On Thanksgiving weekend, while exploring around the Cooper-Young neighborhood, my homeboy Tune C and I came upon this amazing graffiti wall, which I thought we should photograph before it disappears.
When I was younger, Memphis used to have Whataburger locations, one in Frayser and one in Whitehaven (both have since closed). But even before that, there was (and still is) Lot-A-Burger, a couple of walk-up burger stands, one on South Third and one on North Thomas near that historic corner where Elvis recorded at American Sound, and Bobby Foster and Bowlegs Miller recorded at Select-o-Sound on Chelsea. Perhaps they even ate a Lot-A-Burger! But it wasn’t until I began doing research toward my history of Memphis during the mayoral term of William B. Ingram (1963-1967) that I discovered advertisements for Lot-A-Burger in Memphis, bearing the slogan “A Square Meal On A Round Bun.” That led me to other interesting information online, namely that the Memphis Lot-A-Burgers were, at least at one time, franchises of a Tulsa, Oklahoma based Lot-A-Burger chain which began in 1951, long before McDonalds, or rock-and-roll for that matter. The Oklahoma locations still exist, and anyone interested can read about the chain at http://lotaburgernow.com. The Memphis locations that are still open do not appear on the company’s location list, suggesting that somewhere back in the day they went their separate way. But this afternoon, I tried a Lot-A-Burger at the South Third location in Memphis. The Lot-A-Burger was an old-fashioned, thin, greasy good burger with cheese in a no-frills setting. You walk up and order, then eat it on the wooden benches out front or take it home. Not outstanding, but good and comforting, and an edible piece of Memphis history.
Memphians will be glad to discover that the former High Point Coffee on Poplar Avenue at Perkins Extended has reopened under new ownership and management. The new coffee bar is called Poplar Perk’n, and features a full menu of espresso drinks as well as cheesecakes and cookies. It’s definitely worth a visit.
I woke up later than I had intended to, and had to rush to get ready for the homecoming parade in Grambling. Although I was running late, I decided to eat breakfast at the IHOP in West Monroe, and then I drove the 30 miles into Ruston. I knew from previous years that there would be traffic gridlock from the Grambling exit on I-20, so I snuck around the back way through the Louisiana Tech campus onto Highway 80, and then up Stadium Drive into Grambling. I was later getting into Grambling than in previous years, so I had to pay for parking, but I was fortunate to find an inexpensive lot next to the Catholic church south of the campus.
As I walked up Main Street toward the Student Union, I encountered a large crowd of onlookers waiting for the parade to come. The wind was chilly despite the bright blue sky and sunshine, and most of the parade-watchers had jackets on. There was another large group gathered on North Main in the Village, and further up the street, on the other side of the railroad tracks was the beginning of the parade. Ducking into Reali-Tees, I purchased a new Grambling shirt and immediately put it over the one I had on, but I was still chilly. While I waited for the parade to get under way, I noticed a number of new businesses in the Village- a chicken and waffles place which had taken over the old Tasty Foods, an internet radio station, Bud’s Spuds and Spivey’s Fried Chicken, to name a few.
The world-famous Grambling Marching Tiger Band led the parade off, and soon things were underway, with kids scrambling out into the street to retrieve sweets thrown from the floats. Bands were there from Minden, Shreveport, Tallulah, Richwood and Ferriday, but this year’s parade seemed smaller and shorter than in previous years. Afterwards, I was out of time on my video camera, so I had to run and get my laptop to offload footage, which I did while chilling in the Starbucks at the Student Union. When I heard the thunder of drums, I went outside to encounter the GSU Tiger Band on its way to the stadium, so, after making a run to my car, I headed over to Robinson Stadium for the game.
