From left: Morgan Freeman, Hartley Peavey and Bill Luckett
The Mississippi Delta is considered “ground zero” of the blues-music movement. The town of Clarksdale in particular—where U.S. Highways 61 and 49 intersect at the fabled Crossroads—holds a mystique with music fans that come from around the world to experience the art form where it began.
Blues music evolved in juke-joint nightclubs across the region. But most juke joints are tucked away, out of reach from the main highways, and sometimes known only by locals. That’s why Mississippi native and actor Morgan Freeman teamed with blues aficionados Bill Luckett and Howard Stovall in May 2001 to create Ground Zero Blues Club as a home base for likeminded blues travelers. Naturally, they set it at the epicenter of blues lore.
“No one ever set out to build a ‘juke joint,’” says Luckett, “they just always ended up in old buildings, and when the roof fell in they would move to another building. When Morgan and I happened upon the building that became Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, it was nearly unsalvageable—in fact, the roof was caving in, and it had already rotted out several floors. It had to be torn down or repaired.”
Soon after saving the Clarksdale building and establishing Ground Zero Blues Club, the group felt the pull that brought so many bluesmen before them to Memphis. It’s where Clarksdale native Ike Turner cut the first rock 'n' roll record, “Rocket 88,” and where Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis began their careers. A city so linked to the blues made a natural second home for Ground Zero, but the audio installation at Ground Zero Blues Club–Memphis, located one block south of Beale Street on Lieutenant George Lee, is worlds apart from the century-old wooden Clarksdale venue.
“The original Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale is housed in a 100-year-old cotton warehouse,” says Kent Morris of Cornerstone Media, an audio consultant who upgraded the original Ground Zero Blues Club to a Peavey Versarray line-array system before tackling the Memphis club. “There were many acoustical differences between the two projects, and several new challenges.”
For starters, the Memphis club is a brand-new facility constructed of concrete floors, walls and ceiling, with a full glass wall along the front of the club. It’s also a combination bar/restaurant and performance hall, while the original venue emphasized the performance aspect. The installation team overcame a potential acoustical nightmare with help from the Versarray.
“We had to be careful about creating a performance area that wouldn’t blast the other areas of the venue,” Morris says. “We needed a more distributed audio system. A great benefit of the Versarray is that you can move energy from the front of the room to the back in a very controlled way. Because the enclosures control sound dispersion so well, we could focus their energy onto the dance floor and those tables nearby where the people most interested in hearing the music would sit.
“We have two hangs of four Versarray 112 enclosures each with two Versarray 218 subwoofers underneath, and that gives us the energy on the dance floor and listening area. We also set up a slightly delayed Impulse 2652 speaker that covers the side area where people are seated, and another two for the bar area along the back wall where people who may want to have a conversation or pay attention to the stage are seated.”
Versarray 112 enclosures are comprised of a high-frequency section and a mid-frequency section, represented by a dual-ribbon driver and 12-inch Black Widow loudspeaker, respectively. Morris used a quad of four-channel CS 800x4 power amplifiers to drive each side independently, so each loudspeaker and driver is assigned to its own 400-watt channel. The twin Versarray 218 subwoofers, engineered to handle 2,400 W continuous power, are powered by CS 2000 amps rated at 2,150 W at 4 ohms bridged.
Morris employed a Peavey Architectural Acoustics Digitool MX digital signal processor with eight inputs and eight outputs so he could control the individual areas separately. The Digitool allowed them to send the stereo signal from the performance area to other locations, while affording EQ and volume adjustment capabilities for those individual areas. Therefore, the operator can pre-configure the monitor mixes as presets or adjust the delay speakers independently. A set of flush-mount control panels adds additional control to the Digitool’s capabilities.
“The idea behind having Digitool control panels is since this is not just a club but a restaurant, during the day they might have background music, or maybe one guy on stage playing jazz or acoustic guitar," Morris says. "The remote panels allow the bartender to be able to select a preset so that just the CD is playing in the restaurant. We wanted to keep it simple while also offering as much latitude as possible to the facility.”
Luckett adds, “The blues is America’s musical gift to the world. It spawned nearly all modern music, and it lives on through rhythm and blues, soul, rock 'n' roll and hip-hop; it’s part of the fabric. Hartley Peavey shares our passion for this music, and that has made this project that much more exciting.”