Call this a holiday?

Linda and I have just completed two gruelling days on the road (all for your enjoyment!).  It is now Tuesday around 8.30am as I write.  Sunday we drove for 8 hours (300 miles) and yesterday 12 hours (400 miles.  Still, petrol is cheap).  As the crow flies it’s about 1000 miles from New Orleans to Chicago.  At this rate we will easily double this distance I fear. There are so many blues trail markers I want to visit that there is no avoiding this slog.  Even then we will miss out on most of the less significant characters in the blues story.  As such I have loads of photos to post, so I will crack on with this and then add a few interesting experiences from the two days at the bottom of this blog.

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I am very interested in the American wars of Independence and Civil and the two great Presidents Washington & Lincoln who presided over them.  So it was an added bonus to visit the battle field in Vicksburg where the civil war was effectively won after John Pemberton (left) surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. 
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Linda on the edge of the battlefield (Brave girl!)

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Finding Bolton was easy.  Locating Charlie Patton’s birth place was another matter.  It is 10 miles outside the town in the middle of nowhere (satnav Sam Herring Road for those making the trip).  Once again none of the locals knew who he was even though he’s regarded as the father of the blues by many and an inspiration to Robert Johnson etc. 
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Everyone has heard of Route 66.  But to blues nuts Route 61 is the place to be.  This is THE blues trail even though loads of notable places are nowhere near it.  And today we joined it for the first time.  can you imagine my excitement?!  We turned left travelling North on a ‘gun barrel straight’ deserted road for 30 miles, not uncommon around here.  Naturally I stuck rigidly to the 55 MPH speed limit!
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At last a town that not only remembers its blues heritage but celebrates it.  Blues music plays over speakers in the town centre all day long.  Even I got irritated by it after a while.  We missed out on their Blues Fest held last Saturday -hey ho.
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Ah the great Muddy Waters ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, ‘I’m your Hoochie Chochie Man’ etc.  He was one of the first to take Delta Blues to Chicago and electrify it.
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A replica of the house (Shotgun Shack shack) where he was born

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With the Deputy Sheriff Caroline – what a gal!  I said ‘you will tell me should I mis behave in any way”.  She responded “ya have so far y’all……
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We are now in Leland.  Now this place really celebrates the blues.  We had a great time here and met many interesting and friendly locals
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Sorry Johnny, not one of my favourites so I will move on.
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I had never heard of this Dud (see how I’m integrating?  I can almost speak American already), but I was about to learn all about him.
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Guess what, this is Pat Thomas, son of the late James.  He was in the museum and played one of his songs for us.  Great gravely blues voice.  We could barely understand a word he said and visa versa.  I thought he had a great smile and this was explained by the new dentures he had just had fitted.  “The Blues Foundation paid for them” he told us. “Well I don’t have no $2000 man”  Great character.
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Just about to leave town and this guy comes running out ‘where are you folks from?”  Turned out hat this was Billy Johnson (right) President of the Blues Museum and local entrepreneur.  The other one is James the manager of the museum.  We had a long talk about the delta.  Billy appeared in an episode of Rick Stiens programme on Delta cooking when he was there in 2011.  Great guy.
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Tranpires that Route 61 isn’t Route 61, it’s a new road (is nothing sacred?).  This was this original road.  Also shown below

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Here we are at a place called Scott.  The birth place of Big Bill Broonzy.  One of my favourites. Look him up on Youtube to hear ‘Hey Hey’ and ‘Why did you leave heaven’ (Also see a drugged up Eric Clapton from the 60’s play this great ballad on Youtube – wonderful)
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Brilliant Bill.  I love to play his songs myself

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Never heard of either Eddie I’m afraid.  Homework for later!
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They say never meet your heroes.  I would add to this never go to places made famous by songs.  Robert Johnson wrote a lovely song about Rosedale (also hear Clapton’s version).  Sadly the place is now a bit of a tip.

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The Muslims flock to Mecca and the Blueies flock to Dockery Farm.  I have looked forward to this visit for years and it didn’t disappoint.  This is where many of the greats were either born or worked before becoming famous.  Do read up about it, its a fascinating tale.  The owner and creator of this Plantation was known to be one of the few who treated his workers well.
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Note the little platform in the background.  By pressing the button blues Charlie Patton’s songs are played out across the area.  Great stuff.
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We’re in the book – for anyone else paying homage in the future 
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Iconic picture of the farm
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Unusual for plantation owners, Will Dockery would allow his workers to hold parties of a Saturday night.  This drinking trough, that would have been known to Charlie Patton etc, was where up to 1000 workers and their families would congregate to party.

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Now defunct gas station at the entrance to the farm once run by Will Dockery.  You can now hold your wedding reception there!

