“How did you end up here?” Here-north of Zachary, Louisiana; in the middle of nowhere, at Teddy’s, one March night. First of all, the lead singer, a blues guitarist named Sundance, 56 years old, sporting a hat and a silvery-flamed black shirt. Next, the bassist: King Salomon, followed by the drummer, “Pic” Delmore. And finally, in a fanciful feathered cap and old-school leather jacket: Hoodoo Jimmy: “But seriously, how the hell did you end up in this place?” This place. Teddy’s Juke Joint.
Take note: on the highway through Baton Rouge, look left and right into the night-and not just because the alligators are waiting for you, with fixin’s ready, to veer off the road. No: here, car insurance rates are higher than in other states. People drive fast and don’t always stay in the right lane.
Just after Zachary, don’t miss Old Scenic Road. Then take the parish byway, and finally, at the fourth alligator on the left, veer onto a dirt road. Now it’s all up to you to figure out. Then, at the end of this road, which you wouldn’t even imagine in the craziest of films, Teddy’s Juke Joint majestically appears: sublime, surprising, lit up like a million Christmas trees, luxurious like a 5-star restaurant with fifty-dollar appetizers, a cozy wood shed, a place where people meet, you easily feel the humanity, a certain joie de vivre, the Blues, Faulkner, Robert Johnson, people with little means-but much class.
In the tiny kitchen, Nancy stirs up some “Soul Food,” traditional Southern cuisine with a spicy base that could even attack an alligator’s digestive tract. Inside-warmth, friendliness, smiles, music, lanterns, Blues, the bar, gals, giant guys, beers, neon lights, country types, customers, musicians, red beans-anything but bad taste.
With a white felt hat and a matching vest, a bit of augmented corpulence since he opened the business in 1976, a neck full of chains, cropped shirt, seductive moustache, rings on each finger, more elegance than a prince of the highest order, excellent at poker; Teddy is king of his domain. And even so, it is he that gives you a proper king’s reception. At each set break, Teddy glides to the front of the room and occupies an altar that would make even the Vatican blush. He is the DJ in this vibrantly painted booth. Think about all of the stereotypes about the U.S. that you have piously learned. Now reverse them: you’re at Teddy’s on a Sunday night-nothing better could be happening to you.
The Blues? Oh yeah: here, it’s the Blues-the real-deal, the authentic, the joyful, and all night. There’s Cathy, the delta’s own Janis Joplin; Phil Guy, Buddy’s brother-who, when he lights up his band, reminds you that Buddy’s gone. The century’s biggest creation. And here, nobody asks questions about skin color-even though people talk about it everywhere else in this land. In fact, if you want to go to Teddy’s, it’s probably best to give Bernard Cerquiglini, Baton Rouge savant, a call. Cerquiglini’s contact is taxi driver and sometimes (all the time) Blues poet, Ronnie Smith. Yep: everyone in this wonderful place spends his days in a taxi, or at the factory. The Blues, that’s for the nights.
Between two taxi rides, Smith, spokesman of African-American consciousness, organizes the Rockoctober Festival and keeps himself active at the Buddy Stewart Foundation, a tiny museum just down the street from the Museum of African American History. How do you find all this? Similar to La Paquita’s kitchen in Mexico or Kyoto’s Lush Life. Certainly not by looking: but by keeping your heart open, by meeting people, by putting just a smidgeon of confidence back into this fucking world the way it is, by betting it all on that dark, unknown element-life. That’s all.