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I showed up at 8:00, dressed like a refugee from some low-rent Eighties MTV video, wearing my denim jacket, faded jeans, and an AC/DC t-shirt. (A plaid shirt underneath the jacket added a touch of Nineties grunge.) Sully’s sat on the edge of the road in a sea of Delta night, a nondescript, windowless building with a dirt parking lot and flashing marquee sign out in front. The sign was the only indication to travelers flying past that the bar even existed. I’d driven straight out of town, due north, past the Civic Center and the places where people usually get shot, into rural Leflore County. Henry was waiting there for me. For weeks he had tried persuading me to join him at one juke joint or another, but I kept putting him off. Tonight, though, was different. Around dusk, I realized I was the only one in my apartment complex. All the other apartments were dark, the parking lot mostly empty. It was a night to get gone, to meet some stranger and buy her a drink. That’s what I had in mind when I gassed up and pointed my Kia north.

The marquee promised karaoke on Tuesday nights and live music from Deerfield tonight. Henry – the founder and, for all I knew, sole member of Deerfield – promised to play “dark, redneck Gospel blues.” Who could resist those genres, especially in a bar on a Mississippi Saturday night? I didn’t know where all my neighbors had got off to, but I was certain I would end up having a better time. I nestled my small car in between two large, mud-spattered pickups, stuffed my cash in my shirt pocket, and dropped my wallet in the glovebox. (One must take precautions before entering any redneck blues bar.)

I entered through a steel-mesh door, taking note of the posted rules: $5 cover, $5 “bottle fee.” A group of young people (well, younger than me) near the door nodded as I came in. The air was humid, smoky. There were maybe a dozen people inside; two large tables still had the chairs stacked upside down on them. I spotted Henry at the bar. We exchanged bro-hugs. He was dressed exactly the same as the last time I’d seen him, in a ball cap (set slightly askew on his head) and dark, nondescript clothing that made him look either like a New York artist or the mechanic at your local garage. Sleeves pushed up to expose his tattoos. Gray beard. Intense, engaging manner. The first thing you notice about Henry is his British accent, which never ceases to charm the listener.

A UK native, Henry spends several months out of the year in Greenwood. It’s his base of operations as he tours Mississippi looking for good blues locations, playing music, and making recordings for broadcast on Internet radio back home. He’ll tell you he’s not a musician, which I found out that night was true, but does play a mean blues harp and a vintage acoustic guitar with long lengths of string hanging from the headstock. He’d brought all that and more, including the Oahu Tonemaster amp he purchased from the estate of Dave Roback, the late guitarist for Mazzy Star. He’d also loaded the small stage set up in one corner of the bar with his audio-visual gear, including a projection screen and a couple of turntables he had spinning, creating his signature “layers” of sound. It was already loud inside Sully’s and it was not even a third full yet.

I met the proprietor, Alice, who looked to be about 70. She told me a little of her history with the place. Formerly known as The Blue Room, she and her husband had turned it around from “a shithole” to the atmospheric adult daycare in which I found myself. I asked her for a Bud Lite, which she promptly retrieved from a refrigerated case and charged $3 for. I handed her a five and told her to keep it. “Thank ya, darlin,” she said. I dropped a buck in the tip jar, which was helpfully labeled: “Money is the root of all evil. Cleanse yourself here!”

Henry related several of the adventures he’d had since last time we spoke. He’d gotten screwed on a deal to buy a derelict building in downtown Greenwood. The place would have been perfect for his residence/garage/music studio, but the “shady” guy repping the deal turned out to not be the actual owner. Lawyers were now hashing out the details. Meanwhile, Henry was thinking of moving out of the shotgun house he’d rented near the Amtrak station, a neighborhood that was just a hair better than ghetto.

He introduced me to Bailey, the young kid who formed the other half of Deerfield. He wore a plaid shirt and a ball cap, and looked as if he might be better off home with mommy and daddy. I thought of myself as “hanging out with the band,” though they were hardly a band, and Henry felt no particular rush to go on. “You need to calm down, man, relax,” he snapped at Bailey. “Go for a drive. Let some more people come in, then we’ll call it a go or no-go.”

“What’s a no-go?” I asked.

Henry shrugged. “We’ll just start later.”

Like any performer, he wanted to play to the biggest crowd possible, which meant Deerfield might not take the (teen-tiny) stage until 9:00 or later. I was OK with that. In fact, I felt right at home. I joined Henry at the stage where he and Bailey checked their equipment. A continual blur of images filled the projection screen, sun-bleached cityscapes and pan-flat fields that all but sang the blues themselves. Henry put on some CCR to fill in whatever gaps there were in the steadily growing crowd noise.

At the bar, Alice’s husband, Rocket, beamed his beatific smile on all comers. A big, jolly guy with a scruffy white beard and a grizzled face, Rocket wore a Flora-Bama t-shirt and a floppy green fishing cap. He shook my hand on Henry’s introduction and launched into a tale about Sully’s, tracing its history through the decades to his and Alice’s purchase of the building a few years ago. “I put in all new wiring and plumbing, put in two new window units,” Rocket said. “It was in rough shape. Bullet holes in the walls, in the ceiling. A guy was shot and killed over in the corner.” It seemed no matter where you went in Greenwood, someone had met a violent end there.