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The great Jimmy Rogers. Once part of Muddy’s band.  Another of the Chicago electric blues immigrants 
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Sadly some of the markers have become delaminated by the sun.  This is all that can be seen of Howlin Wolfs plaque.  Not one of my favourites but a great nonetheless
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And now for something completely different.  At the end of our 12 hour day we visited a branch of Walmart. We purchased milk, fruit, a cool box and some sweets.  Oh yes and an AK44 automatic each.  What a country????????

Two notes to end on:

  1.  Prior to visiting the Delta I had expected to find a dirt bowl populated by broken down towns. This is probably because most of the books show the Delta during the 30’s and 40’s through black and white and sepia photos.  The reality is quite different, yes the Delta is well named given its remarkably flat terrain.  We haven’t seen a hill since Saturday.  And because it’s below the level of the Mississippi river it occasionally floods with devastating affect.  It is also very hot and humid reaching 30 degrees yesterday.  Despite this however it is very green and lush – at least in May.  The roads are very good and as mentioned dead straight and therefore easy to navigate.  Remarkably despite driving for about 12 hours yesterday it didn’t tire me at all (just in case you were worrying about me?).
  2. I mentioned a few days ago that I had a theory about why the locals haven’t a clue about their famous forbears. And this is it….  Back when these guys were plying their trade, it was done very much on a local basis.  Moving from place from place was was extremely difficult given the distances and dirt roads.  So they became local heroes playing at Juke Joints (someones Shack cleared out for the night to host a party) and or open air get togethers such as at Dockery’s Farm.  Some of them were talent spotted, more of this later, and made recordings of their songs.  Some of these records found their way across the Atlantic during WW2 and were subsequently picked up by folks such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, John Mayall, Elexis Corner and Eric Clacpton etc in the 1950’s.  So it was their love of this music along with the Beatles that was responsible for their revival.  Before this period many of them had given up playing and returned to the fields and factories to work.  Ironically therefore they owe their modern day fame to the Stones, Beatles and Eric Clapton and they readily acknowledged this fact.  So it was a western white mans discovery that gave them their international platform which went onto influence all modern music.  Without them there would never have been the Stones etc.  The majority of the poor local black folk on the other hand couldn’t give a fig for these people.  I mean what did they ever do for them?  Hip hop and Rap etc I would say……….but of course I don’t!

Phew, thats enough for today (too right I hear yo say).  With apologies for any tiepoos (geddit) etc……….

Off to BB Kings birth place and museum now.  Toodaloo!

8 thoughts on “Call this a holiday?

  1. Ok now for the comments. I am voting for this blog as the second best one I have seen this year. It stands a chance of getting to Number One but there are a few question marks about the Dude who appears in most of the photos. Does he have just the two shirts and what is the logo on the green one? By the way the Dudes wife always looks beautifully attired.

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  2. My goodness, y’all have covered a lot of territory in 1.5 days! Boo-hoo that Jackson didn’t make it in the recap.

    If you go to Greenwood, ask around for Scott Barretta–he is all blues, all the time, and he has a Saturday night radio show on Mississippi Public Broadcasting called Highway 61. Look it up on http://www.mpbonline.org. His girlfriend is from Holland (?), and she’s a very clever, quirky artist. Scott is known as the Swarthy Menace on Instagram and Facebook.

    The Dockerys, Joe Rice and his wife Keith, were great friends of my grandparents. They would travel together and go sailing on the Dockerys magnificent sailboat. After Joe Rice died, Keith married a wonderful man named Hite McLean. I used to attend marvelous parties there in the early 1990s. Folks would gather round the piano and sing, and we would spend the night in one of the guest cottages. Times there were dreamy!

    I still recommend that you stop by Oxford; it is one hour from Clarksdale, and it’s the home of Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, and William Faulkner’s home (Nobel Prize winner in literature) is a museum now. (My sister lives a couple of doors away.) I will be there Saturday night, but at the clip you are going, you’ll probably be long gone.

    By the way, I had a French couple stay with me last month, and they are doing essentially the same trip you are, except they are staying longer at destinations, AND they are riding their bicycles from New Orleans to Chicago. He, Dominique, is a retired engineer and is sitting in with bands and playing clarinet along the way, while Ariel, his wife, stays up late with him and is learning English.

    If you go to Cleveland, the home of Delta State University (go Fighting Okras!), look up the Delta Music Institute. Tricia Walker is the director of it. I sent the Frenchies to her, and they reported back that she spent time with them. I’m sure that if she’s not too busy, she’ll probably show y’all around, too!

    Also, the Grammy Museum is in Cleveland, and it’s the only Grammy Museum outside of Los Angeles. They recognized how important Mississippi is to the history of American music.

    Y’all be sweet!

    Ellen

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    1. Great to hear from you Ellen. You are right we are going at a lick. But there’s a lot to fit in and I want to ensure we have at least 2 weeks on the West coast so that Linda gets a good holiday from her Blues P.A. Duties!!!!!
      Riding there bikes from NO to Chicago???? Well they are fFrench!!!!
      Y’all be sweet too! See I’m almost a Mississippian already!
      Nigel

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