Mississippi Blues Trail
You can talk about the blues all day long and famous blues artists like BB King, Son House, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. But to really appreciate the Mississippi Delta blues music, you have to follow the Mississippi Blues Trail, a fascinating trip whether or not you are a blues fan.
Listen to the music where it began, and let the delta blues sound sink down deep into your soul. Open your ears and your heart to the sorrows and the joys of people who had little else to brighten their lives than the notes played on a guitar in a ramshackle juke joint in the middle of nowhere.
The Blues Trail follows no set path. Instead, you explore at your own leisure. It includes gravesites, birth sites, train stations, railroad crossings, highway intersections, places where now-famous musicians once played and clubs where tomorrow’s legends play as much for their own pleasure as for the customers.
The first interpretive marker for the trail was set in place in 2006 at Charley Patton’s gravesite in Holly Ridge. Along with Patton, who is often referred to as the Father of the Delta Blues, bluesman Asie Payton and Willie James Foster are buried in the same cemetery. Another marker stands at the former location of the WGRM radio station in Greenwood, where BB King first appeared on radio.
Many markers celebrate the artists themselves. Others commemorate a place or event that helped shape the music, such as the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, the Blue Front Café in Bentonia, Trumpet Records in Jackson and the Rhythm Club fire in Natchez.
Popular country musician Jimmie Rodgers and rock and roll star Elvis Presley were strongly influenced by the blues and have markers that tell their stories. Many artists have been present for the unveiling of their markers including BB King, Honeyboy Edwards, James Cotton, Dorothy Moore, Otis Rush, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Sam Carr.
An interpretive marker was recently dedicated in Macon for blues artists Eddie Clearwater, Carey Bell and Willie King. A marker in Piney Woods recognised the Blind Boys of Mississippi and Sam Myers. Other new markers include ones in Forest for Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and James “T-Model” Ford; in Berclair at the BB King birthplace; in Holly Springs for RL Burnside and Junior Kimborough and in Tunica for Harold “Hardface” Clanton. So far, interpretive markers have been placed at nearly half of more than 120 blues sites that have been identified throughout the state.
Clarksdale and Leland both have blues museums worth visiting. Displays in each include clothing worn by various musicians, guitars and harmonicas that bear signatures of the famous bluesmen that played them, and even some primitive figures sculpted by blues artist Son Thomas. You can also shop for CDs of your favourite blues artists.
At the end of the day, though, it’s the live music that grabs and holds your attention. One of the best known blues venues in Mississippi is Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. If you’re lucky, you’ll not only get to hear authentic Delta blues, but you can also meet actor Morgan Freeman, one of the owners of the club.
In Jackson catch good blues at Hal & Mal’s Red Room and the 930 Blues Café. But for a true taste of the old rural juke joint, head for Po Monkeys Lounge near Merigold.
For more information on the Mississippi Blues Trail, and a listing of the blues markers, visit www.msbluestrail.org.