It’s hard not to know those words if you’re from the Delta. The juke joint outside of Merigold has become arguably the most famous of it’s kind anywhere in the world. It’s a mandatory stop on the constant blues pilgrimage that flows through our region. Come by any Thursday night, and you’ll likely not only meet folks from all over the Delta, you’ll meet folks from all over the world.
The place has been featured in just about every publication imaginable. Annie Leibovitz included it in her masterful collection, American Music. Vanity Fair, Esquire, New York Times, USA Today. Po’ Monkey’s Lounge has been photographed, discussed, and analyzed many, many, many times over. A quick Google search reveals hundreds, if not thousands of links.
It was difficult for me to approach this project. What in the world could I possibly explore that hadn’t been explored before?
I began spending more time at the club, figuring if I focused on visits rather than appointments, perhaps something would emerge. After all, I live much closer than just about every reporter or photographer that has ever explored Po’ Monkey’s. I have the benefit of time. And comfort. And access. Or at least I should.
In my research I continuously came across a common theme — everything focused mainly on a place. It didn’t take me long to understand that this place would be just another sharecropper’s shack if it weren’t for one man.
This is the man who first made the old sharecropper’s shack his home, then opened it for friends, and eventually that hospitality turned it into one of the world’s beacons for blues fans. Without Willie Seaberry — nicknamed Po’ Monkey years ago by his family — there would be no Blues marker outside of the rambling shack on the edge of a cotton field, to the west of Merigold, on the left side of the fork in the road, down a gravel stretch between Highway 61 and Crosby Road.
It’s not a place easily found, like, say, Disney World, and yet, folks visit day after day after day. And they do so, because Mr. Seaberry stops and says hello to everyone who visits his residence.
“Yeah, it gets hard,” he told me. “Especially when I got to get to work. Most folks don’t realize this ain’t my real job. But there’s no point getting angry with folks. Especially when they just want to say hello. So I say hello back. Which ain’t too hard, right?”
There is a beauty to that fragile shack off of Pemble Road. The smiles inside. the community of joy that exists every Thursday night. The irony of a place that’s nearly falling down being a buoy that actually holds us up. The less than perfect exterior that reveals a humbly perfect interior. And this is the beauty of our region.
I began purposefully documenting Po’ Monkey’s in 2009. Since then, on most Thursday nights, you’ll find me hanging out with all the other folks that come to relax, smile, and let go for a bit. Many of the folks that regularly visit I now consider to be friends. I make photos, and take prints back the next week. Sometimes I make portraits outside of the club, away from the music and excitement of Thursday night.
This blog is meant to serve as a journal of those encounters. Every Friday I’ll post a new image, or video, or audio, or story born out of my experiences at Po’ Monkey’s Lounge and with all of the people who make it what it is. My hope, is that by doing so, a portrait will emerge.
A portrait of a juke joint.