Although the weather was sunny, and warm temperatures had been predicted, the wind was blowing and keeping things cool. Worse, the home side of the field was shaded, and got more so as the game progressed, but Grambling won easily over Mississippi Valley. When I walked out of the stadium, the informal car show was underway again this year. Cruising up and down RWE Jones Drive were candy-painted cars and trucks on rims, and some of them with trunks full of neon. Behind them came wreckers, apparently to tow those away who parked illegally, or perhaps who were pulled over with drugs, weapons or alcohol. Soon police cars with sirens screaming were racing down to the south end of the street, followed by an ambulance. I walked on back to the Student Union, where another large crowd, mostly students had gathered. Some of the cars that had been cruising Jones Drive were now headed down Main Street directly in front of the Union and dining hall.
Eventually, the GSU band paraded down the street on their way back to Dunbar Hall, but when they got to the space in front of the Union, they broke into a performance for the crowd gathered there. Further up on the Quadrangle, they paraded into the band room, and the drumline, Chocolate Thunder did just the slightest breakdown routine before they too disappeared into the building.
The homecoming concert was supposed to begin in a half hour or so, but I decided to go back to my car and head to Monroe for dinner. I headed to the Waterfront Grill on Bayou DeSiard, where I enjoyed a filet mignon dinner, and then I headed back over to Ruston to visit Dr. Reginald Owens, a former Grambling professor that now teaches at Tech. He and I spent some time catching up and talking, and then I headed back over to West Monroe, and, resisting the temptation to go to one of the club events, I returned to the hotel.
I got a very late start heading out of town because my computer wouldn’t sign on to the internet and I was on the phone with AT & T for an hour trying to get it working, only to discover that there was a neighborhood outage. I wasn’t in a very good mood, and it was raining steadily, so when Boss King called and wanted me to meet him at Brother Juniper’s for breakfast, I said “Why not?” and headed over there. That wasn’t a bad way to cheer up, and soon I was on my way down I-55, but slow going since the rain wouldn’t let up at all.
Since I was running so far behind schedule, I decided not to stop in Jackson, and took the I-220 loop around to the westside and on to Vicksburg.
At Tallulah, I stopped at the McDonald’s for a cappuccino, and then headed on into West Monroe, with maybe about an hour to spare before the antique shops started closing. The rain had tapered off to just a drizzle, but rather ominous was the Ouachita River, which had risen so far above floodstage that it was currently just below the underside of the DeSiard and Louisville bridges. As I usually do anytime I’m in Monroe, I visited the antique stores in search of Grambling memorabilia, and this year I hit paydirt, finding Grambling annuals for 1959, 1960, 1963 and 1964 at the Cottonport Antique Mall. There was also one there from 1966, but I didn’t buy it since I wasn’t sure what else I would find at other shops. Down the street at the Ouachita River Trading Company, I found two more Grambling yearbooks, for 1991 and 1995, and then I headed over to Books-A-Million in Monroe to see if they had any new books about Monroe, Grambling or Shreveport, but I didn’t find much there.
The rain was starting to pick up again as I left the bookstore, but when I arrived at Portico Bar and Grill for dinner, it had stopped, and a beautiful rainbow had appeared in the east. For a moment it was a double rainbow, and then it became a single again, but an unusually perfect one, reaching the treeline at both ends. Inside, the restaurant was as cheery as ever, with a live band playing and waitresses and bartenders costumed for Halloween. Waiting for my filet mignon, I checked emails and noticed that Jimbo Mathus was supposed to be in Monroe tonight, playing at a bar called Coda, so I decided to go if I didn’t end up over in Grambling.
After dinner, I rolled past Carroll High and Wossman High looking for a high-school football game, but nothing seemed to be going on, except over in West Monroe. So I checked into my hotel room at the Jameson Inn in West Monroe, and then drove across the street to get a cappuccino at the Corner Coffeehouse. I had planned on calling my friend Dr. Reginald Owens who lived in Grambling, but I could not reach him, so I drove over to Coda, a new bar and grill in Monroe that had not been open last year, and got a table near the stage for the Jimbo Mathus show. Justin Showah, the owner of Hill Country Records came with Jimbo, and I got a chance to hang out with them briefly before the first set. Jimbo’s typical rock/country/blues mix seemed to fit the crowd just right, the high point of the set (for me) being his trademark version of “Casey Jones.” Thoroughly tired from a day of driving against the weather, I called it a day after the first set.
