Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
“Ain’t no person on this Earth any more important than any other one person. Some people think they is, but they ain’t.” - “Duck”
In April, 2018, a road trip through the Mississippi Delta changed my life. The Natchez Trace Parkway covers 444 miles through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi with no fuel stations, restaurants, or even homes. On my third night, the radio revealed a tornado would hit the entire area.
Tupelo, MS, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, was the nearest town. I spent the wet and wild night in the Elvis museum parking lot. Tree branches flew in the wind. Rain dropped in buckets. At 2:00AM, the intimidation picked up when lightning lit up the entire area. Water flooded the parking lot. Thankfully, my car Blaze kept me safe and dry.
Once the weather calmed down, morning began a new day. At the hardware store where Elvis’ mother bought his first guitar, the woman behind the counter exclaimed, “If you’re a big blues fan, you better get your butt to Clarksdale.” Sure enough, she convinced me to leave the Trace and drive 100 miles across the state of Mississippi. In Oxford, I visited Ole Miss campus, wandered through record stores and art shops, and walked around Rowen Oak, the beautiful home of William Faulkner.
Clarksdale is the heart of the Delta. The land is most known for Bessie Smith’s death, the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for guitar skill, and the raising of Muddy Waters, Son House, and Ike Turner. Clarksdale is the home of the blues. At a local Juke Joint, a blues enthusiast suggested several locations to visit on my driving route to New Orleans.
I stopped at Dockery Farms, where Charley Patton played his tunes. There is currently a button there that will play his songs over the speakers. Another stop included Indianola to see the resting residence of B.B. King. An old friend of the blues great told me B.B.’s favorite place to eat was at Betty’s Place. On a rainy Saturday, I sat with a plate of fried catfish in a packed room as the only white guy in sight. One man shouted across the room, “Young brotha needs some hot sauce!” I smile as the room began yelling for hot sauce. Dozens of people were happy to see me enjoy the food that they consider a staple. I’ve never felt as welcome as I did in that small town of Mississippi.
The rain became so bad I had to pull over. The sign outside reads Bentonia. The Blue Front Cafe was a recommended stop. I approached the dark doorway to see eight or nine older black men sitting in a circle talking. A scrambled tv played the weather channel. Eyes immediately focused to my presence. I broke the ice by saying, “A guy in Clarksdale told me I should check this place out.”
A voice perked out of the crowd, “Come on in. Take a look around. Make yourself at home.” I nodded, thanking the gentleman. They continued their conversation about grandchildren. I gazed at the walls, covered in concert posters and newspaper clippings. Photographs told the story of ‘the last living Mississippi blues legend.’ The back of the room had a cracked chair and guitar waiting to be played.
I circled the room before sitting on the bench out front to write in my journal. A man stepped out, standing over me. He had the guitar in his hand and sat on the bench next to me. He asked, “You ever heard the Bentonia blues before?” I shook my head no. “Of course you ain’t. There’s only three people in this world that know how to play it and two of dem is dead.” He proceeded to put his fingers to the strings, creating a raspy sound unlike anything I have ever heard before. I watched his chubby chipped fingers slide on the strings. His wrinkled face emphasized his yellow teeth and bloodshot eyes. I felt his energy through his playing. He played no more than a minute before pulling back, emphasizing, “And that’s all you git.” He stood up and stepped inside.
The man walked back outside to express, “People want to send me all around the world to do the same shit I’d be doing right here on this bench, and pay me. Fine. It’s a dream come true. I can tell you’re a good soul. Whatever journey you’re on, just remember ain’t no person on this Earth any more important than any other person. Some people think they is, but they ain’t. Be honest and be kind. Wherever you’re going, enjoy it!”