In a residential neighborhood in Bessemer, Ala. — about 20 miles from Birmingham — sits a blues lover’s dream: an honest-to-goodness juke joint. Gip’s Place is one of a precious few musical roadhouses still hanging on in this country.
You hear Gip’s Place before you ever spot it. Tucked away down a small ravine with no sign out front and some old Christmas lights strung about, you really have to work to find Gip’s. The town of Bessemer has tried to help out a bit by putting up orange detour signs, which eventually lead you to the place, and to Mr. Gip.
There is a temptation to describe Henry Gipson — his real name is Herman, but he says everyone calls him Henry — as straight out of blues central casting. That is, until you realize that everything about the man is strictly genuine. His hand swallows yours when you shake, and his smile is just as embracing. In a red, white and blue nylon jacket and white fedora with its wide brim turned up on one side, Gipson is nursing a crinkled can of Budweiser in a room adjacent to his tin-roofed establishment.
“I love old blues: John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Slim Harpo,” Gipson says. “These are my type of blues that I love, and I can’t get them out of my head.”