It seemed to me that everyone in the neighborhood would come by Ezelle’s drink house in Winston-Salem, when I was living nearby in the early ‘90s. You would see white tobacco growers from Stokes County looking for workers, preachers and their staff, and parents leaving their kids in the car to have a quick cocktail. Community musicians such as Willa Mae Buckner, Mr. Q, Jahue Rorie, Guitar Red, Macavine Hayes and Hawkeye would often wander through, and there at Ezelle’s is where I heard these musicians, many of whom Music Maker went on to partner with after our founding, perform for the first time.
Ezelle was a beloved community leader, having run an ongoing drink house for over 40 years, which was open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and Ezelle had never spent one night in jail. Drink houses, like Mississippi juke joints, are set up in people’s homes. Folks come in to buy a beer or a shot of liquor, to borrow money. Or look for jobs; drink houses are true community institutions. In Winston-Salem, there are few legal bars in many of the neighborhoods. In fact, North Carolina does not have a tavern culture due to its location at the heart of the Bible Belt. Yet, I know people who have been going to drink houses since the late 1930s. Back in the older days, these houses were distinguished by red lights in the outside porch lights. Some were small, while others were quite elaborate. Many supported live music, and I have met many artists throughout the South who supported themselves for decades in such establishments.
Ezelle’s drink house was a colorful home. He always had a rabbit hutch out back filled with possums that he was feeding corn. He was often cooking roasted possum in the oven or boiling fat back on the stove-top. Moonshine was hidden out in the backyard, and cases of Seagram’s gin lined the hallways. The kitchen featured a big chain and lock around his refrigerator, and there were always people sitting on his porch. This is the welcoming place that, in the early 1990s, I met many of the most talented and wonderful musicians that I have had the pleasure of working with.
– Tim Duffy