The Windy City?

Friday 18th May.

More like The Freezing City.  The air temperature has turned bitterly cold here in Chicago and like the UK all conversation is about the weather.

Last night we went to Buddy Guys Legends Club.  Sadly he wasn’t there as he is till out touring at 81.  Never mind the band for the night was called Cash Box Kings featuring Joe Nosek on vocals and harmonica (called a harp in Blues circles) and Oscar Wilson on vocals.  This is Chicago Blues at its best (look them up).  The line up varies with the exception of these two.  Of particular note was a brilliant lead guitarist called Xavier Lynn.  At just 18 years old he is a very talented and exciting guitarist.  A definite star of the future.  On the walls of the club are guitars signed by friends of Buddy Guy and dedicated to him.  Such as Clapton, Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn, BB King, Robert Cray etc – priceless.

 

 

Poor photos I’m afraid but they were taken surreptitiously.  Here we are with Oscar Wilson.  Such a nice man and a truly great blues singer.  His banter alone was worth the entrance fee.  He has 12 children, “40 odd grand children” and 2 great grandchildren.  He can’t remember all their names so he just says “hey kid, come here, have some candy”.  What a character.

Before going to the club, we had a delicious curry at one of Chicagos top restaurants (we didn’t want to risk it this time).  Our young waiter, originally from Goa, was a massive fan of the English Premiership and a supporter of Liverpool FC.  It never ceases to amaze me how popular this league is around the world and especially in Asian countries.  He knew everything about it (I pretended to keep up with him and nod in the right places).  He was aware of Southampton FC’s season end predicament and had watched the game on TV.  Later on our Uber driver – from China – was equally conversant.  He too had watched the Saints game on the TV and lost $50 betting that Swansea couldn’t possibly lose their home game to stay up in the league.  Small wonder it’s the wealthiest league in the world.

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Back to our Curry. The portions are so large here that we tend to share meals, as was the case here.  The reason for the photo though is to show how brash restaurants are becoming over tipping.  This one was unusual in that it started its guidance at 20%.  True to say anything less is frowned upon.  Perhaps restaurateurs might consider actually paying their staff?

 

Chicago is a city similar to many other modern cities full of skyscrapers, parks and busy people dashing around.  But it is also a very attractive city with large open spaces internally and the added attraction of the vast water front courtesy of Lake Michigan.  Which as you know is the 3rd largest of the 5 lakes.  Name the others and their ranking correctly and I will award a Big Mac to the winner!  We like it very much.  It is intimate and friendly.  I could easily live here.  On the downside it is very noisy due to the over zealous emergency services which chase through town day and night with their ridiculously loud sirens screaming out.  Out hotel room is 22 floors up yet still we are disturbed by them all night long.  We won’t miss this aspect of Chicago.  We caught the hop on hop off bus today and stayed aboard for the complete circuit which lasted 2 hours.  See the un skilful selfie above as evidence.  The Frank Gehry structure above is pleasing, as always, but rather pathetic for a city the size of Chicago.  Its only purpose is to front an open air concert venue.  It must have been approved at the end of the cities budget year?

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Our tour guide suggested we have lunch at Portillo’s.  As he didn’t mention the Burger word, we dicided to go for it.  Turns out it was one of those lovely success stories that could easily have ended differently.  When Dick Portillo used his last $1,100 to open a Hot Dog stand his wife was so angry she threatened to leave him.  Fast forward many years and he sells the extended business for $800,000,000.  I wonder how his wife tells the story now?  Something like “I always had faith in him and was always being the plan”.   As they say ‘success has a thousand fathers and failure is a Ba****d’.   I had the speciality Hot Dog which was delicious and Linda the Hot Beef Sandwich.  Equally as good and which could have fed a small family.

 

Early to bed tonight as our limo driver, Nelson (friend of the affor mentioned Reggie), is taking us to the airport at 3.30am to catch the 6.00am red eye to Seattle.  Mrs F is not amused as by the time we touch down THE wedding will have been done and dusted.  It wasn’t planned this way, honest.

