Brad's Big Adventure

Louisiana lightning

The old store Buddy Guy would visit as a child.

The interior of the old store.

Chronicle photographer Bradley Cook has been through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. He’s photographed Buddy Guy in Oxnard and Beverly Hills, Calif., and during his live appearance at Austin City Limits. 

His best friend from childhood, Bob Calder, joined him in Texas, and now they head out on the final leg of the journey, visiting legendary Blues sites from Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama and Tennessee, culminating with Guy’s performance at the historic Ryman Theater at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. 

March 21

We’re up at 5 a.m. and plan to be on the road by 6 a.m., and everything’s going according to plan. Bob’s doing all the driving. And I think for the first two or three days after he joined me I did zero driving. 

We arrived at 3 p.m. to what I thought was Buddy’s childhood home. And I’m looking for the nail holes in the siding of the front door where he first practiced doing one-string guitar. I couldn’t find any nail holes. Come to find out that this is actually an old country store. And right about that time I get a call from a friend who was with Buddy’s daughter, Charlotte. He puts her on the phone and I said, ‘I’m standing right here in front of the store … Is this a store or was this your dad’s home?’ And she says ‘That’s the store. My father has some new amplifiers and they took some of the boards off of the inside from one of the shelves in that store and made the outside cabinets to his amplifiers.’

The home was destroyed some time ago. I could see where the corner of the building was completely rotted off; I bent this one board just a little bit, and could sneak right inside. So I snuck in and when I’m inside I feel the floor kind of sag down a little and I look to my left and an entire wall is completely disconnected from the building and I’m not quite sure what’s holding the roof up. I take one or two steps and I can feel the squish in the floor. I’m realizing this is not safe at all and I start looking around and I can kind of see where the beams are underneath the joists, and I follow those.

I’m watching that ceiling the whole time and that wall because I had to go all the way to the other side the way the light was coming into the building. It was just the way that the picture was gonna need to be lit, with dusty light. History – you just feel it.

You just kind of sit in that room for a second and you see this little Black kid come in the front door to get maybe a little piece of candy and then running back home. You can see the shopkeeper saying, ‘That’s the Guys’ boy.’ Buddy’s real name is George. I took a deep breath. It’s a very different kind of breath there than what I smelled in the small towns of west Texas, the Jiffy Lube smell everywhere.

We head to New Orleans, and veer off down a side road, and there was this old cemetery with all the coffins sitting on top. New Orleans is below sea level, so bodies are in above-ground mausoleums. That freaked me out a little the first time I saw that.

March 22

The next morning, Bob said, ‘I already know where we’re going for breakfast’ and we went to Mother’s restaurant, which had a long line that looked like half the town was there. It was very good. Then we did some sightseeing and wandered down to Louis Armstrong Park. Hit a couple of voodoo shops.

I told the lady inside one of the voodoo places that my store back in Oregon had recently been vandalized, and we needed some positive light and energy to the place. She gave us a black candle to ward off evil spirits, a white candle to bring good light, and a green candle to bring in continued prosperity. Oh, and we were to light them all together.

We headed down to the French Quarter to just walk around. We were about to head back to our hotel room by 4 p.m. and went past another cemetery. I wondered if Dr. John was laid to rest here. It turns out, they give official tours of the cemetery and, yeah, Dr. John is in this one particular place. We go buy tickets for the tour, and I wanted to get a few pictures for Marty Sammon, Buddy’s keyboardist, who looks like Dr. John. The tour guide says, ‘You can’t do that. Dr. John isn’t really here.’ And I say, ‘Really?’ It turns out the funeral procession went through the first cemetery, but they brought Dr. John’s coffin in and then only family was allowed in after that and everybody in the procession was kept on the outside. The coffin just went right through to the other side of the cemetery, loaded back into another car and driven over to the other cemetery. It was all at the family’s request; they didn’t want anyone to mess with his grave. Of course, the tour guide told me I ‘didn’t hear that from me.’

We then went over to the other cemetery; it’s not huge but it’s enough where it’s going to take a few hours to go up and down every row. So I went up to the person working there and explained how I wanted to get a picture of Dr. John’s grave for my friend. ‘We’re not locals and we’re not gonna mess with it.’ And she said, well, you need to go talk to this person in the back. She’s our director. I went back and told her what we’d like to do, and she said that the family has chosen not to reveal anything at this time. She said the family is afraid of vandalism and things like that. I understood, and respected the family’s wishes.

We headed back to the room, and the wind was blowing. The clouds were looking menacing, and we saw the direction of the clouds – coming straight out of the south. We were up on the 12th floor, looking south. We’re watching this stuff come in. And occasionally these rain bands are coming in and they’re just pelting the windows up there. And I tried to take a picture but it’s just all muddled. Bob suggested we turn on the local news. Turns out, there are two tornadoes coming from the south heading directly toward New Orleans. And so we’re looking out the window and we can see from lightning flashes what’s out there and coming directly at us was one tornado. 

And it was coming right into the Ninth Ward. We would look over to the side and it wasn’t your classic tornado with the tail coming down. It was kind of this big black kind of mass that was low to the ground. And we had actually driven through that area that morning. We went and visited Jelly Roll Morton’s house and that was really cool amongst our travels, but you know, there was so much poverty in that area. And then that tornado goes through there and just messes it up even more. The next morning we started on our way up the Mississippi Delta.



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