s a watershed map:

This little aside – you may recall my July 2009 Kosciusko MS post (where I featured Thadeus Kosciusko himself).  Anyway, check out this road sign (that I stumbled on looking at Street Views) right in downtown Durant.  FYI, Kosciusko’s about 17 mi E of Durant on Rt 12:

So, back to Elmore James.  Here’s a picture, followed by part of what I wrote back in January of 2009:

. . . like Como, this landing has a famous blues musician, one Elmore James.  Elmore was born in Richland, which is between Ebeneezer and Goodman.  He was born in Richland in 1918 and died of a heart attack in Chicago in 1963, at the age of 45.  I suspect he led a hard life.  Anyway, you can pick out his home town of Richland on the landing map.

Like Mississippi Fred, Elmore had a great influence on rock and roll musicians (and like Fred, Elmore was a slide guitar bluesman).  His songs were covered by the Allman Brothers and Jimi Hendrix, and he has been mentioned by the following artists as an inspiration to their music:  B.B. King, Eric Clapton, John Mayall and George Thorogood.

Click here to go to my Pickens post; I copied words to one of his songs (“It Hurts Me Too”) along with a link to hear Elmore singing.

Anyway, it turns out there’s a “juke joint” in Durant where James Elmore played back in ’52 (more about that later).  What’s a juke joint, you might ask.  From Wiki:

Juke joint (or jook joint) is the vernacular term for an informal establishment featuring music, dancing, gambling, and drinking, primarily operated by African American people in the southeastern United States.  The term “juke” is believed to derive from the Gullah word joog, meaning rowdy or disorderly. A juke joint may also be called a “barrelhouse”.

Classic juke joints found, for example, at rural crossroads, catered to the rural work force that began to emerge after the Civil War.  Plantation workers and sharecroppers needed a place to relax and socialize following a hard week, particularly since they were barred from most white establishments by Jim Crow laws.  Set up on the outskirts of town, often in ramshackle buildings or private houses, juke joints offered food, drink, dancing and gambling for weary workers. Owners made extra money selling groceries or moonshine to patrons, or providing cheap room and board.

So there’s a website all about Delta blues and juke joints:  “Junior’s Juke Joint,” at deltablues.net.  This graphic is from the website, as is the text below:

I’m a cultural anthropologist who lives in the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana side, and I spend lots of time in Delta juke joints. You’re about to take a trip inside the places where the blues began. I’m not talking about white people blues bars filled with college students. I’m talking about edge-of-a-cotton-field juke joints filled with real Delta folks.

If you’re in one of these places and you notice a tall white guy with a gray ponytail, that’s probably me.   Buy me a beer for directing you to such an awesome place.

He has descriptions of many juke joints, one of them being the Studio 51 in Durant:

While staying in Holmes County, I spent several days hunting for a still-standing juke joint (called Studio 51) that Elmore James played in. This is it.

Elmore James played his awesome slide guitar here in 1952 according to the mayor’s cousin who was there. In those days, it was known as “Ed Powell’s in the Alley.”

This juke joint and the alleys outside would have been wall-to-wall people that night.  Just the year before (1951), Elmore’s “Dust My Broom” reached the Top Ten R & B chart. Overnight, he was famous.

“Junior” goes on to describe the neighborhood, but then he focuses on his interactions with a barmaid . . .

I explained why I was there; in short, the mayor had sent me there because Elmore James had played there.

“Who’s Elmore James?”

I explained Elmore James. Then I asked, “You the owner?”


“You got a Diet Coke®?”

“Ain’t got nothin’ but beer.”

I started asking questions about the place, questions which deepened her mistrust. She seemed to know only the name of the place and the name of its owner. I asked her, “Can you call the owner?”

“Ain’t got no telephone here.” She abruptly got up and soon disappeared behind the bar.

Junior finally got to speak with the female co-owner (her husband is the other co-owner):

In about 5 minutes, I looked up and there behind the bar sat the 60 something woman in the orange shirt, the co-owner, I soon discovered. I guess she entered through a back door. I left the table and took a seat at the bar, introducing myself as I sat.

I carefully explained who I was and what I did. “The mayor, Mr. Wiley,” I said, “sent me here because Elmore James played here.”

That statement broke the ice. “Elmore James played here? I didn’t know that. Who would-a thought? Wait ‘til I tell my husband. He’ll love it.”

She introduced herself then. Even the barmaid became friendly. I got permission and started taking photographs.

Here’s a shot of the interior:

Here’s more of the interior:  the corner of the joint where Elmore James would have set up and played.

Back to the website:

Here we are looking at the music on the jukebox [so that’s what Junior looks like . . .]

It contained 45 rpm vinyl records and operated on quarters only.  Here’s the cost of listening to music in the Studio 51:

1   song =   .25¢

3 songs =   .50¢

7 songs = $1.00

35 songs = $5.00

[Junior goes on to describe all of the cool old Delta music that’s on the jukebox]

I don’t blame the barmaid for mistrusting me at first.  Look at the situation from her point of view. 99.999% of the white people who unexpectedly stroll through the door of a juke joint pack a badge on their shirts or inside their wallets. The barmaid’s reaction was a perfectly normal reaction, one I have caused at least 100 times in the last couple of years.

If this white boy lived in Jackson, Mississippi, about 45 minutes down Interstate 55, about once a month on a Saturday afternoon you’d find me in the Studio 51. I’d have a couple of cool friends with me and a couple of rolls of quarters for that awesome jukebox. While the cold beer flowed and the music played, we’d enter a time warp–somewhere along about 1959.

When I read the term “juke joint,” I assumed that it was named after the word “jukebox.”  Wrong.  It’s the other way around . . .

Anyway, Junior has quite the website.  Click here for some interesting perusing.

Since I landed in Durant, and Elmore James’ grave is in Durant, I’ll close with this picture:

That’ll do it. . .



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