This therefore completes the first stage, the blues trail, of our adventure.  I have enjoyed it enormously as would be expected.  The bonus is that so has Linda……no really.  Plenty of people were concerned about her I know, including our eldest grandson (which I took as a massive betrayal) but they needn’t have worried.  We have visited 6 cities, dozens of towns, stayed in 8 hotels (in 16 days) and driven nearly 2000 miles.  For me its a big tick off my bucket list.  For Linda she now knows what a 12 bar blues is and has seen where John Lee Hooker was born.  Her excitement is palpable!

By this time tomorrow we’ll be on the west coast and at the start of our adventure down the coast road towards L.A..  All the hotels are booked and our flip flips are unpacked.  Can’t wait!

(Again apologies for any typos etc)

 

“Whats my name”, “Whats my name?”……

Tuesday 15th May

Who said this?  Yes of course, it was ‘THE GREATEST’ Muhammed Ali fighting Ernie Terrell at the Houston Astrodome on February 6th 1967.  Ali had just changed his name from Cassius Clay (watch it on Youtube – great stuff) and Terrell refused to call him Ali.  In the 7th round he shouts “whats my name, whats my name” over and over again before going onto win back the world title in 15 rounds (you don’t get all this precious info on any other blog you know).  We have now arrived in Louisville for a brief overnight stay before pushing onto Chicago.  In doing so we drove, painlessly I might add, through a time zone.  We are now only 5 hours behind the UK.  I have always been a huge fan of Ali.  Flawed in so many ways but overall a great life ambassador, to my eyes anyway.  We were hoping to visit The Ali Centre this afternoon but it closes at 4.15pm so we’ll have to go in the morning.  Never mind, en route to dinner this evening we will drive past his birth place – see below.  The rather monotonous drive from Nashville took around 4 hours, but was interrupted by a delicious burger lunch at Wendy’s.  If you didn’t like burgers you would starve in this country.

Before I forget, we were really very sad  earlier today…….we finished our last Rich Tea biscuits with our tea this morning.  Would brought out from the UK two packets and now they’re all gone!

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Above is the actual house that Muhammad Ali (MA) grew up in.  As the sign below states his family were middle class and this shows in the relative leafy and airy quality of the area. Daft though it sounds, I felt a real sense of his presence, in that one could picture him, as described in his biography, in his youth sparing outside in the front garden with his brother.  I’ve seen this picture in the biog’s I’ve read on the great man, so it was a thrill being there.  Its now a museum, although it was closed by the time we got there.

 

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Above are the gates to Cave Hill Cemetery where M.A. is buried.  He died on 3rd June 2016.  Again, closed when we visited.

Wednesday 16th.

We returned to MA’s cemetery this morning.  It is a most beautiful park. His grave and head stone are very subtle and tasteful, if one can say such things about a grave?  And nothing like we expected.  His grave is halfway up the slope just in front of the red flowers in a lovely peaceful spot.  What a man.  RIP Ali.

 

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Coincidentally in the same cemetery lies the remains of Colonel Sauders of KFC fame.  In rather poor taste, I felt, alongside it was  small KFC franchise selling buckets of chicken wings at inflated prices. (there wasn’t! really)

Immediately following this we set off for Chicago.  The Satnav said 3.5 hours.  It took 4.5.  It is forgiven however because what on earth did we do before Satnav? Its a life saver.

We pulled up outside our hotel in the heart of Chicago City (having regained the hour lost the previous day.  Louisville and Chicago must sit either side of a time line I guess) when a tall man suddenly appeared and said “hello handsome, can I help you?”.  Naturally I immediately spun round, and yes he was talking to me.  I tried not to be discouraged by the thickness of his spectacles and just went with the flow.  Turns out this is Reggie a retired Firefighter Captain of 73 years vintage.  Now concierge at the hotel.  Sadly his wife of 50 years died 4  years ago but he is comforted by his 5 children and 23 grand children.  At just the 10 grand children, Linda and I are clearly beginners at this game.  The added bonus is that Reggie is into the Blues and was able to point me in the direction of all the best places.  I’ve already booked tickets for Buddy Guys (look him up) Legends Club tomorrow night.

