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?
Its It’s virtually impossible to avoid fried food in Mississippi, however this was sheer joy-the real thing. Massive portions of course but delicious.
Wonderful atmosphere and a refuge from the 33 degrees outside.
Like all these places they have memorabilia and tee shirts for sale. Naturally the guitars always get my attention. This was made from a bed pan. Now that the hospital for me!
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.
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!
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’.
Onto a one road hamlet called Vance for one of my favourites
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.
Setting off for Memphis now. Lets hope Elvis is in town tonight?
PS. Apologies again for typo’s etc. No time to proof read……
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?)
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………………..
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.
Two notes to end on:
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?).
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!
I’m learning fast about this blogging business and the technology, notwithstanding my afore mentioned c grade I.T. capabilities, is far from perfect. This morning in an attempt to free up space in the photo file on the blog, I deleted all the photos so far imported. What I didn’t realise was that they would also be deleted from the blog itself. This is a nightmare of course. I have written to Word Press the platform created for advice. So apologies for this. I hope to restore all lost pictures soonest.
If anyone has any advice on this I would be grateful. Very grateful……….
“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.
We departed from N.O. yesterday after 3 fun packed days. The weather has been nice and warm but overcast which was perfect given all the walking we did. The previous night was one to remember, centered around Bourbon Street – naturally. Three highlights:
Managed to pursued the best fish restaurant in town (G W Finns) to give us a table even though they said they were full. I haven’t lost it!
Met two world leaders in Bourbon Street and persuaded them to have a photo with us.
Enjoyed our favourite band ‘Dysfuntional’ (they are anything but) until the early hours.
After dinner we walked down Bourbon Street to our favourite bar and bumped into these chaps. Fortunately we broke through security for this photo.
Anyone who knows me understands that if I had to make a living as an IT techie I would have starved by now. It’s all double Dutch to me. Nevertheless I try to learn the dark art and to this end have wasted around 2 hours today trying to import photos from my Mac file to the Blog file. In desperation I contacted Richard Smith, said retired lawyer and now my chief IT assistant. Sadly he was as useful as a chocolate tee pot (I will be suing) and so I turned in desperation to the concierge at the hotel for names of local computer shops to help me out. “I’ll have a go” says Arielle (my new best friend) and within 2 minutes had solved the problem. What a gal…. And all it cost me was a letter of praise to her manager.
We have just returned (Friday) from a trip on the last River Steam Boat on the Mississippi (there are only two left in the USA). Its something you have to do of course but at $50 each including an inedible lunch, I couldn’t really recommend it. We should have learned by now.
Yesterday was spent getting our bearings in N.O. and in particular the renowned French Quarter. We arrived fairly early (jet-lag) for breakfast to the world famous Bourbon Street. In many ways this was a mistake. Bourbon Street is all about night life. We therefore left the area wondering what all the fuss was about and returned later that night for dinner. WOW!!!!! fantastic! My photos will not do it justice. All I will say is that its amazing and unique in our experience. Everyone should visit this street at least once. The quality of bands playing in various venues (no charge to enter) was nothing short of brilliant. Anyone of them would win The X Factor. (which I think is a compliment?)
By way of a reminder, the first two weeks of this adventure is to travel along Route 61 aka the Blues Trail. This starts in earnest tomorrow when we leave N.O. and travel north into Mississippi state. N.O. is really about Jazz music rather than the blues. This said the bands we enjoyed last night ranged from Soul to R&B. Nevertheless, this is a blues tour and the best I can offer you for now was to be found at Hard Rock Cafe where we had lunch. See below. The real Delta blues goodies will commence tomorrow.
PS. My buddy Cark has asked for more pictures as he struggles with reading!!!!! Hope this helps my friend?
PPS. Just getting ready for a second evening on Bourbon Street. Wish us luck!
So folks, with a hop, skip and a jump we arrived safely in New Orleans (N.O.). Having left London in driving rain and 8 degrees it was a pleasure to alight from the airport at dusk to a warm breeze, 22 degrees and mild humidity. We were given the traditional ever rude USA welcome by our taxi driver – NOT, he was Indian, very helpful and pleasant. We spent the half hour ride to our hotel chatting about India and where to find the best Indian restaurants in N O. At the hotel check-in we were greeted by your typical over confident and positive American receptionist – NOT, she was a delightful shy young lady from India. It turns out that she had only just joined the company and was having difficulty operating the computer. Her accent was so strong I couldn’t understand a word she said, so Linda acted as interpreter. Turns out she had us listed for an easy access disabled room! Many years ago I read a book about the power of words. One useful tip was on how to get upgraded at an airport, hotel, car hire company etc. It suggested the non offensive phrase “would it be possible to have a courtesy upgrade please?”. Despite my temporary hearing difficulties, I understand her load and clear on this occasion…..she said no! Nevertheless do try it, as it often works, and true to the book no one is ever offended by it.
Having checked in and anxious to delay bedtime for as long as possible (we are 6 hours behind the UK which means we were in danger of going to bed almost exactly at the time our body clocks were telling us to get up) we set of for dinner at the hotels sports bar. Our waiter enthusiastically approached our table,crouched down on his haunches in that patronising way they do over here, and said “howdy sir, ma’am, my name is Randy and I’ll be your host for tonight” – NOT. Are you following this theme? He looked a lot like Imran Khan (yes I know he’s Pakistani), was charming and very helpful. Yet another member of the sub continent brigade. As many of you will know, further north in America all the waiters seem to be from eastern Europe, much like the UK. Not so here. So far it seems this area has been claimed by the Indians and I don’t mean Running Bulls clan!
Joy of joys we can receive Radio 4 on my BBC radio App. This means that Linda won’t miss a single episode of The Archers. And I can continue shouting at the politically biased John Humphries on BBC Radio 4 Today. Bliss!
Fear not, I won’t witter on like this every day. Jet lag wrecked my nights sleep so I am sitting in bed a 5.30am killing time until breakfast is served.
We have set up this blog as a convenient memoir of our travels. However, you are more than welcome to dip in whenever you wish (feel free to subscribe to the blog in the usual way to ensure that you don’t miss even one exciting and tantalising morsel). Our first trip recored here will start early May 2018 when we embark upon our road trip around the USA. Starting in New Orleans it will end several weeks later in L.A. You will be subjected to lots of exciting photos and information about the history of The Blues in the Mississippi Delta (Linda cannot wait!) and later on from Chicago to L.A. Watch this space……….