Cover image for Blues traveling : the holy sites of delta blues
Title:
Blues traveling : the holy sites of delta blues
Author:
Cheseborough, Steve.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson, MS : University Press of Mississippi, [2001]

©2001
Physical Description:
xii, 235 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781578062317

9781578062324
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library ML3521 .C53 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

At a crossroads in the Mississippi Delta, Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the Devil so that he could become a guitar virtuoso and King of the Delta Blues.

Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues will tell you where that legendary deal was supposed to have been made and guide you to all the other hallowed grounds that nourished Mississippi's signature music.

Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Memphis Minnie, Jimmie Rodgers, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Howlin' Wolf, B. B. King, Little Milton, Elvis Presley, Bobby Rush, Junior Kimbrough, R. L. Burnside -- the list of great artists with Mississippi connections goes on and on.

A trip through Mississippi blues sites is a pilgrimage every music lover ought to make at least once in a lifetime, to see the juke joints and churches, to visit the birthplaces and graves of blues greats, to walk down the dusty roads and over the levee, to eat some barbecue and greens, to sit on the bank of the Mississippi River, and to,hear some down-home blues music.

Blues Traveling is the first and only guidebook to Mississippi's musical places and blues history. With photographs, maps, easy-to-follow directions, and an informative, entertaining text, this book will lead you in and out of Clarksdale, Greenwood, Helena (Arkansas), Rolling Fork, Jackson, Natchez, Bentonia, Rosedale, Itta Bena, and dozens of other locales that generations of blues musicians have lived in, traveled through, and sung about. Stories, legends, and lyrics are woven into the text so that each backroad and barroom comes alive.

Touring Mississippi with Blues Traveling is like having a knowledgeable and entertaining guide at your side.Even people with no immediate plans to visit Mississippi will enjoy reading the book for its photos, descriptions, and lore that will broaden their understanding and enhance their appreciation of the blues.


Summary

A knowledgable and entertaining guide to Mississippi blues sites ranges from the juke joints and churches and the birthplaces and graves of the blues greats to the dusty roads and banks along the Mississippi River, offering stories, legends, and lyrics. Simultaneous.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

In Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues, Steve Cheseborough prescribes a course for getting one's fill of Mississippi blues. This localized, detailed and lively guidebook to blues music in Mississippi recommends following (by car) "a rough circle beginning and ending in Memphis" for a comprehensive tour, although those with less time can choose from the long list of blues sites. With maps, specific directions and succinct historical tidbits, Cheseborough describes blues venues as well as points of special interest, like the Clarksdale station, where Muddy Waters boarded the train for Chicago along with thousands of other African-Americans in the 1940s. A recommended listening section completes the picture. ( Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Independent scholar and blues musician Cheseborough has compiled a detailed guide to blues music landmarks in Mississippi and Memphis. Providing excellent maps and driving instructions, he begins the trip in Memphis and then directs the reader down the western part of the state to Vicksburg, across to Jackson and Meridian, and then north to Tupelo and Oxford. Along the way, Cheseborough provides details on the towns, homes, and grave-sites of famous blues musicians, buildings where they played, radio stations, sites of music festivals, and current clubs and restaurants that feature the music. Similar to Christine Bird's The Jazz and Blues Lover's Guide to the U.S. (LJ 3/15/91), this guide may also be read as a history of the blues in Mississippi. Essential (at least in paperback) for all libraries in Mississippi and surrounding states and for large public and academic libraries in the rest of the country. John McCormick, New Hampshire State Lib., Concord (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publisher's Weekly Review

In Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues, Steve Cheseborough prescribes a course for getting one's fill of Mississippi blues. This localized, detailed and lively guidebook to blues music in Mississippi recommends following (by car) "a rough circle beginning and ending in Memphis" for a comprehensive tour, although those with less time can choose from the long list of blues sites. With maps, specific directions and succinct historical tidbits, Cheseborough describes blues venues as well as points of special interest, like the Clarksdale station, where Muddy Waters boarded the train for Chicago along with thousands of other African-Americans in the 1940s. A recommended listening section completes the picture. ( Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Independent scholar and blues musician Cheseborough has compiled a detailed guide to blues music landmarks in Mississippi and Memphis. Providing excellent maps and driving instructions, he begins the trip in Memphis and then directs the reader down the western part of the state to Vicksburg, across to Jackson and Meridian, and then north to Tupelo and Oxford. Along the way, Cheseborough provides details on the towns, homes, and grave-sites of famous blues musicians, buildings where they played, radio stations, sites of music festivals, and current clubs and restaurants that feature the music. Similar to Christine Bird's The Jazz and Blues Lover's Guide to the U.S. (LJ 3/15/91), this guide may also be read as a history of the blues in Mississippi. Essential (at least in paperback) for all libraries in Mississippi and surrounding states and for large public and academic libraries in the rest of the country. John McCormick, New Hampshire State Lib., Concord (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One LOOKING FOR THE BLUES Blues Traveling through History     Perhaps the first "blues traveler" in Mississippi was the Harvard archaeologist Charles Peabody, who dug up an Indian mound near Clarksdale in 1901-1902. He looked up from the ground and took careful note of the local black workers' songs.     As Peabody reported in an article he wrote for a folklore journal, the workers sang almost constantly during the day and as they relaxed in the evening. They sang hymns, ragtime pieces, and (what most interested Peabody) "improvisations in rhythm more or less phrased, sung to an intoning more or less approaching melody." The lyrics of those songs were "'hard luck' tales (very often), love themes, suggestions anticipative and reminiscent of favorite occupations and amusements" If that wasn't the blues, it certainly was close. Among the verses he recorded in his notes are some that have become familiar blues lines: They had me arrested for murder And I never harmed a man The reason I loves my baby so `Cause when she gets five dollars she give me fo'. Some have not entered the blues lexicon: Old Dan Tucker he got drunk, Fell in de fire and kicked up a chunk Oh we'll live on pork and kisses If you'll only be my missus.     According to Peabody's description, the guitar accompaniment also sounded like the blues--"mostly `ragtime' with the instrument seldom venturing beyond the inversions of the three chords of a few major and minor keys."     In 1903, W. C. Handy, an Alabama-born, African American band musician who had been touring the country for years, settled in Clarksdale to lead an orchestra of black musicians. Handy's first exposure to the blues happened soon after that, while he was waiting for a long-overdue train in the Tutwiler depot:     A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly.     Goin' where the Southern cross' the Dog .     The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard. The tune stayed in my mind.     It certainly did. A few years later, Handy would publish "The Yellow Dog Rag" (which he would rename "The Yellow Dog Blues"), incorporating that line. And he would become known as the Father of the Blues for pieces like that one and "The St. Louis Blues" and "The Memphis Blues"--songs written in standard notation, arranged for bands, and published nationally as sheet music, based on what Handy heard from anonymous guitar-plunking Mississippians like the man in the train station.     Handy's compositions spurred the first blues craze. The word "blues" became nationally known and identified with the twelve-bar, AAB (sing line, repeat line, answer with rhyming line) format--a format that does not apply, by the way, to much of the very real blues of Charley Patton, Skip James, Fred McDowell, R. L. Burnside, and dozens of other genuine down-home blues artists, past and present. But even today, if you ask a rock, pop, or jazz musician to play the blues, that standardized format is what you will get.     