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As the saying goes, Reggie is a top guy.  Very helpful and something interesting about the man.  A true personality. Thanks Reggie.

I can’t get over this city, everyone is so friendly and helpful (mind you we’ve only been here for 2 hours!  They can’t have received the memo telling them that city folk are supposed to be surly and rude.  Lets hope it continues.

Several years ago I came out of Charing Cross Station in London and noticed a man standing on one leg, arm outstretched holding a magazine.  On closer inspection he was a ‘Big Issue’ vendor.  Normally these people are fairly invisible, but not this guy.  I approached him and said “how long have you been in marketing?”.  “You what mate?” came the response. We had a god chat I became a regular customer thereafter.  The point is he stood (literally) out.  For quite different reasons so did the guy below who was stationed just down the road from our hotel.  I approached him and said Ive got to throw some money in your hat “how long have you been in marketing?”.  Turns out he’s Micheal, just out of prison and homeless.  “What were you in prison for” I asked.  He said, “for killing bald headed men who ask too many questions” (No he didn’t).  I advised him to get a job I marketing.  His message is blunt but impactful which is half the battle in that game.

 

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Micheal. The next Charles Saatchi?  Sadly he doesn’t take the advice of his own ‘smile’ sign’.  Predictable I guess.  Good luck to him.
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How the rich live.  This is a view from our 22nd floor room.  It is a facility for the residents of the apartments left and behind.  The doggy ‘park’ on the right is utilised far more than the running track!

Thursday 17th

Took the car back this morning.  We’d been through a lot together between New Orleans and Chicago (just under 2000 miles).  Given some of the dirt tracks we’d travelled down in the Delta looking for various birth places of blues legends, the old gal seemed out of place on the streets of Chicago, tired and covered in dust.  We were delivering her back two days early, we really don’t need a car in the city, and guess what.  There is a penalty for for late return, but no refund for early return.  This really surprised me!!

Off out clubbing in a moment.  The musicians don’t start until 9.30pm at Buddy Guys place which presents us with a problem………..will we be able to stay awake?

We’ll be sightseeing around the city tomorrow – Friday, so get ready for lots of boring holiday type snaps that nobody really wants to see.

Toodaloo!

Nashville ‘notes’!………..

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Leaving Memphis on Saturday.  The Nomads hit the road again. Unfortunately the baggage seems to expand in proportion with the miles covered.

If you haven’t been there already, what image is conjured up in your mind when you think of Nashville?  Yes Linda and me too.  Well we’re all wrong.  Its a modern metropolis that in this increasingly homogenised world in which we live i.e Starbucks on every corner (we only previously came across one Starbucks and that was at our hotel in New Orleans).  The old city does exist but its buried and surrounded by the ubiquitous skyscraper.  Some admittedly, such as the AT&T building, which looks rather like Batmans helmet, are attractive and impressive.  You won’t however find any wooden board homey structures depicted in the old movies of Nashville.  Our Uber driver last night said that the city had been transformed in past 5 years and it shows.  Most disappointingly we haven’t spotted anyone wearing cowboy hats, let alone boots and spurs.  On the the plus side however its a country and western music city which is right up Linda’s ally but does very little for me – it all sounds the same to me.  Mind you I know that is also a criticism levelled at Delta blues music so I won’t labour the point.  We have just completed three days here and its been good to let the car and ourselves rest.  We drove 1200 miles in seven days getting here, but its was worth it.  Nice to know the zigzag driving pressure is now off though. Today we move onto Louisville just for one night to visit the birth place of Muhammad Ali and the Kentucky Derby Museum.  Its only about 2.5 hours away and en route to Chicago.

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On our first night here we couldn’t wait to indulge in some proper English grub.  The portions were massive and the flavours very sweet but it reminded us of home.

 

Below we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame.  To demonstrate my interest in Country music I thought i would show you Elvis’ Cadillac displayed inside the exhibition.

 

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A great thrill for me was visiting Gruhn’s Guitars in Nashville.

