Po’ Monkey

During the summer of 2016, in July to be specific, David and I took a road trip to the Mississippi Delta. The purpose of our trip was to learn about, and experience first hand, blues music. As every serious fan of rock and roll music knows, and according to Muddy Waters, “The blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll.” As a huge fan of all things rock and roll, I decided it was time to immerse myself into the blues culture by spending time in the place where the blues originated. I am always learning and growing, both as a bass player who, like almost all other bass players, learned my craft by playing the blues, and as a music afficionado who is interested in learning more about the origins of the songs I love. I did some research prior to the trip, with help from a long time client who is from the Delta; my client’s cousin, who had recently taken a group of friends on a similar search for the blues; and I consulted many articles about the area. One place that was mentioned as a “must see” by every source I consulted was Po’ Monkey’s. Po’ Monkey’s was established in the days of segregation as a juke joint where black people could party without fear of being harassed by white people. Since 1961, Po’ Monkey’s juke joint was located in a cotton field near Merigold, Mississippi. Its proprietor was a man named Willie Seaberry, otherwise known as Po’ Monkey, who was a sharecropper by day and a juke joint king by night. I knew no trip to the Delta would be complete without a visit to Po’ Monkey’s, which is widely known as the last authentic juke joint in existence. It was only open on Thursday nights, so David and I carefully planned our itinerary to ensure we could experience it first hand. We arrived in Merigold during the hot afternoon of July 7 so that we could find our way to Po’ Monkey’s during the daylight. There it was, down a series of dirt roads through the cotton fields. We took some photos, including of the historical marker outside, then memorized the route for our return in the dark. (No, it’s not on any GPS devices!) We returned later in the evening, when we encountered Mr. Seaberry outside his juke joint, being interviewed by a PBS reporter. Upon going inside, we discovered festoons of Christmas lights blinking, hundreds of stuffed monkeys hanging from the ceiling, and an all out party going on! My kind of place! David and I enjoyed ourselves immensely and I was delighted when Po’ Monkey agreed to have his photo taken with me. It was, by far, the highlight of our trip! I was already planning our next Delta visit, next time, intending to stay long enough to go to Po’ Monkey’s more than once. Sadly, sometimes things don’t work out as planned. July 7, 2016 was the last day Po’ Monkey operated his juke joint. The next Thursday, July 14, no one unlocked the front door to allow patrons inside and someone called local law enforcement who, upon entering, found Mr. Seaberry had passed away in his bedroom in the back of his beloved juke joint. David and I made it just in time, it seems. RIP Po’ Monkey. You were quite a guy and I will never forget you!

I had no idea what to expect when we ventured out on this Mississippi trip. I, too, read up a bit, but was still not sure. Melissa had done more research and her knowledge of the Blues is stronger because she has spent many years absorbing information while playing bass guitar. She has gained a strong understanding of the origins of rock and roll music, both oldies and current music, by working with her instructors and other musicians. So, this was sort of a field trip. Some of the trip was to formal “blues museums” or meccas, but Po’ Monkey’s was the real thing! I’m glad we did the recon trip in the daytime. We might have found it at night absent that, by following other cars, but I’m not sure. She has described the place as well as it can be described. But, I’ll add a few details. First, there was a small cover charge, then up the stairs you go to the juke joint. Built above ground level, the floor bounces along as you walk, or dance, your way around. It is rustic; we found a corner vantage point, and watched the night away. The “bar” was originally the kitchen and there was a small half door from which basic libations were served. This mainly meant beer, in large cans and bottles. It was also possible to buy “set ups” for a few dollars consisting of cups and ice for BYO liquor and wine. In addition to the monkeys all over the place, there were posters, and a pool table, as well as a small area for a band, but a DJ was present the night we were there. The other thing to mention is that it was DARK. I, of course, took photos, and the light level in that place strained the low light capture capabilities of the camera I chose to bring. But, I got some interesting photos of the place, the people, and Po’ Monkey himself. The crowd consisted of tourists like us, and college students from nearby schools, but it was mostly locals out for a Thursday night party. Groups of friends and co-workers were evident. As you can tell, our experience in such places includes observing and absorbing the cultural experience which, in this case, was foreign to anything we had ever encountered. Knowing the history and origins of such places added to the experience as well. Po’ Monkey enjoyed playing tricks on people, R rated tricks often, to provide some shock and awe. And though we stayed until about midnight, the party was going strong. We left knowing we’d had a unique experience, one we would have done again, if not for the post script Melissa described. The trip was planned so that we could make it to this place on that night. It involved lots of driving, and put us out of our comfort zone – we don’t mind “dives” for good food and music, but this was a step removed. So it was proof once again, of the importance of taking, or making, opportunities where you can, before it is too late!

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