The next blues craze began in 1920, when bandleader-composer Perry Bradford persuaded the Okeh record company in New York to make the first recording of a black blues singer. That first recorded singer was not a scraggly, self-taught, guitar-toting southern man of the sort Handy had heard in Tutwiler, though. It was Mamie Smith, a well-dressed woman with a professionally trained voice, singing before a full orchestra. Smith's voice is smooth, lacking what we now consider bluesy effects. Still, blacks who were hearing such a sound on records for the first time were thrilled. It was a huge hit. Smith's recording would be followed by those of other sophisticated blueswomen, or "Classic blues" singers, as they are known, eventually including the great, rougher-voiced Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.     It wasn't until the mid-twenties that the companies would record the kind of person Handy had seen in Tutwiler and whom we still consider the quintessential blues singer: a self-accompanied male singer. Among the earliest were the banjo-playing (and not scruffy at all) Papa Charlie Jackson of New Orleans, the southeastern guitar virtuoso Blind Blake, and the most popular and influential of them all, the Dallas street singer Blind Lemon Jefferson. Jefferson traveled widely, recorded prolifically, and became the first superstar of the country blues. He showed record companies that there was lots of money to be made in recording male, rural, southern, self-accompanied blues singer-guitarists. So the companies combed the South, auditioning everyone of that description they could find and giving the promising ones tickets to recording studios in the North. Soon they hastened the process by sending the recording equipment south and setting up temporary studios in hotel rooms.    They found the richest mine of bluesmen--and a few blueswomen--in or near the flat, fertile cotton lands of the Mississippi Delta: Charley Patton, Son House, Willie Brown, Louise Johnson, Skip James, Tommy Johnson, George "Bullet" Williams, Rubin Lacy, Memphis Minnie, Kansas Joe McCoy, the Mississippi Sheiks, Kid Bailey, Bukka White, Robert Johnson, Mattie Delaney, Geechie Wiley, Ishmon Bracey, Mississippi John Hurt, William Harris, Eugene "Sonny Boy Nelson" Powell, and many others. These musicians went to Memphis or all the way up to Chicago or Grafton, Wisconsin, to sing and play for a few bucks and the chance to become immortal. As producer Frank Walker said of those sessions: "You might come out with two selections or you might come out with six or eight, but you did it at that time. You said goodbye. They went back home. They had made a phonograph record, and that was the next thing to being president of the United States in their mind."     Commercial country-blues field recording peaked in the late 1920s. By the thirties the record companies, hurt by the Depression, were releasing records only by proven artists, most of whom were southerners transplanted to Chicago, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie, and Tampa Red. But down in Mississippi, people continued to play the down-home blues in jook joints and on street corners, even if they weren't making it onto record as often.     The blues just might have been born in Mississippi. On the other hand, it might not have. The first blues may have been played somewhere else in the rural South. There are early reports of blues in east Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, and even Missouri.     What is clear is that the blues, since its beginnings, has always found a home here. Mississippians have always made up a large proportion of all blues singers and an overwhelming proportion of the finest blues singers. That includes the whole Chicago blues scene from the 1930s to the present--nearly all its stars have been Mississippi-born. And that is true of both the prewar acoustic period and the later electric period, when Mississippians like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, B. B. King, and Little Milton set the standard.     Mississippi was more rural and agricultural, with a greater concentration of cotton planting, than other states. And it had a large, poor, strictly segregated black population, which was overwhelmingly rural and working in agriculture. In other words, Mississippi has long been more southern than the rest of the South, and that goes double for the Mississippi Delta, which has been dubbed "the most southern place on earth" So the conditions that fostered the blues throughout the South were intensified in Mississippi, especially in the Delta.     When people speak of the delta of a river, they usually mean the area where it washes into the sea or a lake. But the Mississippi Delta is hundreds of miles upstream, in northwest Mississippi (it has a mirror image in northeast Arkansas, but "the Delta" usually refers just to the Mississippi side, and that's how we'll use it here). It's a flat, leaf-shaped expanse of seven thousand square miles, with the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers on its curved sides and Memphis and Vicksburg at its tips.     