Guitarist Randy “19th Street Red” Cohen saw the potential in Clarksdale, made it his permanent home in the middle of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and has been seeing music get back to where it once was. Cohen, whose recent home was in New Orleans, is known for playing music in the street. He plays outside at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art on Saturday and Sunday mornings, at Red’s Lounge Thursday nights for the past year, and has a new venue at 305 Issaquena Ave., across from the Wingstop at the Old Greyhound Bus Station. He also plays at Bluesberry Cafe.
“We see it’s picking up,” he said. “There’s a trickle, which has turned into a slow flow of tourists, and we get a lot of international tourists now. I mean, the other night, I did a gig over at Red’s, and there were two people from Spain, one from Paris, and one from Italy.” “About a year and a half ago, it started to trickle,” Cohen continued. “It started to happen, and then, when they allowed international visitors back into the country, it started to pick up nicely.”
Cohen has performed with other musicians at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, including guitarist Alex Ponti from Italy. “The Thursday nights (at Red’s) are different,” he said. “I’ve had different people play with me.” Cohen has also performed with gospel guitar player Ike Liner from Clarksdale, Irene Popa from Tulsa, Okla., harmonica player Jeremy Burnett from Arkansas, and harmonica player Deak Harp, who owns Deak’s Mississippi Saxophones & Blues Emporium in Clarksdale.
“You never know who you’re going to have,” Cohen said. “There’s a young guy named Aaron Wilkins’, who is John ‘Mookie’ Holmes’ son, and he’s played with me several times.” Holmes is Jimmy “Duck” Holmes’ brother. “I play quite a bit at Bentonia at Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes’ Blue Front Cafe,” Cohen said. Although Cohen moved to Clarksdale in 2020, he was no stranger to the community.
“I had been coming here for 20 years, and I always liked this place,” he said. “It’s got a good feeling for me, and I’ve made money here before. And it’s relatively inexpensive to live after New Orleans, which is super expensive.” Music plays in Clarksdale 365 days a year, and Cohen said there are ways to build on that.
“I think we need to have as much music being played as possible when the tourists come here,” he said. “I think, when the people come here, they come here for music, and I think that needs to happen.” “Subsidize venues that have music in any way possible for the city to do whatever it is to make it easy for people to have a venue that’s just even a popup venue,” Cohen continued. “Or even supply electricity for people to play on the street.”
Cohen said one of Clarksdale’s biggest assets for local residents and tourists is Red’s Lounge, which he referred to as one of the last real juke joints in the state. “I think that Red’s Lounge is the crown jewel in this situation here in Clarksdale,” he said. When residents and tourists watch Cohen and other musicians play, he encourages them to leave tips. “The tips are the majority of our money,” he said. “When the people come here, when they see music they like, they need to tip generously.”
PHOTO CUTLINE: Guitarist Randy’ 19th Street Red’ Cohen, right, plays with guitarist Alex Ponti from Italy, at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art.