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Music

Juke Joints Were Party Places (And Blues Incubators)

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Carol VanHook
/
Flickr - Creative Commons
If you look in a quiet residential neighborhood in Bessemer, Alabama you'll find Gip's Place - a haven for the blues and a honest-to-goodness juke joint.

Juke joint is the name given to informal gathering, drinking, gambling and dancing places, primarily for lower income people and mostly in the southeastern United States. While local musicians played all types of music in juke joints the Blues was the stock-in-trade of many.

The stereotype juke joint would be a shack at a rural intersection with no electricity or running water. They became commonplace between the World Wars and, while few remain today, they do still exist. These informal clubs were rare in urban areas, but a near necessity in less populated locations where they provided drinking, gambling and socializing for working class people.

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The origins of juke joints were most likely the 'community rooms' set up on many Southern plantations as 'hangouts' for slaves who weren't able to leave the premises to socialize elsewhere. Similar spaces were often provided at places like work camps including lumber, levee and turpentine camps. They were a way for the 'bosses' to keep an eye on workers and keep them pacified.

After emancipation, gathering places were still needed. As the plantation system broke down small time entrepreneurs stepped in and filled the need. In the span between the World Wars juke joints provided a place for people like Tommy Johnson, Son House, Robert Johnson and many others to sharpen the focus of Blues and grow it into a vibrant cultural icon.

While some juke joints of today are 'rose colored glasses' fantasies of a past that was far grittier, some still provide a nurturing starting place for the new generation of Blues artists and they are still worth a visit as a part of the Blues' historic mystique.

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