Blues & Boogie in the Little Blue Club
Words and Photos by Marianne Todd
The inviting sounds of the blues are wafting through the air in Jackson's historic music district.
“We are a real representation of a Mississippi juke joint,” says co-owner Daniel Dillon. “We keep the music alive even after the commercial industry takes over.”
From 10 p.m. to nearly 5 a.m., non-stop boogie ensues within the walls of the trademark blue building. Only authentic blues bands are welcome on the stage, and Frank Jones Corner customers have come to expect it. The crowd is a mix – old, young, male, female, rich, poor, black, white. The club's mantra is painted on a wall opposite the bar, “No Black, No White, Just the Blues.”
Dillon and his business partner, Adam Hayes, mean it. “We have a zero tolerance policy for those type games,” Dillon says. “People come and expect to be safe, and we've succeeded in providing that venue.”
As the grooves rise from the club and spill into the surrounding grounds, Dillon patrols the property with the tenacity of a junkyard dog. Most who wander by already know him, or know of him. In the wee hours of the morning, after other Jackson clubs have shut down, the party continues with Dillon on guard.
We are the authentic Mississippi experience in Jackson,” he says. “Nobody is more real or authentic, and we're the best Mississippi has to offer. You're not going to find better music, better service or a better crowd. We're keeping the Farish Street era relevant.”
On the Register of Historic Places, the Farish Street entertainment district was once the stomping ground of entrepreneur and rugged businessman, local legend Frank Jones. That was back in the 1950s and '60s, when Trumpet Records ruled as king in the bustling area and Jones ran the Frank Jones Corner filling station. In 2008, the city revamped the roads there and added lighting reminiscent of that time period.
“There was a positive undercurrent when we started eight years ago,” Dillon says. Although he attributes the lack in revitalization to the recession, “the Farish Street project has largely been abandoned.” Like a beacon in the night, the blue building awaits its customers and has no trouble packing the crowd in. Dillon and Hayes remain optimistic that the city will one day continue with the historical preservation and revitalization in which it had once been so committed.
Start up of the blues club wasn't easy for the pair, who opened the club in 2009 as a nod to the former Subway Lounge, an all-night authentic blues venue which had deteriorated and given way to demolition. Former classmates in culinary school at Hinds Community College, Jackson campus, Dillon had reached across the ocean to Hayes with the entrepreneurial proposal. At the time, Hayes had been in Germany, cooking on a military base and Dillon, who had been working at a local country club, wanted a partner who shared his love for cooking and music and his vision for what Jackson needed – revitalization of its historic blues district.
They found the perfect building in what, at the time, was a decayed part of town, tracked down the owner and rented it for a year.
“From the beginning we decided we wanted to fit the late night blues juke joint genre,” Dillon says. “That would be our area. I knew the place as Phil's Cafe when I was a kid. It was the first place my little brother ever played the bass guitar, and they always did good numbers there. It was a local favorite and a lot of people identified with the building that had been Phil's, so we enlisted the former owner, Ken Shiles. He gave us a lot of good advice ... and some tables and chairs.”
At night – and into the wee hours of the morning – the club comes alive in a different way.
Dillon's musically accomplished father, Sherman Lee Dillon, structures the live entertainment around authentic blues acts. “His interest has always been entertainment,” Dillon says. “All the musicians we use come through him.”
At midnight, the club – dedicated solely to blues – really begins to light up. Customers enjoy Frank Jones' original pineapple-infused vodka, created with the Mississippi-made Cathead Vodka, and the Mississippi Mud Slide, a White Russian variation created with Cathead Vodka, coffee liquor and Irish cream, or the house-concocted cocktails the Royal Slush, a Canadian whiskey and cranberry concoction, or the more feminine Liquid Mary Jane, a tropical, fruity drink. Both come as specialty drinks or shots and both are a little lighter on the wallet. The full bar also offers a line of beers and Jello shots.
Guests also can nosh on wings, catfish baskets, tamales, burgers, hot dogs, french fries, fried pickles, and “blues dogs,” with chili and cheese, “Just like the subway a million years ago,” Dillon says.
Since buying the property in 2010, Dillon and Hayes have purchased the building next door, property that once belonged to the famed Trumpet Records, and the “peas and carrots” pair say they plan to build a blues museum there one day.
The pair haven't dismissed their dream of the area becoming a two-block entertainment district, much like Beale Street in Memphis or Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Five to 10 years from now, they envision restaurants, bars and clubs lining the Farish Street district, and “We'll always be the staple, no matter how many businesses come and go,” Dillon says.
“We've got the drive and the vision. We may not have the money some other folks have, but we have other things to make this happen. We're dedicated to what we're doing. We're authentic, and from day one, it's always been about the truth – from the food we cook to the music on stage and how we interact in business. That's how we operate on Farish Street.”
WANT TO GO?
Frank Jones Corner at 303 North Farish St.,
is open Thursday through Saturday
beginning at 10 p.m. Last call is at 4:45 a.m.
For more information, visit Frank Jones' website