Tal­la­has­see juke joint a blues time cap­sule

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - By Nancy More­land Chicago Tri­bune Nancy More­land is a free­lancer.

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — For a blues­man, Lil’ Ed Wil­liams looks mighty cheer­ful. His sil­ver fez and mil­lion-watt smile sparkle in the neon aura of the Brad­fordville Blues Club, a ru­ral out­post of mu­si­cal his­tory about 12 miles north­east of down­town Tal­la­has­see.

When a pa­tron shouts, “It’s a lot warmer here than Chicago!” the slide gui­tar king and lead singer for the Blues Im­pe­ri­als ban­ters back, “You got that right, brother!”

It’s not the South­ern cli­mate warm­ing the singer’s heart on this Jan­uary night; it’s the venue — a cin­der-block juke joint at the end of a dark road.

“When you drive up that lane, you turn the clock back 50 years,” says club owner Gary Anton. One of two Florida sites on the Mis­sis­sippi Blues Trail, the “BBC” rocks the woods with soul­ful sounds ev­ery week­end. The 1960s-era road­house isn’t easy to find, but for mu­si­cians of a cer­tain ilk, it’s a holy grail.

Wil­liams’ band joins a lineup of mu­si­cians whose soul-bar­ing bal­lads have pierced the coun­try quiet.

“Every­one from B.B. King to Ray Charles came out here to play with lo­cal bands when Tal­la­has­see’s clubs closed at 2 a.m.,” Anton says. Like other stops on the so-called Chitlin’ Cir­cuit, the BBC was a safe venue for African-Amer­i­can mu­si­cians dur­ing seg­re­ga­tion.

Tonight, af­ter 90 min­utes, the band takes a break. The au­di­ence dis­perses, head­ing straight for a bon­fire and Miss Ernes­tine’s fish shack. The queen of cat­fish coaxes one fil­let at a time to suc­cu­lent per­fec­tion.

So per­fect, you hes­i­tate to relin­quish its sweet warmth to a brisk sip of beer. Fi­nally, a sin­gle, sear­ing note from Lil’ Ed’s gui­tar beck­ons pa­trons onto the dance floor.

NANCY MORE­LAND/FOR THE CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Lil’ Ed and the Blues Im­pe­ri­als on­stage at the BBC.

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