If you're in Clarksdale, Miss., home of the Delta blues, everybody says you have to go to Red's juke joint. The hole-in-the-wall club is the real deal. It's just a small room, a few tables and a fridge full of beer. Red lights are strung around a low ceiling. On the night we visit, octogenarian Leo "Bud" Welch plays in the center of the room, hunched over a sparkly, hot pink, electric guitar. Red Paden, the owner, sits out front, surveying from behind the bar.
"The blues is my heritage. I come up on that," says Paden. "Blues is something to do with the trials and tribulations that you go through. And when you can get out there and sing about it, you know, it makes the day go by quicker."
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The "Our Land" series is produced by Elissa Nadworny.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Our colleague Melissa Block has been on a road trip around the country for her series Our Land. She's bringing us stories about communities, how where you live shapes your identity. Her latest trip took her to the Mississippi Delta, where a big part of that identity is blues music.
MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: If you're in Clarksdale, Miss., home of the Delta blues, everybody says you have to go to Red's Juke Joint. Tonight, it's Leo Bud Welch playing. Come on. Let's go.
LEO WELCH: (Singing unintelligibly).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, yeah.
WELCH: (Singing) After while.
BLOCK: Red's Blues Club is the real deal - a small room, a few tables, a fridge full of beer, red lights strung around a low ceiling. Leo Bud Welch sits hunched over a sparkly, hot-pink electric guitar.
WELCH: (Playing guitar).
RED PADEN: Leo Bud Welch - he's 85 years old. And, by far, I think he's the baddest, real blues man out there now.
BLOCK: That's the owner of Red's Juke Joint, Red Paden.
PADEN: We're just hanging out, having a conversation right about now.
BLOCK: Red is burly with dark glasses, a ball cap, salt-and-pepper beard.
PADEN: Blues is my heritage. You know, I come up on that. You know, there's really not any money in it and stuff. I do it because I like it and stuff, you know?
BLOCK: The Mississippi Delta gave us blues legends Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Charley Patton, Son House - he was born just a couple miles away from where this club is now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLARKSDALE MOAN")
SON HOUSE: (Singing) Clarksdale, Miss., - always going to be my home.
BLOCK: Red Paden points to the photos pinned up on the walls of his club, photos of the bluesmen. And they're pretty much all men who've played here.
PADEN: That's the Wolfman, Robert Wolfman Belfour. Lazy Lester up there - T-Model Ford, The Ladies Man.
BLOCK: There are a few young faces on the walls. But, mostly, these are old-timers.
PADEN: This is Cadillac John here. He's 90. He played that mule-train blues. And when he's gone, everything's gone.
BLOCK: Red Paden grew up here in the Delta. He remembers the first juke joint he went to as a kid, dirt floor out in the countryside.
PADEN: Everybody would make food, make their own beer and stuff, their own liquor. You know, they made homemade guitars and homemade drums - you know, stuff like that there. And it was a community thing, you know?
BLOCK: These days, jobs have fled the Mississippi Delta. And towns like Clarksdale are hurting. Blues tourism is one solution. Red's draws blues fans from all over.
PADEN: You name it - they're coming from there - Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Brazil, Philippines, Japan, China.
BLOCK: The night we're at Reds, it's a small crowd - tourists mostly - spellbound as they listen to octogenarian blues man Leo Bud Welch.
WELCH: (Singing) Oh, mother - Lord, let me ride.
PADEN: Blues has something to do with the trials and tribulations that you go through. And when you can get out there and sing about it and stuff, you know, it makes the day go by quicker.
BLOCK: That's Red Paden, juke-joint owner and, despite the blues, an optimist.
PADEN: Every day I get up is it's a beautiful day to me. Can you dig it? You open your eyes and look around. Damn, I made it another day. I can go do what I want - and feeling good, too. You can get up and do what you want to do.
WELCH: (Singing) Want to lay out all night long.
BLOCK: Melissa Block, NPR News, at Red's Juke Joint in Clarksdale, Miss.
WELCH: (Singing) (Unintelligible). Want to lay out all night long. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.