Robert Johnson, Cross Road Blues
The spiritual heart of the Mississippi Delta is found at the intersection of routes 61 and 49, the crossroads where it's said that Robert Johnson traded his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a legendary bluesman.
Blues grew out of the desperately hard life of the African Americans who worked the cotton fields, toiling under the blazing Mississippi sun to eke out a subsistence living. The days of the sharecroppers are long gone, but the rich history lives on.
It's only in the last decade or so that Mississippi saw fit to capitalize on its music heritage, but there is now a well-traveled Blues Trail highlighting important spots throughout the state. One of the most popular stops is Hopson Plantation, the spread where the great (and still alive) Pinetop Perkins once drove a tractor and where wholly mechanized cotton farming was introduced. It changed the Delta economy for good, leaving lots of abandoned sharecropper's shacks as people went north looking for work.
Today, as a guest at the Shack Up Inn you can spend the night in one of those authentic sharecropper's shacks, much like the one Robert Johnson died in, after being poisoned at the age of 27.
Although there are still viable cotton and soybean fields surrounding the Shack Up Inn, the Hopson Plantation sat dormant from roughly 1972 to 1995. The owners got the idea to buy a sharecropper's shack, refurbish it to the degree it was sleepover-worthy and recreate a bit of Delta history. One led to two, and soon blues-loving visitors like me were asking to let it for the night.
I stayed in the Robert Clay shack. Each shack has its own identity and is rustic for sure. In ours Robert Clays old moonshine set-up concealed for many years of his life is now revealed for all to admire. There is a piano in the corner which Elvis Costello had used during his album inspiring stay the week before and don't expect more than some draped material for curtains or a 'made-up' bed! It has its quirks -- the TV only gets a blues channel, the hot and cold knobs in the showers were wrenches, and the wooden walls are covered in guest autographs, but that's all part of the charm at the Shack Up Inn.
Good old-fashioned porch sitting is one of the Shack Up Inn's primary pastimes, so owners go out of their way to keep the grounds low-key. The quirky farmyard chic includes old tractors, plows, cotton-picking contraptions, a large poster encouraging guests to "Let Elvis Rock You to Sleep" and a tree decorated with empty bottles that's supposed to ward off evil spirits.
During your stay in Clarksdale, (1 night should do it) You should visit the Delta Blues Museum, and enjoy a meal and some live Blues at Ground Zero Blues Club or if you fancy a fine dining experience try Morgan Freemans restaurant Madidi.
A stay at The Shack Up Inn is incredibly unique, and is a perfect stop as part of a Deep South drive tour. Combine Clarksdale with visits to New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville to experience the evolution of American music.