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I asked if George Gruhn (on the left) was available and was taken to his office to meet him.  To anyone interested in guitars this is like meeting industry royalty.  George is 72, started the business in 1970 and still works 12 hour days 6 days a week.  He is the absolute world authority on guitars and probably has the best stock of vintage acoustic guitars (mainly Martins) in the world.  He employs 29 staff 10 of whom work full time repairing an restoring vintage guitars.  10!!  We talked guitars for an hour and he would have continued.  It is said that he’s worth $19m so its probably more.  Not bad for a man who likes to say “its just a hobby that got out of control”.  Look him up on Youtube being interviewed, this is just how he is.
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This is second one of these I have seen.  The first one in London.  Its a Gibson / Harp guitar.  Very weird.
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I bought this Martin.  Couldn’t resist it.  See the price tag below….
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No, of course I didn’t.  But I did play it.  Unlike guitar retailers in the UK Gruhn’s is totally laid back and didn’t bat an eye lid when I took this down off the wall to play it.  1930’s Martins are the cream de la creme of acoustics.  To think this would have retailed for around $200 when new.  Some investment it could have been.  George (my newest best mate) told me that the most a (non celebrity linked) Martin sold for was $340.

Once again apologies for any typos.  No time for proof reading…..

So long Mississippi, it was real fun y’all….

It was strangely sad to cross the border into Tennessee on Thursday.  We had only spent 5 days there but for various reasons i.e. the blues connection and some very nice people we met, we had grown a genuine fondness for this unique somewhat unspoilt state.  I haven’t done a count yet, however I estimate that we covered around 1000 miles zigzagging around the state mopping up as many iconic blues related places as we could.  With hindsight one could easily spend two weeks in Mississippi on the blues trail, which would be great for me, however, although the present Mrs F is something of a convert, I wouldn’t wish to push my luck.

So we are now in Memphis having arrived on Thursday and leaving today, Saturday. We are headed for Nashville which is a particular choice of Linda’s.  I’m sure that I will grow to love all that country & western music…….but it does have the added bonus of being the home of Gruhn Guitars, an iconic shop run by arguably the worlds expert on the subject.  Anticipate lots more on this venue later!  Excited?

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Before leaving Mississippi we stopped for lunch at this iconic restaurant.  The original site in Tunica burned down some years ago.  No matter, this venue is very atmospheric efficiently run and we got to meet Passion, a lovely girl with a smile to match.

 

 

Above is the wholesome and gigantic fried chicken meal we had for lunch.  The piece of memorabilia, a guitar made from a bed pan naturally caught my eye.  Now thats the hospital for me.

From the restaurant we moved onto our very last port of call in Mississippi.  The inaptly, in our case, ‘Gateway to The Blues Museum’.  For some reason it is assumed that most folk on the Blues Trail start from Chicago and work downwards.  Never mind, this was a little gem.  Easily the best collection of guitars we’d encountered.  Some of which are extremely valuable.  I photographed so many guitars that I have spared you task of wading through them all.  On returning to England I will be holding special viewing for you avid followers.  After all, we all love to sit through an evening looking at someone else’s holiday snaps don’t we!  Entrance will be 5 shillings.

 

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Jimmy Hendrix’s jacket.  We plan to visit his grave in Seattle 

 

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Just the one guitar selected for you.  Good ‘ole Muddy.
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Guess where we are?  Most visitors to Graceland’s first comment is about how small it is.  Well it is.  Elvis added many extensions to the house which makes it feel like Dr Who’s Tardis inside.  Despite this however none of the rooms are very big.  Also, I’m afraid to say that his massive musical talent wasn’t matched my his interior design skills or taste.  Sorry Elvis.  Nevertheless it was a long ambition fulfilled and interestingly still very sad despite his passing 41 years ago at the age of 42.
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The road outside is appropriately named Elvis Presely Boulevard. Before this however, and on the deeds to the property for which he paid $100,000 in 1955ish it was called Winchester Road.  Which is only interesting if you happen to live in Winchester UK.  As we do!  Below is Elvis’s grave alongside his mother, father and grandmother Minnie Mae who outlived all of them.  Linda is standing in front of the paddock at the front of the property which leads down to the road.  Elvis and his friends would gallop up and down this paddock in full view of anyone passing by.  Can you imagine that today in this security obsessed world.  
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Here you see Sun Studios Memphis where Elvis recored his first demo.  Sam Philips the owner was out for the day so Elvis was in fact recored by his secretary Marion.  On returning to the office Sam listened to the tape and rejected it stating that it was another boring ballad.  It took Elvis another 12 months to persuade Sam to re record him.

