While it was technically not the 4th of July (but actually July 2nd) I consider that close enough to qualify as my all time favorite memory of this holiday.
To set the stage. Connie and Kathy Marine are two of the three daughters of Bea and Clyde Marine of Pickens County. Their daddy Clyde is one of the most interesting–and inventive–people I’ve ever known. A shade tree inventor of the highest order, Clyde and his brother Charlie were always dabbling with ancient motors, vehicles, airplanes and most anything else they could get their hands on.
But this tale has nothing to do with Clyde or his inventions. Instead, it has to do with a now deceased blues guitar player named Willie Earl King from Pickens County, a scorching July afternoon and a short trip to Mississippi.
About this time ten years ago to be exact, the sisters sent word that Willie Earl would be playing on Sunday afternoon, July 2, at the grand opening of a convenience store up the road in Pickinsville. It didn’t take much encouragement for me to make plans to join them.
We got there about 3 in the afternoon. It was brutally hot and no shade. So there we were in our lawn chairs with nothing between us and the sun except an occasional stray cloud. I needed hydration–and lots of it.
Trouble was all I had was several large bottles of Long Island Tea. I am not a teetotaler, but also not a frequent consumer of anything as potent as the beverage at hand.
As the sun beat down I began chugging the “tea.” By the time Willie Earl put away his guitar at 6, I was definitely feeling the effect of the libation and did not have a care in the world. Which means that I was certainly game to following Willie and his guitar a few miles into Mississippi, turning down a dirt road and ending up at Bettie’s Place. Now for those who may not be totally knowledgeable of the finer points of southern ruralology, Bettie’s was a genuine, authentic, absolute “juke.” The kind that are few and far between these days and that folks in the Mississippi Delta write about in hopes of enticing some tourists to spend dollars to observe.
(Juke joints are not to be confused with “honky tonks.” The former is primarily for black patrons, the latter for white ones.)
Willie was a regular at Bettie’s on Sunday nights. He and his drummer set up in a corner and the party began. To be honest, that part of the evening has always been kinda sorta fuzzy if you will. Other than knowing that we got there and some time later departed are all the details I can describe with a sense of accuracy.
Willie is now gone and the last time I checked, Bettie’s was just a rotting heap of old wood choked by weeds. But as I now observe the 10th anniversary of this time in west Alabama and east Mississippi, I know the memory will never fade and deep inside I wish I could do it all just one more time.