Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mississippi Juke Joints and Roadhouses

Juke Joint

Photographs by Birney Imes, introduction by Richard Ford

Reprint edition; first published in 1990

University Press of Mississippi (Hardcover, $55.00, ISBN: 0878054375; Paperback, $35.00, ISBN: 087805846X)

Publication date: December 2002

Description from the publisher:

A collection of photographs capturing the mysterious interiors of juke joints in the Mississippi Delta.

“I saw that photograph of the men standing around the pool table, and read that phrase, ‘2-kool 2-be 4-gotten,’ and the inspiration was obvious. Every time I sing that song I credit Birney Imes. Birney’s work is, in photography, what a good blues song is to me—gritty, edgy in all its parallels.” —Lucinda Williams

“Sweet lingering drifts through these pictures like heat.” —Richard Ford

“Imes immortalizes the juke joints of the Delta.” —Newsweek

“Birney Imes photographs what most people overlook.… Linger awhile.” —Douglas Balz, Chicago Tribune

These photographs by Birney Imes have the jagged edge of genuine blues music. They were taken in the Mississippi Delta during the 1980s, featured in exhibitions, and collected in Juke Joint, first published in 1990. After being unavailable for five years, this riveting book is in print again. As Lucinda Williams sang, it's “too cool to be forgotten.”

Imes focused his camera on nearly empty rooms, yet these bluesy, almost peopleless photographs capture black cafes, roadhouses, and taverns as a fascinating folk art that resounds with energy and pulses with the joys and griefs of the clientele.

The names of these juke joints are almost as evocative as Imes’s photographs—the Pink Pony in Darling, Mississippi, the People’s Choice CafĂ© in Leland, Monkey’s Place in Merigold, the Evening Star Lounge in Shaw, the Playboy Club in Louise, Juicy’s Place in Marcella, the Social Inn in Gunnison, and A. D.’s Place in Glendora.

To the volume Richard Ford, the acclaimed author of The Sportswriter, Rock Springs, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Independence Day, has contributed a long, perceptive essay that probes Imes’s photographs for their aesthetic values and for what they reveal beyond their surface.

Birney Imes is the photographer and author of Whispering Pines (University Press of Mississippi). His photographs have been exhibited in solo shows in the United States and in Europe. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Richard Ford, the author of many books of fiction, has been the recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

In the movie THE FUGITIVE KIND Joanne Woodward explains to Marlon Brando what "jukin'" is. "You drive a little bit you drink a little bit and you dance a little bit. Then you drive a little bit more and drink a little bit more and dance a little bit more and drive on to the next jukejoint".
Jukejoints had jukeboxes but often they had live music. Bands playing either country or rock and roll or R&B for dancing. Fights were common. Bands often playing behind something to protect themselves from flying beer bottles.
Before the days of the interstate highways the back roads were often pitch black at night. Then you would see a glow off in the distance. Getting closer you would see a lit up neon beer sign on a long pole. It would say either Miller High Life or Schlitz or some other local beer. The parking lots were almost always gravel not paved. The cars would make a crunching sound on the gravel as they pulled into the parking lot. Then the heavy doors of the old cars of the 1940s and 1950s and 60s would open and close with a heavy kerthunk sound.
In the days of segregation there were juke joints and roadhouses for blacks and whites. They did not and could not go to the other people's places. But in very rural areas often you would find two separate clubs in one building. One club for whites in the front and another club for blacks in the rear but both in the same building. This was the case with The Whispering Pines in Crawford, Mississippi. See my post below about The Whispering Pines another fine photography book by Birney Imes and also the name of a good song by Big Joe Williams (often mistitled The Whistlin' Pines) about this old time Mississippi Roadhouse Cafe.

Click on the label Juke Joint in the labels box below to find my other post about The Fugitive Kind and a clip from the movie where Joanne Woodward explains in full what jukin' is.