Cultural anthropologist painted fascinating image of Mississippi jukes

September 22, 2016 GMT

There is no longer an overabundance of juke joints left in the Delta and the remainder of the Deep South. In July, Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry, 75, owner of Po’ Monkey’s in Merigold, Miss., just south of Clarksdale, died. The fate of the juke joint he opened to patrons from across the world every Thursday night is still uncertain. Meanwhile, more homogenized venues for blues music appear. Consider Ground Zero in Clarksdale or any number of clubs on Beale Street in Memphis. The music may be enjoyable, but those clubs are still sanitized recreations of a more authentic, original juke joint culture. Some years ago, I discovered online another fan of blues music. John Lee “Junior” Doughty of Louisiana once managed a personal interest website called Junior’s Juke Joint devoted to the blues genre and the venues that feature it. Doughty became a blues “expert” later in life. He had served in the U.S. Navy and then worked for IBM as a Customer Engineer in charge of repairing and maintaining their computers in an Alexandria, La. office. He also operated a convenience store in his hometown of Tullos, La. However, in 1995, at the age of 52, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in anthropology from Northwestern State University in Nachitoches. He launched his website devoted to Mississippi Delta blues and juke joints in 1997, in order to share his love of the blues and chronicle his travails in his “blues mobile” along the “blues highway.” His motto was as follows: “Like any good Delta juke joint, you won’t find anything fancy. But you will find some fine folks and some great music.” His definition of an authentic juke joint was simple: “The place with a jukebox, usually. Cheap beer, good atmosphere, low-maintenance surroundings, and mostly black folks having a good time.” Junior’s online documentation of jukes caught the attention of CNN, who featured him in a 2000 segment called “A Virtual Journey through Juke Joints.” His website also garnered commendations, including The Smithsonian Institutions’ National Anthropological Archives “most Entertaining Online Ethnography.” ‘Delta Boogie,’ an arts and entertainment resource for Northeast Arkansas and Mississippi Delta residents, once did a short feature on one of their web pages. The page noted his blues travails, as well as his devotion to Southern cuisine. Junior had written on website: “Did you say you’re thinking about taking a trip through the Delta and you don’t want to eat where the folks at the chamber of commerce eat? Well, stay tuned to Junior’s Juke Joint. I’ll tell you about places to eat where the peas started the day on the vine and the pie started the day as peaches.” I had discovered Junior’s Juke Joint website sometime in the early 2000s while living in east Tennessee. I remember reading about his travels through the Delta, vicariously enjoying his visits to juke joints while hundreds of miles away from the flat lands where so much music has been produced. Later, during visits to west Tennessee and north Mississippi, I visited some of the joints he had recommended. I may well have learned of Po Monkey’s in Merigold because of Junior’s site. I was thinking of Junior this week, wondering what had happened to him, if he were still writing about the blues and Delta music and culture. After a web search, I quickly learned that Junior died at age 71 in July 2014, apparently after a battle with Alzheimer’s. He was a wonderful storyteller. He made readers feel as if they were present with him—and he had the cultural anthropological knowledge to explain the background for many of the customs of the Delta when it came to music and cuisine. Two years after his passing, his website, it appears, no longer exists or is not accessible in a web search. I located an original quote from his site on the ‘Delta Boogie’ site that was written in 1997: “In September,” he said, “I head to Greenville, Mississippi, for the 20th Annual Delta Blues Festival. It only lasts one day, but I’ll hang around for a couple of weeks of juke joint visiting. I’ve also got to spend some time beneath old bluesman T-Model Ford’s shade tree while he sips moonshine whiskey and tells stories. With a little luck his wife, Stella, might fire up the grill on some chicken and ribs. We’ll pop the tops on some 16 oz Pabst Blue Ribbons and have a genuine blues blast. You can read all about it at Junior’s Juke Joint.” I have missed and will continue to miss reading about Junior Doughty’s travails. He made Mississippi and its juke joints sound like fascinating places. (Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and UT Martin and has served on the board of directors at Corinth Theatre-Arts. She enjoys being a downtown Corinth resident.)