From Southold to Beale Street: Rob Europe’s Journey to the Heart of Blues

Rob Europe performed at The Pig on Beale in Memphis.     Gianna Volpe photo
Rob Europe performed at The Pig on Beale in Memphis.                                                          Gianna Volpe photo

The road trip crew drove through the crossroads, but they didn’t stop. The intersection was pretty built up. There was a liquor store there called Crossroads Liquors. And they kept on driving into the land at the heart of the blues.

“To me, there probably is no real crossroads,” said Mr. Europe. “It’s all a bunch of folklore.”

Now, back on the road this January, Mr. Europe headed down to Memphis with his trusty guitar and his girlfriend, freelance journalist Gianna Volpe. He would be in Memphis for three days, and would ultimately play for two nights at The Pig on Beale on Beale Street, which reportedly had the best pork sandwich in Memphis.

“I dunno if it was the best, but it was pretty damn good. Rendezvous has the best, but it’s not on Beale Street,” said Mr. Europe.

He would compete at The Pig on Beale in the quarter finals for two nights against players from blues societies all over the world, from Alabama to Croatia to the Phillipines.

He played some Charlie Patton. He played some Robert Johnson. He played some original tunes. Then he returned the next night and did it again.

IBC defending champion Tim Williams told Mr. Europe he was “the best thing he’s heard on Beale Street all year.” Ms. Volpe recorded the conversation on her iPhone for posterity.

But, the next morning, through the hazy aftermath of a late night at the blues club, Mr. Europe woke up, looked at his computer, and saw that he hadn’t made the semi-finals. It was time to pack up the guitar and move on.

At Robert Johnson's grave.   Gianna Volpe photo
At Robert Johnson’s grave.    Gianna Volpe photo

But they didn’t quite go right home. See, Robert Johnson has three grave markers in Mississipi and no one is really sure if he’s buried in any of them.

After some research in a museum in Memphis, and at the urging of Mr. Williams, the young couple thought maybe they knew which grave might have been real.

They packed up and headed further south, reaching the grave at the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, north of Greenwood, Miss., in the wee hours, where they left a bottle slide for the master.

It was a cool place to visit, said Mr. Europe, but it was eerie walking around some of theses southern towns.

“Parts of Clarksdale were like you think it would be, with decrepit buildings falling down, but there were also sections of hipster loft buildings,” he said.

On the way home, his head clear and focused, he began planning the year ahead. Rob Europe may try to compete in the IBC again, but then again, he might not. For now, he has two straightforward goals:

1. Get a group project going.

2. Start booking gigs outside of Long Island.

In the meantime, you can still catch Rob Europe any Friday night at Michelangelo’s Pizza in Mattituck, every other Thursday at Brix & Rye in Greenport (he’ll be there again on Feb. 13), at Jamesport Vineyard on Feb. 21 from 4 to 6 p.m. or at A Lure in Southold as part of Winterfest on March 8 and 15.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

2 thoughts on “From Southold to Beale Street: Rob Europe’s Journey to the Heart of Blues

  • February 10, 2015 at 12:16 pm
    Permalink

    This is a wonderful article, Beth. The affection shines through. I’m going to post it on FB.

    Hazel

    Reply

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