9:34 p.m. March 29
My mind has been in Mississippi.
I just finished Larry Brown's last (unfinished) rugged novel "A Miracle of Catfish" (Algonquin) and with murky headliners like John Mayer and Rod Stewart, I will pass on this year's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, perhaps in favor of a trip to the Delta.
This piece was published Jan. 20, 2002 in the Sun-Times. Remember back then? We were in the cold shadow of 9/11 and people set out to retouch America. What went wrong? I went to the Shack Up Inn and wound up being one of the first travel writers to discover the place. I've visited the Shack Up Inn a couple of times since this article appeared and it continues to expand by spirited leaps and bounds I've edited this piece and for more background, please visit www.shackupinn.com. Tell 'em this Yankee sent ya'.
CLARKSDALE, MISS.--- A funky piece of folk art commemorates the intersection of Highways 61 and 49 in downtown Clarksdale. A welded pair of 900-pound metal guitars point toward the heavens because this is supposed to be the place where bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. The truth is that it is unlikely the mystical 1938 detour took place at this intersection. As Steve Cheseborough points out in his fine road book Blues Traveling (The Holy Sites of Delta Blues), even then downtown Clarksdale was too busy for such an event to happen. I am driving Highway 49 outside of Clarksdale, looking for the Shack Up Inn, Mississippi's "Oldest Bed & Beer (est.1998)." ............
March 2007 Archives
9:34 p.m. March 29
11:25 p.m. March 27
A few weeks ago I drove through a fierce snowstorm to the western suburbs of Chicago to talk to piano player Roger Williams. Some things just need to be done.
Life is short, which is why you take long shots.
You know Roger even if you don't know Roger. His dramatic piano is heard in dull elevators, dentist offices and shopping malls. He put the braggadio in the arpeggio. Williams has been named the best-selling pianist in history by Billboard magazine. He has released 115 albums and his best-selling hits include "Born Free," "Autumn Leaves" and "The Impossible Dream."
It was the impossible dream to convince people I was interested in this soundtrack of our lives. You would've thought I was pitching a story on Andy Williams. Or Barry Williams.
Now a spry 82 years old, Roger Williams did not disappoint.
Especially when I asked what happens when he hears his music along the American landscape...
4:30 p.m. (local) March 10
SCOTTSDALE, AZ.---The "Last of the Breed" concert tour kicked off Friday night in Prescott Valley, which is scattered like buried treasure south of Route 66 near Flagstaff, Az. In order to find this town, you have to drive by a shotgun cantina called Billy Jack's, a neon roadhouse named Left-ts and down an old stagecoach trail called the Reata Pass.
It was worth it. "Last of the Breed" could be the Rat Pack of country music: Ray Price assumes the sophisticated role of Sinatra, Merle Haggard is the playful conscience who takes a lot of pride in who he is and Willie Nelson is everyman's best buddy who knows everybody loves somebody sometime.
All three men stand tall in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The trio is backed by the Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel. I wanted to catch "Last of the Breed" in the event it ended abruptly, as in the case of the 1988 Rat Pack reunion tour which only made it to Minneapolis and Chicago before Dean Martin went home.
The first time the "Last of the Breed' felt unique wasn't until down the home stretch when Haggard sang "Okie From Muskogee" and got to the line about "the long haired hippies out in San Franciso," Nelson sauntered on stage with red bandana and his braids nearly to his beltline. The crowd of cowboys, bikers, old hippies, outlaws and rodeo riders roared with approval at a joint called Tim's Toyota Center. The 5,300-seat venue opened in October and this was the first sell out in its history.
The Last of the Breed will appear March 25 at the Rosemont Theatre outside of Chicago,
The crowd will be different............
10:51 p.m. March 6
Long after Ernie Edwards closed the Pig Hip Restaurant on old Route 66 in Broadwell, Ill. (pop. 200), he still wore a tall white chef hat that was tilted somewhere between yesterday and today. Ernie was always cooking up something. This is who he was. This is who he is.
Ernie, 89, lost his beloved Pig Hip to a fire on Monday night.
Ernie and his wife Frances---a former Pig Hip waitress--were running errands when the fire broke out and they're okay. Their spirit is strong and when I called to Broadwell on Tuesday morning they were surrounded by family and friends of Route 66. You can still see Ernie's pig mailbox from I-55 and that's a a good sign. The Pig Hip will be back in some form.
Route 66 is a ribbon of small communities and when the groups band together there isn't much they cannot accomplish. That's the essence of Route 66. I'm tired of dealing with outsourced phone operators. Route 66 is insourced!
I'm looking at a faded vintage Pig Hip placemat Ernie gave me during a 2003 visit. There's Ernie's own cartoon of a rotund chef who resembles Dom DeLuise hoisting a knife and a map depicting the restaurant's location, about 20 miles north of Springfield.
Best of all is Ernie's placemat motto: "They made their way by the way they're made."
And they don't make them like Ernie anymore.
Ernie opened the Pig Hip in 1937 and he closed the restaurant in 1991.....