“Woke up this morning da, da ,da”……… (as all the best blues songs start). Well I did wake up and with a thumping headache – but it was well worth it. Knowing that I had to go into battle with Budget Car Rentals over the expensive add on’s they would expect me to pay didn’t help matters much. Actually it turned our quite well, apart from the limo I had booked two months ago not being there, trying to palm me off with an alternative upgrade (actually a down grade) and tinging me for an extra $300 for a one way trip (not mentioned at the time of booking) it went reasonably well. Eventually I employed my tested mode of desperation and laid sobbing in the foetal position in the middle of the office floor for 5 minutes. Eventually they caved in and gave us a nice SUV upgrade with free Satnav.
So off we set to drive north on the Interstate 51 (Oh yes, and just before this I bought a guitar for the road). I have been looking forward to this trip for a longtime. Putting some context to the whole Delta blues story was going to be fun. The added bonus as it happens is that Linda is also getting into it, asking me all sorts of questions about the people and places – blimey! I wonder what she wants?
150 miles later tired (remnants of the night before still niggling away) we arrived at McComb. Birth place of Bo Diddley. This reminded me that our daughter Sarah’s partner Wayne and I were going to see him play in the UK but he died just before the tour commenced. I was amazed to note that this was 8 years ago. Time flies. Shame, he was one of the greats.
Next port of call was the birth place of one of the true greats. Some would say the greatest, Robert Johnson. When Keith Richard first heard his records back in the 50’s he was convinced that it was more than one person playing the guitar. This was because he played the bass notes, rhythm and lead notes all at once on an acoustic guitar. Eric Clapton on hearing him for the first time said that he might as well give up. It is said that R.J. was initially a poor player and singer. He then disappeared for 6 months and came back playing and singing better than anyone else and with a large catalogue of songs. he’d written. It was generally rumoured that he sold his soul to the Devil at ‘the Cross Roads’ in exchange for his newly acquired talents. Later on we will be visiting said Cross Roads where today there is a monument erected to the myth. R.J. was a bad boy with the ladies and it is because of this he met with an early demise around the age of 36 in the 1930’s at the hands/gun of a jealous husband. No one is certain of this but it is the consensus from the numerous stories associated with his passing. Anyone interested in hearing his music should obtain ‘The Complete Recordings Robert Johnson’. And for a modern take on his songs Eric Clapton’s album ‘Me and Mr Johnson’.
I am hugely disappointed by how little has been done in Hazelhurst to mark the life of their greatest (as far as I know) resident. Below is the Mississippi Music Museum. I.e. a general museum, not even dedicated to R.J. It was closed when we were there, and a looksy through the window revealed a half hearted attempt to tell the story of the blues. A room that appeared to have been dedicated to R.J. was now being used for general storage. This for a man who influenced every blues and rock band since the early 1960’s. And I think I know why. More on this theory later…..
Already we are experiencing just how poor these neighbourhoods are. Hardly surprising given their history of slavery and cotton plantations. Naturally things are a lot better know. However make no mistake, if anyone is rich around here they are doing a very good job of hiding it.
Apologies to anyone who feels that I’m going into too much detail. There are two reasons for this 1. As I said at the beginning this blog (the blues bit up until Chicago) is primarily an aid memoir for me when I get old (no cheap retorts please!!). 2. One or two friends following this are making the pilgrimage themselves. And I hope it will be helpful and possibly save then some time.