‘One night in February 2012, my friend Kyle and I were crawling the bars of Clarksdale, Mississippi. We walked into Red’s Blues Club on Sunflower Avenue, and saw an obese black man drinking alone.
Kyle and I bought drinks and then engaged in conversation with the large dude, who quickly established that we were tourists.
“Yo’ ain’t gonna see the real blues,” he said. “Clarksdale ain’t nothin’ but a blues theme park for white folks. It ain’t the real blues.” It was a short conversation. One of us (probably me) asked one question too many, at which the large dude promptly stood up and walked out of the bar. Later that night, and after several beers, Kyle said, “You know, that whole scene in Red’s would make a great opening to a story.”
And thus, Fat Man Blues was born:
Red’s was a juke-joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi, just across the tracks from the Ground Zero Blues Club. On the third night that I went in, the place was empty; except for Red, who was engrossed in a newspaper, and an obese black man I’d never seen before who was scribbling in a notebook at a table next to the stage, necking Tanqueray from the bottle and in a world that only he could see.
I walked up to the bar. Red looked up, nodded at me, produced a bottle of Sam Adams and then carried on reading.
“I’m a King Bee” by Slim Harpo was playing on the juke-box; I placed a five-dollar bill on the bar and sipped my beer to the hypnotic swamp-blues vibe.
Slim Harpo stopped singing and the juke-box fell silent. The fat man lifted his massive head and blinked at me slowly.
“Y’all dig the blues, White Boy?” he said.
I said that I did.
The fat man grunted. “I ‘member one time, Muddy Waters stopped by here, stood ‘sac’ly where you standin’ now. Man that cat could play.”
He gave three hefty chuckles, took another drink and then belched. “What are y’all doin’ here?”
I told him I was following the blues trail and was stopping in Clarksdale for a few nights.
“Jus’ another white boy wants t’ play the blues, huh?”
“Where’s yo’ accent from?”
I told him it was from England.
“Well,” he said. “This heyah’s what the blues is now. Blues is fo’ white folks, but it ain’t the real blues. I knows where the real blues is, ain’t that right, Red?”
Red didn’t look up but his head moved slightly. It could have been a nod.
“Come over heyah, son,” said the fat man.
I walked over.
Up close he reeked of booze and body odour; beads of sweat covered his bald head, and the black t-shirt stretched across his huge bulk and black sweat pants that encased massive thighs were covered in stains that I didn’t want to think about. He cleared his throat and blinked slowly as he fought to salvage discarded words from his gin-soaked vocabulary.
“See,” he said. “They’s a place where the blues is still like it was.” He leaned closer. “I can show yo’ that place, if yo’ of a mind?”
I said maybe and asked him his name.
The fat man blinked at me, his eyes glazing as he processed this, and then said, “I’ll get back to yo’ on that.”
He stood up, wavered unsteadily and then left the bar through a door at the back of the room.
I returned to the bar and asked Red who that was. He didn’t look up from his newspaper.
“Tha’s Fat Man,” he growled. “An’ tha’s all I’m sayin’.”
True to his word, Red remained silent. I stayed for another beer and then said goodnight.
Fat Man appeared from an alley at the side of the building.
“So, yo’ wan’ see this place where the blues is at?”
I wondered what sort of scam was about to be played. Maybe he was a hustler for another club?
“Ain’t no scam,” he said. “An’ I ain’t no hustler. This place I knows, it ain’t no club, but is jus’ the sort o’ place yo’ need to see. Blues is wid y’all.”
I asked him what he meant.
“I saw yo’ diggin’ Slim Harpo,” he said. “Yo’ heyah cos’ yo’ woman gone an’ yo’ feelin’ low down. Yo’ got the sickness. Yo’ got the blues sho’ nuff.”
I asked him how the hell he knew all that.
“Yo’ wearin’ a weddin’ band but yo’ been heyah three nights on yo’ own, hittin’ the booze an’ diggin’ the blues. Yo’ got a dark aura, kinda sickly. Somethin’ bad be hangin’ wid yo’.”
I said I had to go. Fat Man stepped in front of me. “Hear me, White Boy,” he said. “I knows a place yo’ would ‘preciate. I’m talkin’ Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Willie Brown.”
Now I was certain he was drunk. I reminded him that they were all dead.
He winked. “Maybe they is, maybe they ain’t. Maybe yo’ ain’t far behind ‘em. An’ I ain’t drunk, I jus’ been drinkin’. We gon’ talk again soon.”
I stepped around him and walked back into town.
This is the first chapter of Richard Wall’s novel: “Fat Man Blues”. If you like it and you’re interested you can order the book here.Recommended1 recommendationPublished in