By Josh Troy
Guitarist Marshall Hopper, known as “Mississippi Marshall” when he performs, enjoys interacting with the audience on a personal level when he comes to Clarksdale. Marshall and his grandson, bass player Grayson Ackerland, mostly play as a duo. Marshall lives in Tallahatchie County and began playing in Clarksdale 51 years ago at age 12. He performs in Clarksdale with Ackerland approximately three times per month.
On Sunday morning, Marshall and Ackerland played at the restaurant Bluesberry Cafe and two musicians in the audience performed with them for one song apiece. William “Watermelon Slim” Homans, a fixture at Bluesberry Cafe, and Deak Harp, owner of Deak’s Harmonica Shop, played the harmonica while on stage. Marshall, Ackerland, and Homans played “Long Haired Country Boy” by Charlie Daniels. Marshall, Ackerland, and Harp played “Polk Salad Annie” by Elvis Presley.
“This is a pretty close music family here in Clarksdale, and we all get a chance sometimes to play with each other. We don’t get to play a lot when we’re out touring,” Marshall said. “And, this being a home place for Watermelon Slim, we’ve got to have him up. “And then Deak, he’s a great friend. I’ve bought a few harmonicas from him, and I can’t play them like him, but I mess around with them a little bit. But he’s a great player, so we don’t mind those kinds of folks getting up and making some noise with us.”
Marshall and Acklerland also played songs John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, BB King, and Albert King wrote. Marshall said he was “trying to keep it right here into this Delta styling so people can kind of understand what sold this area. The soul here is so rich in blues that you’ve got to play some of those guys. And I did a lot of my own stuff, too.” Marshall understood that out of town tourists were at Bluesberry Cafe and tried to play songs they would want to hear.
“Whenever we have a group from out of town, I like to feature some of the artists who were raised or from this area,” he said,
Marshall said he has performed at several venues in Clarksdale, including Ground Zero Blues Club, Hambone Gallery, Hooker Grocery, and Clarksdale Collective Seed & Supply Co. Marshall enjoyed playing at all the different places but talked about how Bluesberry Cafe is unique. “I like the intimacy here,” he said. “It’s not real big and spread out, and you can pretty much communicate with everybody visually in the room. It’s got pretty decent sound in here, and it’s great. The food is good.” Marshall’s favorite meal at Bluesberry Cafe is the Spanish omelet and grits.
“I tell them to give me extra Spanish,” he joked. Marshall enjoyed playing for a packed audience at Bluesberry Cafe on Sunday. “It went real well,” he said. “We got in, got set up, and did a little sound check. There were a few people having breakfast, and by the time we got settled and ready to go, the group from Memphis (Tenn.) started coming in. And, next thing you know, the house was full, and we just had a good time. We just played music, man. We just played some blues. That’s all there is to it.”