Above are various photos of Beale Street in Memphis.  The neon sign at the top says ‘Home of the Blues’.  I don’t wish to be picky, but the blues actually started in the Mississippi Delta.  Details, details.  Whereas Bourbon Street in New Orleans is atmospheric and a party street, Beale Street would fit well into Blackpool.  Not the friendly atmosphere we encountered in Bourbon Street and police were everywhere.  Still every bar has live blues music and one or two bands were excellent.  Alfred’s above, is apparently world famous.  Ever heard of it?  No me neither!

Just packing up to drive the 4 hours to Nashville.  See you on the other side.  Toodaloo!

Best laid plans……..

Unfortunately the logistics of time and distance mean that we are having to abandon a lot of our planned site visits.  We are off to Memphis today (Thursday) with a couple of stops en route.  Geographically this takes us too far away from many of the places on our map and there is no way around this if we are to get to Nashville and Louisville before heading north to Chicago where we need to spend at least two days before flying to Seattle for the drive South.  This is such a vast state, let alone country, that you can drive for 100 miles and get nowhere, if that makes sense.  Most disappointing for me is that I won’t make it to the Huss & Dalton or Martin factories on the East coast.  On the upside however this means we will have to make a separate trip some other time.

We started the day yesterday (Wednesday) back in Indianola.  Not only was Charlie Patton the father of Delta Blues and therefore an inspiration to many of the greats old and new, but he also had the decency to pass away in known place and receive a burial in a listed cemetery.  As we sat at a junction looking lost (normal state) a local guy who looked like a farmer (we were as usual in the middle of nowhere) said “looking for the ‘seamatary?’ (poor attempt at phonics) and pointed up the road with an expression of ‘there’s another pair of idiots’.

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Fascinating array of artefacts left by fans, ranging from a bottle of Bourbon to a rusty rail road nail

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If you like blues harmonica (harp as they like to say) listen to SonWillaimson.  Theres non better.  This was located in very run down village.  If it wasn’t for a few young people hanging around you would have thought the place had been abandoned.  Its hard to describe just how poor some of these places are.  I would imagine that unemployment if rife with few prospects for young people.  I am personally against the gun laws in America for the simple equation that lots of guns = lots of shootings.  However, I have to be honest and say that if I lived in one of these remote areas, and lots of people do, especially if I had a few bob, I would probably be a gun owner.  You have to be here to feel that.  We have occasionally strayed into ‘the wrong areas’ courtesy of our satnav.  And I can tell you its frightening when everyone comes out to stare at you.  Irrational may be, but very real at the time.
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Do you you remember that Billie Joe Mcallister jumped off the Tallahatchie bridge?  Sadly it is also associated wit the brutal murder of a young black boy Emmett Till in 1955.  He was said to have been bright and very confident which probably let to his demise after flirting with a white woman.  He was brutally murdered by the woman husband and her brother and dumped in the Tallahachie River.  Despite being positively identified they were found not guilty.  Remember this was 1955!
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As the plaque below states this is where WC Handy a band leader who went on to make a fortune as a music publisher first discovered the blues.  Whilst waiting at this now dilapidated station in 1903 he heard a black hobo playing a type of music he’d never heard before.  The guy was playing ‘slide’ blues with the edge of a knife.  WC was so captivated that he missed his train.  Following this he wrote several hit blues tunes.  He always regretted not find out the mans name.

