Image courtesy stlblues.net
B.B. King’s hometown joint, Club Ebony was built after World War II by local John Jones and his wife Josephine before eventually passing into the hands of Mary Shepherd, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Jook.” The centerpiece of Indianola’s black nightlife, Club Ebony nabbed artists from the “chitlin’ circuit” — everyone from Howlin’ Wolf to Ray Charles to James Brown to Ike Turner. When Shepherd retired in 2008, B.B. King stepped in and bought the place to preserve it. Every year, at his homecoming celebration in July, King finishes the celebrations by performing a set at Club Ebony.
Red’s Lounge, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Image courtesy tripadvisor.com
From the street, Red’s looks like an out-of-business barbecue joint: There are rusted smokers on the sidewalk, and the awning has seen better decades. Before Red’s was a juke joint, it was a music instrument shop that Ike Turner and other locals would frequent.
Red’s is only open sporadically — weekend nights are a pretty safe bet — and there aren’t a lot of amenities. A couple couches with the stuffing hanging out for lolling on after you’re tired from dancing, a bunch of folding chairs, and some Natty Ice posters are what pass for decor. I once made the mistake of asking for a Jack and coke here — the bartender, an elderly black man wearing wrap-around sunglasses at 11 pm — laughed and replied, “They wouldn’t let me stay back here if I had that stuff!” A Bud Lite will have to suffice. The music is blues, the dress code involves overalls, and the band is close enough that you could sit in the drum kit, which is how it should be.
Wild Bill’s, Memphis, Tennessee
This famed “social club” in North Memphis was founded by William “Wild Bill” Story, who passed away in 2007. Wild Bill’s still attracts college students, local blues aficionados, and tourists intrepid enough to venture off the neon-spangled stretch of Beale Street. The seating is picnic tables, and the beer is served in 40-ounce bottles, or, if you prefer to bring your own brew, the staff will provide ice buckets. Most of the tiny dance floor is taken up by the house band. Wild Bill’s also serves food to patrons seeking respite from the sweaty dancefloor. Try the chicken wings — they’re delicious.
Teddy’s, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
A relative newcomer to the juke-joint scene — it was founded in 1979 — Teddy’s was founded by ex-DJ Lloyd “Teddy” Johnson. The little dive was Teddy’s childhood home — the stage used to be the front porch — and the walls are covered with old photographs and memorabilia. Teddy’s is a little more diverse in its drink and dining options, but it still sticks the the cold beer-and-macaroni formula that Southerners know and love. Teddy’s claims to be the last juke joint on Highway 61 before you edge from blues into jazz territory, so travelers take note.