Last Of The Mississippi Jukes
directed by Robert Mugge
starring Morgan Freeman
Just what IS a juke, anyway? In the old Jim Crow days, farm workers slaved through a five and half day shift, giving them Saturday night and Sunday for recreation. Sunday had some sort of religious angle and served to satisfy the woman in your life, but Saturday was for fun. The jukes offered cheap gin, loose woman, gambling, and occasional death, but what options were there besides the old “Bucket of Blood?”
Robert Mugge, the king of obscure rock docs takes us on one of his best rides with this down and dirty look at the Crossroads and a now defunct bar, the Subway in Clarksville, Mississippi. The place was a safe space for blues fans of all colors, although the building itself looked about ready to collapse. And after all, isn’t that the fun of slumming? We meet musicians, promoters, and fans, but the main thrust of this fill is tons of solid blues performances from names to Alvin Young Blood Hart to Greg “fingers” Taylor. Morgan Freeman appears as a partner in competing joint, he’s from the area and admits he hung out at more than a few in his younger days.
There’s a good slice of live performance here. While no one ever plays a track through without a snip of interview interrupting it, you’ll still groove to the powerful voice of Theresa Mazell. She’s a formidable woman whose voice drips bad men and steamy nights and she’s loving every minute. Backing her is the amazing Charles Evans on an alto sax; he maybe a white man but his blues are pure delta. There’s Dennis Fontaine and Ms. Pat Brown; their duet call and response style gets you up and dancing, and soon you’re seriously considering a road trip to Clarksville. Lastly there’s Alvin Youngblood Hart and his band. He’s a large man with a deep velvet bass voice, and backing him we hear Sam Carr and Anthony Sherrod. While Hart aims for a dread lock and biker cap look, the backing men are in suits and sporty fedoras. John Belushi has nothing on these guys.
The sad part of this story is the Subway is no longer there. The building eventually came down, and a cultural point of reference died along with it. We see some other defunct jukes, but it’s doubtful any of these dives will re-emerge again. Nearly every juke joint in the south is closed; the patrons are fading with age, the young fleeing to bigger cities or rougher drugs, and those stuck here can’t afford the price of a beer. Mugge cranks out a steady stream of musical documentaries, and this is the one I’ve enjoyed the most. The performances are top notch, the atmosphere authentic, and we see into a world that is nearly gone. Blues drove rock and roll, blues drove black culture and blues is one of the only the truly authentic American art forms. It’s a shame to see its roots rot.