All of a sudden, it was winter, and I didn’t prepare for it. I hadn’t brought any warm clothes to St. Louis because I had naively assumed that the weather wouldn’t be that different than what we had been getting in Memphis for the last week. So much for assumptions, and now I was shivering as I drove out to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House on South Grand for breakfast. It was a great choice, a classic late 50’s style place with a classic neon sign thrown in for good measure, and, not surprisingly, great food.
Despite the cold, the weather was bright and blue, so, after I finished breakfast I drove across the bridge to East St. Louis to look for the Gateway Geyser and see if I could get a good photograph of the St. Louis skyline and Gateway Arch. Finding the park that contained the geyser was not easy, as it was tucked behind the Casino Queen, but I did find it. The geyser was evidently not working, but there was a large overlook facing the arch, and I climbed to the top of it to snap a picture. If the weather was cold on the ground, it was absolutely frigid at the top of the observation deck, so I quickly came back down.
Driving out of the park, I accidentally ventured into a warren of old streets through overgrown woods with one abandoned house at an intersection, but I was soon able to get back to the interstate. Given the area’s proximity to the casino and park, I couldn’t help thinking that it would make a wonderful Beale-Street-type entertainment district for East St. Louis.
When I got back to the hotel, it was time for the I Am Music Workshop events to get underway, and the events took most of the afternoon. I was on the distribution panel, along with representatives from Fontana Distribution and Jive Records. Afterwards, those two decided to go with me to dinner, so I drove them up to a place called Pi on the Delmar Loop in University City where we ate gourmet pizza and talked about the music business. It was nearly midnight when we left, and I dropped them off at a trendy hip-hop club on Washington Avenue near the hotel. I was too tired for a hip-hop club, and it was too late for me to make it to the Trio Tres Bien performance at Robbie’s, so I returned to the hotel and went to bed.
I had been invited to be a panelist at the I Am Music Workshop in St. Louis on Saturday, so I headed out early Friday morning up I-55, vainly searching for some sort of breakfast. Finally, at Blytheville I found a Hardeee’s where I could pick up a biscuit breakfast, and then I headed on into the Missouri bootheel.
At Cape Girardeau, I went into town to browse at some thrift stores and pick up a cappuccino at the Broadway Books and Roasting Company, and then I continued northward into St. Louis.
I had thought about doing some musicological research in old East St. Louis newspapers at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, but I decided that if I did that, I wouldn’t have any time to shop at local record stores, so I changed my mind and headed to Record Exchange instead. I found a number of 45 singles on St. Louis and East St. Louis labels, but I hadn’t brought much money to spend and I wasn’t sure what I would find at other stores, so I didn’t buy anything there.
The weather was already grey, and turning much colder as I returned to my car and drove over to Euclid Records in Webster Groves. I ended up not buying anything there either, because the Leo Gooden CD I was hoping to find was one they had sold out of, but I did pick up a flyer about live jazz Friday night at a place called Robbie’s House of Jazz in Webster Groves. After a brief stop at Webster Records, I realized that I had only a little time for dinner if I hoped to make it back to the jazz club for live music, so instead of driving over to Vintage Vinyl in University City, I drove to the Galleria where the Cheesecake Factory was, and ate dinner there. After stopping by a Borders Books where I bought a true crime history of East St. Louis, I drove over to the jazz club I had heard about. The club was predominantly African-American, but I was warmly welcomed and made to feel right at home, and the large local jazz ensemble that was playing was excellent. If I had stayed to the end, I might have gotten to sit in on piano, but I was really exhausted, partially from the drive, and partly from having overeaten at the Cheesecake Factory. So I left and drove back into St. Louis on Manchester/Chouteau until I came to the Sheraton hotel where the conference had booked my room. Valet parking was quite expensive, but I had no problems checking in, and my suite of a room was beautiful. I learned that the building had been the Edison Brothers shoe warehouse, and that half of it had been made into a hotel, and half of it into condominiums.
