(CLARKSDALE, MS) – Many places lay claim to the title of the “Home of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Cleveland, Ohio, has The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Los Angeles is where almost all record labels are headquartered, but neither is the fountain from which rock sprang. Memphis has always trumpeted its place in Rock history, as Elvis Presley’s home. So, here is what you do: Go to Memphis. Take I-55 South. Just a few miles outside of town, you will see a sign that says, “Welcome to Mississippi: The Birthplace of America’s Music.” Now you are officially in the home of the Blues and all of its bastard children, including Rock ‘n’ Roll.
From the Delta to the Hill Country, from Clarksdale to Jackson, and from Parchman Penitentiary to Biloxi, Mississippi has long been steeped in the history of modern music, producing artists like Robert Johnson, Ike Turner, Son House, Muddy Waters, RL Burnside, B.B. King—all Blues legends. The Blues grew and migrated from its roots in the cotton fields and churches of Mississippi to the larger towns farther north, with Memphis and Chicago being the metropolitan hot spots for musicians to play and hopefully get discovered while laying down on vinyl their music and tales of good whiskey and bad women. For generations these recordings inspired an endless number of budding young musicians. Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Gregg and Duane Allman, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Chuck Berry all were struck when they heard those 12-bar Blues progressions and sorrowful howling vocals. There is no other place but Mississippi that could give birth to this kind of music.
This is why Dayton, Ohio-native Roger Stolle gave up a successful career in marketing and moved to Clarksdale in 2002, chasing that “devil music” in hopes of spreading the word of the Blues. Roger is the owner of Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art Inc and cofounder of The Juke Joint Fest, which will celebrate its 16th incarnation starting Thursday, April 11.
I talked with Roger to see what makes someone pack up everything and head down South.