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A very touching monument to the local victims of several wars

Onto a one road hamlet called Vance for one of my favourites

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I love this guys style of blues playing it.  Do look him up on YouTube.  12 bar blues, which is the foundation for most blues songs, utilises the 1st, 4th & 5th notes of the music scale.  Simple enough, right?  Not for good ‘ole JLH.  A lot of his biggest hits only utilised the first note being constantly repeated.  If he was feeling creative he might use two of the three notes. He made a fortune out of this.  Less is more?

Onto Clarksdale.  Which in many ways is the Mecca of Blues.  There’s lot’s to see and do here.  As we found however this has bred complacency.  Service is poor, very unusual for this region, and the prices for food and and drink are high.  Unfortunately this much anticipated visit fell flat.

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The afore mentioned WC Handy
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I mentioned in a previous post that Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for extraordinary musical talent.  You see me here at said Cross Roads.  In every photo I have seen of this site it appears to be in the middle of nowhere.  Yet another romantic notion exploded! This junction is so busy I risked my life getting there.  I now have an image in my head of RJ talking to the Devil and then slipping off for a Big Mac.  I know its a myth, but come on Clarksdale…..
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Never heard of him.  Home work for later. Clarksdale was also the birth place of Ike Turner and Sam Cooke.
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Yes I know we have to save the planet and all that, but why oh why did America ever abandon their unique and fabulous automobile industry?  We passed a scrap yard yesterday with about 200 of these beauties just rusting away.

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At last a proper guitar shop.  You see me here with my new best friend Ronnie. Retired bank manager now guitar expert.  We had a long talk about guess what……..  The guitar shown here is dated 1890 and needs repairing, but thats all he knows about it.  Its a little beauty and probably worth a lot of money.  Thankfully I resisted.  I asked him where I could get one of those wigs (I didn’t!).  Great shop and lovely guy.  As I left he said “now y’all come back and hang with me”.  It would be a pleasure Ronnie.

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Robert Johnsons death certificate.  Which begs the question that if this was known, why didn’t they properly record his place of burial?  Perhaps the alleged murderous husband might know something?
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Another John Lee Hooker acoustic guitar.  You don’t see one and than two come along.  The writing is identical to that on the guitar I showed from Hard Rock Cafe New Orleans which is a comfort in these days of forgery.
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Another blank. An hour wasted and no plaque for the person I came to discover.
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Abandoned Share Cropper shack?
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Ground Zero is a blues club in Clarksdale owned by the actor Morgan Freeman.  It is very atmospheric inside but they do charge $5 per head to get in.  Once inside the drinks are expensive and served from plastic glasses. The food is very poor indeed.  The two piece band playing were good but seemed to be going though the motions.  The drummer looked as though he was going to nod off.  I asked the girl on reception if Morgan was in tonight.  She said “who”.  When I explained she said Ive worked here for 2 years and I’ve never seen him.  Nuff said!

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The Red Blues Bar is rated #1 on Tripadvsor.  We waited until 9.00pm and then went off to have dinner (only booze sold here).  On returning later the band were playing Motown and badly.  This is supposed to be the number one blues bar in town?  Frustrating?  You bet.

Setting off for Memphis now.  Lets hope Elvis is in town tonight?

PS. Apologies again for typo’s etc.  No time to proof read……

 

 

What did the Romans ever do for us?

Everyone knows that the Romans specialised is building straight roads for efficient travel.  Well compared to the state of Mississippi it is clear they suffered from a distinct lack of ambition.  Want to see how to build straight roads that seemingly go on for ever?  Then come here.  And its not just the highways, they are everywhere.  Boring? No!  Just set the cruise control, sit back and enjoy the ride – luxury.  Naturally falling a sleep might create a few issues.  However to para phrase Spike Milligan “driving’s not dangerous, crashing’s dangerous” ho ho!  Oh yes, and how about a few roundabouts folks to avoid having to stop every 2 minutes (gross exaggeration to just make the point) for traffic lights that aways seem to favour the minor road flow.