Henry continued to wait for the right-sized crowd. Folks kept flowing in, mostly white couples who hadn’t gotten the memo that smoking causes cancer. One table quickly filled up; I noticed that the folks had brought their own liquor. “Here come the divorcees,” Henry noted, as four white women filed in like they owned the place. They took a table on the far side of the bar, three bottle blondes and one brunette who looked like she’d seen far better days. I wouldn’t have minded meeting one of Henry’s so-called “voracious” divorcees, but they obviously had their own thing. I finished my beer and ordered a soft drink.

“I gotta call my dancer,” Henry said, taking out his phone.

“Who’s the dancer?” I asked.

“Ah, man, she’s smokin’ hot. Mid-thirties. Name’s Viv. She asked if she could bring her pole.”

“She’s a pole dancer?”

“Dunno yet, mate. Lemme just give her a ring.”

He got her on the phone. “Yeah, Liv? It’s Henry, the guy with the gig. You going to dance for us?”

After a brief, mostly one-sided conversation, he hung up, a bit crestfallen. Liv’s appearance at the gig was no sure thing, but the show would go on.

“These are songs me and Bailey wrote over the last three weeks,” Henry explained. “We rehearsed and wrote the songs and came up with our set.” A “third member” of Deerfield was a drum machine with programming slow and steady enough to provide a rhythmic beat across all eight or nine songs. “I don’t know that our music is exactly right for this crowd,” Henry said, surveying the smokers and drinkers. “It’s a very dreamy kind of Gospel.”

Around 9:30, he and Bailey took the stage. The place was packed; Deerfield would have to be plenty loud to be heard over the yakking and cracking of billiards. The music began — dum-da-dum-da-dum — over a steady drip-drip drum beat. It was recognizably the blues, and perfect for a joint like this, but Henry was no B.B. King. It quickly became obvious that the musicianship was half-baked, the reach far exceeding the actual grasp. As monochromatic images flew past on the screen behind them, Henry and Bailey ground out what could only grudgingly be called a “song.” Henry moaned into his vintage radio mic while Bailey picked his electric guitar.

How best to describe what they created? A noise — yes, a noise, a surrealistic jumble of ideas from two white guys wanting to appropriate a Black form of music. It became a drone, or a dirge, Henry’s lyrics buried in sheer volume. The crowd reaction was mixed — some looked on incredulously, like a cat staring at a tomato, while others showed a kind of awed interest. Here was music being performed live; whether it was any good, or worth hearing, was another question entirely, but the point was, it was happening, in front of God and everyone.

If nothing else, the sound Deerfield made was inspired, culled from whatever guts Henry and Bailey found in their rehearsals. I was able to decipher none of the lyrics; the Englishman approximated a bluesy, churchy wail that sounded positively haunting in this dark, smoke-filled space. He groaned and moaned his way through a couple of numbers before playing his blues harp loud enough to raise the folks in the local graveyard. The sound was like a train cutting through fog, rude and insistent. Roback’s amp gave it a ghostly, Western feel, just as it had such Mazzy Star songs as “Fade Into You.” I was witnessing the birth of a new kind of music — an experiment in white blues, the “dark Gospel” Henry had mentioned.

Not everyone saw or heard it that way. Two guys who’d come in earlier sat at a table in front of me. The older man, shriveled to a peanut, sat unimpressed, arms folded across his chest. His companion, a much larger fellow who weighed probably 300 pounds, simply turned away from Deerfield in disgust. He stared at the wall as if it were playing better music. Occasionally, he’d take a drag off his cigarette, and put the cigarette back in his shirt pocket. How he didn’t burst into flames, I had no idea. He’d bragged about eating a big meal at the deer camp before coming to hear Deerfield. When I shook his hand, it was like having my hand swallowed up by a bear wearing a baseball glove. I heard him mouth one word to the older man: “bullshit.” I also noticed the entire troupe of divorcees marching out en masse. Apparently, they had heard enough.

Still, I wasn’t the only one applauding Deerfield. There was a smattering of appreciation from every corner of the bar. Hey, at least somebody had made the effort to bring live performance art to Sully’s. Even the drunkest redneck could appreciate that (if not the two fellas from the camp). One woman made video on her iPhone, moving around the room, taking different angles. I followed her with my eyes until she joined a guy who slid his arm around her waist. Next!

Deerfield played a couple more numbers, then put away their instruments. Folks came up to the two musicians to congratulate them or ask what the hell they thought they were doing. I checked my watch. It was half-past 10. The bar was getting rowdier, and it occurred to me this wasn’t exactly my kind of place. Greenwood has a history of deaths in parking lots, fights breaking out for no reason at all. I was also inhaling tons of second-hand smoke. I decided it was time for me to bug out. Maybe some other time I’d come back and order one of Rocket’s cheeseburgers.

I got in a word with Henry. “How did it sound?” he asked. “Loud,” I said, “in a good way.” “Loud?” he wanted to know, as if he couldn’t believe it. “Yeah,” I affirmed, “but in a good way!” Then an older couple approached him, and I figured it was time to take my leave. Walking into the clear night air was like exiting an alternate dimension into our real one. I could breathe again.

Next morning, I woke to a text from Henry: “Thanks man for coming, ps, the dancer showed up, not wearing very much. We’re meeting up next week.” I expressed my sincere regret at missing her but complimented the show. “Cheers man,” he wrote. “Few wrinkles to iron out, but I’m just very happy getting some music happening in this dry ole town. Off to Waffle House, if you’re interested.”

I promised to catch him next time.

Bailey, left, and Henry, playing their version of “dark Gospel”