Mississippi – The Blues Trail

We headed off down Highway 61. We were tracing the old Blues Trail, hunting out the markers, graves and monuments to the incredible Blues singers of yesteryear.

Tracking them down took us off the beaten track to fields, obscure towns and old plantations that we would never otherwise have encountered.

The Clarkesdale Mississippi Blues Museum was a pleasant stop! The murals by the railway track at Tutwiler.

I want to go back!!

The Blues trail in Mississippi

All over Mississippi there are signs and monuments to the old Blues singers. We followed the trail around. It took us to all manner of places we might not ever have found.

McComb – the plaque to Bo Diddley and the street corner he used to busk on.

Hazlehurst – the monument to Robert Johnson and the place where Elmore James used to work in the electronics shop.

The USA Blues Trail – Bo Diddley and McComb

Bo Diddley used to busk on the corner in McComb. One day a car drew up, a guy leaned out and said ‘Jump in, man. I’m gonna make you a star.’

Bo Diddley was a genius – a macho, struttin’ bluesman who took that shuffle beat and made it his own. He was instrumental in Rock ‘n’ Roll and every R&B band from the UK British Boom played Bo Diddley songs – From the Stones and Yardbirds to the Animals and Prettythings.

Bo Diddley rules.

I met him in 1981 when he played in Hull. We went backstage to get albums signed and I had my picture taken with him. What a moment. He was a very friendly guy.

So when we did our Blues Trail in Mississippi and Lousianna I had to visit McComb and stand on that corner where Bo Diddley had played!

Quite a thrill.

Featured Track – North Mississippi Allstars – Shimmy

I like my music raw and stirring. I discovered this band a few years back featuring the dynamic Cody Brothers. They produce a brand of blues boogie that is straight out of the North Mississippi Hill County Blues of RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. They are excellent musicians and great to see live.

Here’s a few photos I took with them and Ian Siegal at Burton Agnes Festival.

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See what you think.

Blues Trail – Mississippi – A bit more!

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Back in the days of segregation (not that long ago) the black and white music was kept well apart. Blacks had their own radio stations with their own music. The Blues, Jazz and R&B were played. The whites got C&W.

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We stopped off at a Blues museum to celebrate James ‘Son’ Thomas and were treated to a performance from his son Pat Thomas. He was quite a character.

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I caught Hubert Sumlin playing in Leeds and took my youngest son along to see the legend. He was Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist.

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Highway 61 was the route the Blues guys travelled up and down the country.

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I stood where BB King had busked. Nobody gave me a penny!

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I saw Skip play in Hammersmith London shortly before he died – one of the greats!

The Mississippi Blues Trail – A bit of Elmore, BB and Sonny Boy

The Mississippi Blues trail is a brilliant way to discover Mississippi. It takes you into the back of beyond and to strange parts of town. You pass the fields the slaves used to work in, the dives they used to play in and the street corners they used to busk on. By the time you’ve finished you’ve got a real feel for the place.DSC_0481 DSC_0490

I saw Big Joe Williams perform in the late sixties on one of those Blues packages they brought across. He was on the same bill as Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, James Cotton and a few others. He went down so well that they couldn’t get him off stage.

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You found the markers out in the middle of nowhere.

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Back in the early days the people like Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie would mix quite freely with the black singers. Musicians seemed free of the evils of apartheid. Jimmie did a lot of blues numbers.

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Trumpet records recorded my hero Elmore James (as well as people like Sonny Boy Williamson). I found it quite thrilling to stand where he had recorded a lot of those searing slide guitar riffs that I love so much.

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Both Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson performed at the Alamo Theatre. A lot of those places were run down and neglected. But then they ripped the cavern in Liverpool down too. These politicians are fools. We should respect our heritage.

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This was close to the place where BB King used to busk and record.

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This was the site in Natchez where the Night Club burnt down killing so many people. Howlin’ Wolf sang about it in the song Natchez Burning.

Rock Music Genres – The Blues – pt1 – Rural Mississippi.

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The blues started off in the Deep South of America, in the rural regions of Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama. The first recorded mention was by W.C. Handy, a bandleader who was waiting for a train in Tutwiler Mississippi. He recalled seeing a man playing a guitar using a knife on the frets and singing.

I visited that station and sat on the bench. It was hot, humid and sultry. I could imagine.

The blues developed out of African rhythms on European instruments. In those early days there were no drums. Drums were banned. It was widely believed that the African Slaves could talk and organise through their drumming.

The deep South and particularly the fertile Mississippi delta , was the place for big plantations growing cotton, soy bean and corn. They used black slaves brought over from Africa.

The blues probably developed as a music form around 1900. It went on to become the basis of Jazz and Rock ‘n’ Roll and is still developing today.

People think of the blues as being sad. The romantic view is that it expresses the melancholy of the oppressed black slaves. That is far from the full picture. The blues covers a wide spectrum of styles and uses. It was used in the fields to entertain and create rhythm for manual work. A lot of the blues shouts come out of this. It was used as dance music at the jukes and was lively and bright. It was used as entertainment in the brothels and bawdy houses where boogie-woogie piano developed. It was used for busking on street corners or performances in inns. It was also used to express emotion and feeling. It was even used to express sexuality, full of earthy expressions and double entendres. Rarely was there any overt political or social comment, at least not in the recorded versions. Given the oppressive circumstances, lynchings and activities of white supremacist groups such as the Klu Klux Klan this was hardly surprising.

A number of the early exponents were disabled in some way. If you were blind, legless or handicapped you had no way of earning a living. Music gave you an opportunity.

The early exponents were people like Texas Alexander, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton, Kokomo Arnold, Peg Leg Howell, Tommy Johnson and Bo Carter.

Bo Carter specialised in the use of double entendre. White society was very puritanical and a lot of his stuff would have been quite shocking. Charlie Patton was an early Hendrix. He’d play the guitar behind his back, through his legs and back to front. Tommy Johnson had a trick of doing handstands on the guitar while playing. The object of the showmanship was to attract a big audience. They’d vie with each other on street corners.

By the 1930s the style had reached its peak. The great Son House (A leading exponent of the national steel guitar using bottle-neck), who I saw perform in 1968, taught Robert Johnson how to play. Robert, who was poisoned in 1937 at the age of 23, had perfected a style that was intricate, melodic and poetic. His songs went on to form the backbone of everything that followed.

I visited all three of Robert’s graves and paid homage.

I had the privilege of talking to Dave ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards who was with Robert on the night he got poisoned. He told me which of the three was the real one. It is the one at the back of the church.

It makes you wonder what might have been – if Robert had gone on to live and produce music of such quality the world would have been all the richer. It wasn’t to be and all we have left is thirty seven tracks recorded in hotel rooms on portable equipment over three sessions. They are scintillating.

Look what came out of them!