Showcasing Louisiana: Teddy’s Juke Joint
ZACHARY, La. (WAFB) - At the end of a long gravel driveway, sits a tumble-down building. It is the kind of place you would expect to find in an old swamp horror flick. A couple of men sit on the low-slung porch sipping straight bourbon from a glass. The conversation is almost always about the music oozing through the door behind them.
“Well, it ain’t a blues joint if they not playing the blues.” Seventy-five-year-old Teddy Johnson sips cognac from a hi-ball glass. A beefy man with a gravel throat, Teddy was born for a place like this. The juke joint that bears his name is a throw-back to the heyday of the Blues.
“The real name of this place is Teddy’s Bar and Lounge and Restaurant. People started calling it a juke joint.” Teddy laughed.” So, the sign overhead has read “Teddy’s Juke Joint” for the past 43 years.
The Blues bleeds from every pore. From the bare plywood floors to the mis-matched chairs, to the second-hand tables, the interior looks like something right out of a Blues Brothers movie. “A juke joint is all about human emotions,” Teddy said. “It’s part of life. It’s being born till you die.”
A five-man band squeezes into a small section near the front of the bar that acts as a stage banging out 12-bar blues. It is the sound of heartache and cheating spouses, regrets and bad choices, and booze-soaked stories of a hard-lived life.
“I knew I was home when I walked through the door,” said Dixie Rose. Dixie has played here every Wednesday night for the past 16 years.
“This isn’t a movie set. It wasn’t made for show,” she said. “Everything here has a history to it.”
Teddy’s is one of only a handful of juke joints left on the old Chitlin Trail that stretched the length of US Highway 61 from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the circuit where bluesmen like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and BB King cut their teeth.
“Mr. BB King used to sleep on my grandmother’s front porch,” said Teddy. “My grandmother knew him because Cab Calloway was her cousin.”
Family history also runs through the bar that was originally Teddy’s aunt’s home. “I was born right there where that table is,” Teddy said, pointing to the table nearest the stage. The original shotgun house takes up the front third of the joint. The band plays from what was once the porch. Teddy added the back 2/3 to the place as business grew over the years.
Since it opened, people from around the world have found their way to Teddy’s for a taste of Louisiana swamp blues. Articles clipped from papers and magazines from around the world hang on the cluttered walls. Teddy’s has been featured in The New York Times, and Southern Living.
Mixed in with the newspaper clippings are odes to Louisiana bluesmen past and present. Tabby Thomas, Larry Garner, Boogie Long, Henry Gray all played here. “Henry Gray used to change my diaper.” Teddy laughed and launched into a story of how Henry was sweet on his aunt and was always hanging around.
Today, Teddy’s is home to amateur blues artists perfecting their sound as well as touring acts. “It allows people to blossom.” said Dixie, “If you are planted in love, you get to blossom, and that feels good.”
Since COVID, Dixie plays to mostly empty rooms. Not even the Blues is immune to a pandemic. “what it did, it broke me.” said Teddy. “It stopped me from having bands. It stopped me from being open every day. It cut the tours out completely.”
Now, one of the last juke joints on the Chitlin Trail is in danger of falling silent and becoming its own blues song. To help keep Teddy’s afloat until business comes back, more than two dozen of the artists that have called Teddy’s home over the years have planned Teddy Fest, a weekend of blues from artists like Lil’ Ray Neal, Smokehouse and Mamie Porter & the Gut Bucket Blues Band, and Mem Shannon. “They’re coming because it’s a way of giving back,” said Dixie. “Everybody has benefited from having this place.”
The festival runs from Friday, June 11 -- Sunday, June 13 at Teddy’s Juke Joint on La highway 964 in Zachary.
“You’re sad,” said Teddy. “You start playing the blues, and a record comes up saying it’ll be a better day tomorrow, There’s a stairway to heaven. God or Jesus is gonna take care of you. Don’t let the devil tear you down. All of that comes out through the blues. It gives you hope, and where there’s hope, that gives you a dream.
Teddy’s blues song has no heartache, no regrets, just the music, born again every night. “My dream,” said Teddy, “is to keep doing this till I pass on out of this world.”
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