For blues lovers, an authentic sharecropper’s shack—with all the modern conveniences
Robert Johnson played his blues guitar so well that it was said he’d sold his soul to the devil. Maybe he had, but it’s just as likely he learned his chops listening to other blues greats as they played on the front porches of their sharecropper shacks. That’s how a lot of Southern culture was transmitted for many years. But with the introduction of the mechanized cotton picker in 1944, plantations gave way to agribusiness, and farm laborers started streaming North. The blues became an electrified international institution, as common in the clubs of London as on the front porches of the Delta.
On a warm evening in late September, as I sat on the steps of a sharecropper shack, nursing a Corona and watching the dusk settle over cotton fields on either side of Highway 49,1 could almost hear “Terraplane Blues” in the Delta breeze. Of course, I was paying for the experience, and not with hard labor. I was a guest at the South’s oldest B&B (bed-and-beer), the Shack Up Inn, on the former Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale.
In 1998 Bill Talbot and a group of friends, one of whom was part owner of Hopson, loaded two workers’ shacks that were slated to be demolished onto a flatbed truck and hauled them to Hopson, where they renovated them. The Shack Up Inn—now six shacks—has become an international blues destination. My “shack,” the Robert Clay, named after its former occupant, was spacious, with a back bedroom, kitchen, and living room—all air-conditioned—and made even more spacious by the fact that I wasn’t raising seven sons, as Mr. Clay did.
The shacks are crammed with artifacts from all over the Delta, such as old blues records, ancient postcards, an upright piano, a guitar. (Each shack contains at least one musical instrument.) And the guests keep coming. Talbot says the partners plan to expand by putting 10 rooms in the old cotton gin and adding a main lobby. The Shack Up was convenient for me and my traveling companions, who were touring the holy sites of Delta blues, but it is also a destination in itself. We gathered on the lawn, tossed sticks to a golden retriever, and talked about music. Eventually someone brought out a guitar.
Rooms range from $50 to $75 a night, and reservations can be made by calling 662-624-8329.