Yesterday was a funny, slightly frustrating old day.  Once again, apart from the BB King Museum, where we met Helen on reception a retired science teacher and old friend of BB’s, there was zero knowledge or interest from the locals and in a few cases no marker on the supposed spot.  This meant in some instances we drove miles to find nothing in particular.  I guess that The Blues Foundation, who are responsible for placing these markers, needs permission from land owners which won’t always be forthcoming.  Nevertheless this won’t prevent me from sending them a stiff note (commonly know as “Smithy’) asking why they don’t at least point this out on their website.

Spare a thought for Linda, despite going down with a bad cold and sore throat (blame BA’s air-con – ‘allegedly’ just in case their lawyers are reading this) she bravely faced the road with me yesterday (seriously, what does she want??).  My only tiny issue is that it affected her singing voice so that our two part harmonies were slightly out!

And so to the day….

Onwards to the town of Indianola (sounds like a fizzy drink produced in Bombay?)

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B.B. King.  Surely everyone has heard of him?  Sadly died 3 years ago aged 89.  This museum was created in 2008 at the cost of $16m and is a fine example of how it should be done.  BB, look him up on Wikipedia, it’s a true rags to riches story, influenced many of the modern greats.  Eric Clapton calls him the grand master.  Oddly he’s never been a favourite of mine.  Each to his own I guess?  Nevertheless this visit was long anticipated and it didn’t disappoint
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In his youth BB actually worked in the building which now houses his museum stacking bales of cotton.  I wonder if he could get his mind around that? ( rhetorical – please!!!)
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One of his old tour busses.  Reminds me of my youth playing in soul and rock bands.  Mind you, our tour bus was a clapped out Bedford van!  (look Smithy – different Tee Shirt!)
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Inside where BB once worked. Clearly all spruced up now. Each year he would hold a dinner here for all his local friends and family.  After he died, he was laid in state in this room.
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BB is buried outside.  There are plans to enclose this area soon.  Thanks again to Helen on reception who regaled us with loads of personal stories about BB.  Apparently he never forgot his roots and was a kind and humble man till the end.  He was onstage a few days before he died.

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Albert King ‘The Velvet Buldozer’ best know for his song ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’. One of the Three Kings – BB, Albert & Freddie.  Joe Bonamassa celebrated them in a dedicated concert recently.

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The Club Ebony.  An iconic venue for the lovers of blues.  Now owned by BB’s museum company.  Sadly not open when we visited and the meanies had drawn the curtains so that peeking inside was denied us!
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This, I think, is where BB King was born in Berclair.  We had to drive down a dusty track for about two miles to get there – scary stuff.  This was a cotton plantation when he was born and the area would have been covered in workers shacks.  As there is no marker we had to take a guess to the actual spot.  BB’s father left them when he was very young and his mother died in her early 20’s when BB was only 9 or 10 years old.  He lived all alone for the next 4 years until he was taken in by a white farming family – obviously quite a thing in those days.  BB said that the owner called him son and not boy which he always appreciated. (put the hankies away!)
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We turned right here ‘down the dusty track’ – good name for a song eh?
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Here we searched for the birth place of Eddie Jones, better know as ‘Guitar Slim’ – but to no avail.
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Here he is again for a second posting.  Well it is RJ.  In a previous blog I said that no one knows where he was buried.  Well the fine town of Greenwood begs to differ.  Here they say he might have been buried! I don’t wish to bicker, but I might have been born with exceptionally good looks!  Oh well, perhaps it is true then?!
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Lets play………find the R.J.
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Located in the middle of nowhere.  I do hope he was laid to rest here as its a beautiful and peaceful spot.
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I mentioned the Romanesque roads earlier.  This map plots all the places we are trying to visit in the Delta.  Therefore ours is more of a zigzag road.  It’s just a shame that all these legends didn’t have the foresight to be brought up in roughly the same region along ether side of the same road.  Note for all future icons.

Today, Wednesday (one week down, four to go) we are headed towards Clarksdale.  Lots of really interesting places en route.  Can’t wait.  Linda spent 50 bucks (on 4 products – I was in the wrong business) on medicines from CVC’s yesterday.  After such extravagance  I’m just hoping that Linda is able to hit those top ‘C”s today.  Had a good day y’all………………..

 

 

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!