Tallahassee juke joint a blues time capsule
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.
Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials onstage at the BBC.