In Memphis , there are only two reasons to go to a juke joint full of blues: because you feel good or because you feel bad. Beale Street  is a reliable source seven nights a week and your visit to Memphis wouldn’t be complete without checking out its scene.
But if you want to sneak away from the tourist crowd and catch some homegrown talent, check out a Memphis juke joint. Live music is typical on Friday and Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday, but it gets scarce during the week. Generally music starts late (11 p.m.) and finishes early (3 a.m.).
Is it safe? Maybe not, but what is these days? Is it worth it? Most definitely yes! In fact, these clubs are far more safe and friendly than a parking lot at a shopping mall. Just be cool and come for the right reasons and you’ll get home to tell the tale.
Some common-sense advice: If you’re uncomfortable in a largely black crowd, don’t bother. Don’t be surprised if the person you’ve engaged in conversation sitting next to you gets called to the stage sometime during the evening and delivers a beautiful song. If you dress sexy expect results. Don’t overdo the dirty dog on the dance floor. If somebody asks your date to dance, relax — it’s bound to happen.
Remember that it’s in the nature of things for these clubs to come and go.
Wild Bill’s (1580 Vollentine St., 901/726-5473): A legendary club in Memphis. The Patriarch himself passed away in the summer of 2007, but what he established will still carry on. The quintessential juke joint. Small, intimate, an open kitchen serving chicken wings, and ice-cold beer served in 40-ounce bottles. Home to Ms. Nikki and the Memphis Soul Survivors.
CC’s Blues Club (1427 Thomas St., 901/526-5566): More upscale. More mirrors. But a great dance floor and don’t you dare come under-dressed.
One Block North (645 Marble Ave., 901/525-7505): Friday nights only for live music. Hard to find and that’s why you’ll be the only tourists there.
Executive Inn (3222 Airways, at the intersection with Brooks Rd., 901/332-3800): Don Valentine is the drummer and bandleader and everybody wants to sit in. This is where Preston Shannon comes to hang out. More soul than blues, but when Preacher Man closes the show you know you’ll be satisfied.
Handy’s Blues Hall (182 Beale St., 901/528-0150): New Orleans has Preservation Hall. Memphis has Handy’s Blues Hall. Everyone bad-raps Beale Street and its jangly tourism scene. But if you catch it on a good night when Dr Feelgood warms up his harmonica and you look around the room at the memorabilia on the walls, you could be in a joint at the end of a country road in Mississippi.
The Blue Worm (1405 Airways Dr., 901/327-7947): When a legendary juke joint band gets old and disintegrates, this is where it ends up. The Fieldstones have been the band in Memphis since the early ’60s. Now it’s down to Wilroy Sanders, the Last Living Bluesman. The house band can get behind anybody and make them a superstar, for one glorious song.
Big S Bar and Grill (1179 Dunnavant Ave., 901/775-9127): They say blues is a feeling. The Big S doesn’t have live music, but if you want to sink into the atmosphere of a bar that’s dark with mystery and history plus the warmest vibe in town, come on home. Blues DJ on Sunday nights and the jukebox is a veritable encyclopedia of blues.
The Boss (912 Jackson Ave., 901/522-8883): Thursday nights only. Ever heard the overused term “best-kept secret in town”? Jesse Dotson on piano. Leroy Hodges on bass. Roy Cunningham on drums. An array of singers like Preacher Man, Bill Coday, O. T. Sykes. Why wait for the weekend?
Contributed by Tad Pierson, owner and operator of American Dream Safari (www.americandreamsafari.com ) and purveyor of true-life expeditions into Memphis and Mississippi