Mondays aren’t as bad if you’re fortunate enough to wake up in New Orleans, but it was still raining on and off, but “off” enough that I felt safe in catching the St. Charles Streetcar to head Uptown for breakfast, since my hotel was heating up their breakfast in a microwave. The atmosphere on this particular morning was like a sauna, and grey, foreboding clouds lay to the west. Once I got off at Maple Street, I decided that I didn’t want Camellia Grill, so I walked back to the west and came to a little park with beautiful royal palms, and a couple of restaurants that weren’t open for breakfast. But I finally came to a place called Refuel that was a coffee bar, but also a whole lot more. They served full breakfasts, so I ducked inside to eat, and just in time, because the rains came with a furor, and several of us were more or less trapped inside, waiting for the rain to subside. It never really did, and eventually I gave up waiting, and, since I had finished breakfast, I made a run for it and headed back down to Carrollton Avenue to catch the return streetcar. But the rain was continuing, so I had to hang out under an awning until the streetcar came, and I made the ride back down to my hotel.
Strangely, once I got back to the hotel, the rain tapered off and eventually the sun came out, so I had no trouble walking into the Quarter. At Louisiana Music Factory I bought the famous book on New Orleans R & B I Hear You Knocking by Jeff Hanusch, as well as a CD of tracks from the old Sounds of Memphis recording studio entitled “Play The Game” which for some strange reason is not available in Memphis.
I spent the rest of the day browsing in old bookshops, not buying very much because I had very little money, although I did come upon a used copy of John Broven’s Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans. which I purchased. As I saw the day was getting late, I stopped at the little gelato bar near Faulkner House Books, and then walked back to the hotel.
Once I got there, Sess called and asked me to come by his record shop, so I got my car from the valet and drove out there. I spent a little time hanging out with him and some of his friends, but it was time for dinner, so I drove from there onto I-10 and out into Metairie to Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro for dinner.
When I left there, it was time for the workshop at the Hangar, a nightclub not far from Xavier University in what was called Central City, so I headed over there, finding the location with some difficulty. In this area, there were still signs of much devastation from Hurricane Katrina, but the event was very well attended. Not only did I speak on one of the panels, but I was also asked to judge the performers. Unfortunately, there was a ballgame on the television during our event, and some people were more interested in the game than our workshop, but for the most part things went well. I had intended to go to a beignet place when I left the Hangar, but I was so tired that I just drove back to the hotel and went to bed.
Nothin But Fire Records CEO Sess 4-5 had invited me to New Orleans to speak at a music industry workshop that he sponsors monthly, so after church, I headed out I-55 into Mississippi, and into some very bad weather indeed. Since the trip was taking so long, I just picked up some chicken from Raising Canes in Jackson, and then continued on my way, although by the time I got to Brookhaven, the rain was finally gone. At Hammond, I decided to drive over to the Pontchartrain Causeway instead of continuing down to LaPlace, but when I got to Mandeville I stopped there for gasoline, and noticed a Cafe du Monde location that was still open. so I picked up a cafe au lait and an order of beignets to go, and headed across the long 26-mile bridge. It was very dark and foggy, but I was surprised at how quickly I could begin to see the lights on the superstructure of the Crescent City Connection bridge, which had to still be 15 miles away or so. By the time I got into Metairie, both myself and my car interior were covered with powdered sugar, but there wasn’t much I could do about it at 11 at night. A room had been booked for me at the Holiday Inn Express just down from Canal Street, and as I gave my car to the valet, I could here the beat of drums from the corner of Canal and Carondelet, where a street band was playing despite the wet weather. Apparently the Saints had won their NFL game, and parties were in full swing.