Gip’s Place: the finest juke joint in the South

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Photo by Lucas Carson Gockel.

Legendary juke joint Gip’s Place is going through some changes, but the members claim it’s here to stay. Bham Now joined hundreds of music lovers Saturday night to celebrate 67 years of old fashioned blues.

Bessemer’s hidden treasure

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The crowd outside Gip’s Place. Photo by Lucas Carson Gockel.

Hidden away in a small neighborhood just outside of downtown Bessemer is one of the last authentic juke joints in America. If you drove by on a weekday, you might miss it. But on Saturday nights, you’ll hear the joint long before you see it. Folks come from near and far to hear the blues in this one-of-a-kind venue.

A slice of home

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The band at Gip’s Place, Saturday August 10th. Photo by Lucas Carson Gockel.

“I have a lot of family in a lot of small Mississippi towns, and Gip’s made me homesick for the first time in years”

Joseph Whitaker, first time attendee

The inside of Gip’s Place is decorated with Christmas lights and posters of famous blues icons, such as Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Attendees bring their own food and drinks, and are eager to share. Everyone is friendly and keen to make new friends, brought together by a mutual love of music. Once the music gets going, everyone taps their feet while the boldest members of the audience dance up in front of the stage. The musicians often stepped down onto the ground to dance and lead the crowd in a rendition of “All Night Long”. Even for newcomers, Gip’s offers a sense of community and family.

The Gip in Gip’s Place

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Henry “Gip” Gipson playing electric slide guitar. Photo by Lucas Carson Gockel.

The founder and proprietor of Gip’s Place is Henry “Gip” Gipson. From a very young age, music played an important role in Gip’s life. His love of music began in church and small juke joints. Around the age of 12, Gip picked up the guitar and began to play and sing the blues.

Around the turn of the century, Gip started to share his love of the blues with the children in his neighborhood. Meanwhile, large crowds came to see Gip teach the blues. In 1952, Gip began to host musicians in his backyard to entertain friends and family. Over the years, Gip’s backyard music events drew larger and larger crowds. Eventually, a tin-roof garage replaced the outdoor stage.

Since 1952, Gip’s Place has held large crowds of regulars and newcomers alike. The juke joint has been the subject of thousands of pictures, national news, and even a movie.

An uncertain future

Earlier this week, we learned that Gip had been placed in protective care due to his declining health. In June, Gip had suffered health problems and was briefly hospitalized.

Conflicting reports from Gip’s Place management and his family left the future of the juke joint uncertain. Henry Gipson’s Facebook account made the announcement that Gip’s Place would host the final concert on Saturday, August 10th. However, Gip’s family announced that the juke joint would continue under new management. One thing was clear – Gip’s health would not permit him to attend the event.

Saturday night’s concert ushered in a new era of Gip’s Place, hosted by Gip’s family. Meanwhile, a second concert was held in downtown Bessemer by Gip’s friends and management of Gip’s Place. Gip’s family made it clear – they do not intend to let Gip’s Place close its doors any time soon.

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Experiencing the blues under the tin roof of Gip’s Place. Photo by Nathan Watson for Bham Now.

Despite the news of Gip’s health, the mood at Gip’s Place was anything but somber. Rather, the musicians and the crowd were there to celebrate the music and memories that Gip had fostered in his backyard.

“Gip’s has been here for 67 years. With a little blessing, we’ll be here a while longer.”

Lee, singer and harmonica player

What are your favorite stories from Gip’s Place? Tag us @Bham Now to share them!

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer at Bham Now

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