My husband and I were giving a wedding party at one of the last existing juke joints around these parts, a little run down place called Po’ Monkeys. You might have heard of it. It has been publicized so much it’s almost “touristy” now. Mr. Willie Seaberry, also known as Mr. Monkey, is a hard working man. He works all day on the Park Plantation and runs Po’ Monkeys every night.
This particular night, we had rented the place and it was closed to the public. We had decorated the joint with balloons and streamers and candles, and it looked as pretty as I have EVER seen Po’ Monkeys look. Mr. Monkey even asked if he could keep the decorations!
We were deep into the party when a man walked in that nobody knew. We were about to tell him it was a private party when Bill Abel, our band, recognized him as someone he had met and invited him to join us. Bill introduced him as a man that had come all the way from England to play the blues. And history was made that night because the moment he was introduced as Bob Long, my witty husband stood up and screamed, “Cous.” I’m sure Bob was a little confused about that because, of course, he had no idea our last name was Long, too. Bob proceeded to play what he thought was Bill Abel’s guitar, which in actuality was my husband’s because Bill Abel had borrowed it for the night. Are you following me? So Henry Earl (my husband) felt no qualms about joining Bob on his harmonica. It was quite a show.
When we finally explained the cousin thing, we invited Bob Long to come stay with us instead of a hotel. Now some of you might think this odd, but I could write a book on total strangers we’ve invited home. He came and stayed a weekend with us. He came back in July and stayed with us three weeks. That was five years ago. Now Bob is affectionately known to us and all of our friends as Cousin Bob.
It turns out that Cousin Bob, as a teenager, loved the music of the Rolling Stones and they were doing versions of the blues music of Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters. He started buying records of the original artists and found he liked them better. Later, he started listening to the earlier records of the previous generation of bluesmen…pre World War II.
By the time he was 18 he was in a blues band as the singer. He could not play an instrument. He started learning harmonica, but when he attended the University of Leeds, he started getting friends to show him how to play certain songs on guitar. And from that was born a blues aficionado. He can’t read music, but he can play the stew out of a guitar!
Bob’s music fell to the wayside as being a business consultant in waste management, marriage, children, and just life in general took over in the 1980s. Then in 2004 came the vacation of his dreams. He and wife Katy flew into Memphis. The point was to mosey on down through Mississippi and on to New Orleans. They did all the tourist stuff like Graceland and the Gibson guitar factory, but Bob was anxious to be on his way. As he came off the bluff on Highway 61, he immediately expected to see the impoverished Mississippi he had always read about. Tunica being the first place he came to, he was absolutely stunned at the quality of the schools and buildings. He says he will never forget his first look at Mississippi.
But Bob didn’t really lose his heart until he got to a little town called Clarksdale. Going by a travel book named A Rough Guide to the Deep South, Bob and Katy found a place to stay…The Shack Up Inn. They befriended the bartender next door at Hopson Plantation and went into town with her that night. He fell in love with the people, the music, the Southern hospitality and the history.
A year later, he sold his business and went straight back to Clarksdale to get to know the place better and explore Tha Delta. Now many years later, he knows more people in Clarksdale than my husband and my husband is really well known!
He has been to many of the blues marker dedications and even played along with Bill Abel at the one that marks where the river broke in 1927 in Scott, Mississippi.
Bob loves everything about Tha Delta: its uniqueness, the river, the landscape, the atmosphere, its endless fascination. He says it’s amazing to reflect that only a hundred years ago, this was a swampy jungle full of wild animals and it was flooded by the river every year. He says the blood, sweat and tears that were spent in making it farmland give it a special feeling.
His favorite foods are fried catfish (and I promise I did not try to influence) and fried okra, which he spelled ochre. I like that better. It gives a more elegant way to look at a slimy, green vegetable.
Bob resides in Lyndhurst, England, right in the middle of the New Forest, a national park by our standards. He is surrounded by trees and flowers, with red and fallow deer everywhere and people own horses but they are not penned in any way. They just roam free. And as beautiful as it is, I think a big chunk of Bob’s heart belongs to Tha Delta.
When asked if Bob played the blues much in England and if he had followers, he replied, “Not a lot these days. I do some gigs and some blues jam sessions in pubs and I play at small festivals sometimes. I like to play ‘the old stuff,’ the pre WWII acoustic blues. The followers can be a problem sometimes…hundreds of screaming girls throwing their underwear on the stage, but I’ve learned to cope with that. LOL”
And so, if you come to Clarksdale in the spring for the Juke Joint Festival or go to Terry, Mississippi, to the Tommy Johnson Annual Celebration in the fall and happen to see a tall, handsome, very white, yet sunburning Englishman playing the blues, stop by and speak to Cousin Bob. Tell him Cousin Catfish Lil sent ya!
Bob now works in partnership with the world renowned luthier, Dave King. To learn more about Bob you can visit his websites: www.dave-kingacoustics.com or www.bobalong.co.uk.