I was taking a night off, lying in bed at 12:30 a.m listing to Muddy Waters when a thought occurred to me: It's time to bid farewell to the Subway Lounge—as we've known it. The world was about to be let in on Jackson's best-kept secret; it was going to witness our juke joint jewel for itself. Less than 24 hours later, "Last of the Mississippi Jukes," a documentary featuring the gritty basement blues club on Pearl Street, was going to debut on the Black STARZ network. I realized I was probably missing a magical Saturday night over at the Subway. I got up and got down to Pearl Street.
On my way over, I thought back to the first time I came in—with my mom—back in 1986 and blew a harmonica solo with Patrice Moncell on Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools." That night, and ever since, more than any other one thing here in Jackson, the Subway Lounge has made me feel the beautiful, deep-rooted musical reality that is Mississippi.
Whether it's the House Rockers or King Edward's band or Patrice Moncell, Levon Lindsey and Abdul Rasheed's guest spots, at times you can actually see the Subway vibe, not just hear it. The floor bounces, the black plastic-lined ceiling waves in rhythm to the stage sound level, and the walls breathe and vibrate with history and culture—the building itself seems to come to life.
As I expected, this particular night was especially special. Not only did Abdul, Patrice and Levon perform exceptionally hot sets, but hard core, soulful, yet traditional bluesman Percy Strother and his band got up to play a few numbers. Percy doesn't use a guitar pick, but plays his solos with his thumb, and rarely opens his eyes when singing.
Shortly after Percy's set, an unassuming, yet "looks like someone" guy quietly walked on stage and guitarist Mark Whittington of the House Rockers handed him his axe. I realized it was documentary producer, music director and song contributor David Hughes of Vicksburg. After trading guitar and harp solos on the song "Crosscut Saw," featuring vocalist Levon Lindsey and guest, we had a great conversation.
This night was definitely a "Members Only" night, and if you're a Subway regular, you know what that means—everybody's welcome. We all owe a big thanks and respect to the late Helen King, her husband Jimmy, Lynn, Charlie and Charles for all the hard work keeping it real—oh, and don't forget attendants Willie D. and Mary who keep everybody's cars safe in the lot.
As I left the back door of the Subway into a drizzly, semi-balmy, 5 a.m. silent world, I stopped and took a long look at this aging, sagging, wood, brick and concrete icon of Southern American culture. Thanks, Mom, and thanks, Jackson. It's 6:35 a.m., and I'm goin' to bed.