Red Paden called himself the “king of the Juke Joints.” He had as good a claim to that title as anybody. The legendary venue owner-operator died on December 30th.
A World Cafe travel adventure back in 2012 carried 30 or so XPN members to heartland of the Blues in Memphis, Tennessee and Clarksdale, Mississippi as part of WXPN’s Mississippi Blues Project. They remember Red very well. Clarksdale is the home of the Delta Blues Museum and Red’s Lounge, a blues club we got to visit. There was no stage at Red’s, just a bunch of chairs around a semi-cleared space in his living room, as well as a fridge and a cooler with beer behind a counter. It and he were the real deal.
By most reports, Red’s was among the last of the juke joints in the deep South, a blues tradition and birthplace steadily fading away.
I asked XPN favorite and blues guitar sensation Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, a native of Clarksdale, about Red’s before his appearance at our XPoNential Festival. He shared that he “grew up at Red’s” watching countless Delta blues legends play, and had started gigging in Red’s living room in seventh grade.
Paden was one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in any of our many World Cafe trips around the globe. In the blues “cash up front” tradition, Red told me and videographer Bob Giardini that if we wanted to videotape “one song and one song only” from that night’s performer, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, we needed to pay Bilbo $40 and “give a little taste to Red too.” He took me “on stage” mid-show in front of the crowd to pay them both. I’ll never forget it.
We interviewed Red afterwards outside, next to the grill where he regularly cooked BBQ Ribs for sale to the patrons, and he talked about making a welcoming space for artists like Bilbo. “He’s at home in my living room, but it’s also his living room too.” Watch our visit to Red’s Lounge below.