Thousands of years of Mississippi River floods left the Delta with a thick, dark layer of fertile topsoil. In its natural state, the Delta was a jungly place full of swamps, large trees, vines, and animals. Nineteenth-century settlers quickly perceived its economic value, however. The area was cleared, and it became first a huge lumber camp and then a huge cotton plantation. Both the lumber and the cotton operations were labor intensive, as was the building of levees to protect the settlers and their farms from the regular, gargantuan floods. So tens of thousands of blacks were brought in to work the Delta--first as slaves and later as levee gangs, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, or transient day laborers from the hill country.     Today, the Delta is a sparsely populated, generally quiet place. But back in the twenties and thirties, before the mechanization of agriculture, its fields and now-sleepy towns were alive with people. The crowds and the money attracted musicians (many Delta blues artists were actually born in the hills) who interacted, competed, and innovated. As ethnomusicologist David Evans has explained, the Delta, despite its rural nature, functioned like an urban area, pulling in people from widespread places with diverse musical traditions. In this environment, the famed Delta blues developed.     Outside the Delta, Mississippians also played the blues. The North Mississippi hill country is home to a droning, hypnotic variety of blues exemplified by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, and R. L. Burnside, among others, as well as to related traditions including African American fife-and-drum bands. The state capital, Jackson, has long been an important recording center, with plenty of live music as well. There and in nearby towns, Bo Carter, the Mississippi Sheiks, and others practiced their smoother blues styles. Bentonia is the birthplace of Skip James and Jack Owens, two artists with styles so similar to each other's yet distinctive from anyone else's that some scholars consider the town a unique blues "school." Jimmie Rodgers, the white singing brakeman whose yodeling versions of black blues songs were the start of country music, came from Meridian, in east-central Mississippi. And Memphis, Tennessee, has always attracted Mississippians, among them musicians who played on Beale Street and heavily influenced that city's sounds.     Mississippi blues reemerged as a national phenomenon in the 1940s, after the young Mississippian Muddy Waters caught the train north, bringing his slide-guitar-driven music style with him. His collaborators and competitors who also made the trip included fellow Mississippians Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Rogers, Big Walter Horton, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, and Otis Spann.     The image of Muddy Waters leaving Mississippi and taking the blues with him is a powerful one, but it is not quite true. For one thing, when he arrived in Chicago, the blues was already there--although he did usher in a harder, electric version of it. And, for another thing, Mississippians didn't stop singing the blues after Muddy left.     Popular attention focused again on Mississippi blues--not just on its Chicago outpost--in the folk and blues revival of the 1960s. Young white northerners went south to scout out the old blues records of the twenties and thirties and, in some cases, the old people who had made them. Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt were among those found alive and well enough to enjoy new performing and recording careers late in life.     That blues boom faded out soon enough. But there would be yet another in the nineties, kicked off by the rerelease of Robert Johnson's complete output as a double-CD box set that turned out to be a smash hit. That set was the first, and is still the only, million-seller by an original country-blues artist. A few years later, the Robert Mugge film Deep Blues showed that there still were down-home Mississippi blues artists in real life, not just on old records. Other fairly recent developments include Living Blues magazine moving its offices from Chicago to Oxford; Rooster Blues and Fat Possum record companies opening in Clarksdale and Oxford, respectively, to record a new generation of the state's bluesmen; several major Mississippi blues festivals beginning or picking up steam; and blues museums opening in Clarksdale and Robinsonville. Finally, Mississippi blues was enjoying a renaissance that extended even into Mississippi.     But that doesn't mean the Mississippi blues is the same as it was in 1929--or 1969. For one thing, you just don't hear much of the complex, solo, acoustic-guitar style that characterized Mississippi blues of the prewar period, except maybe in the hands of a young revivalist in Memphis or Oxford. But then you might hear such a revivalist in Seattle or New York, too. Don't expect to hear a Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, or Memphis Minnie playing on a corner or in a jook joint in Mississippi.     Yes, blues in Mississippi, as elsewhere, generally means electric blues. But even electric blues, sadly, is not easy to find. The best way to get your fill of live music is to schedule your visit around a blues festival. Besides the music at the festival, many local clubs, which otherwise use jukeboxes or deejays, will schedule live performances. When it's not festival time, look for live blues at clubs in the bigger towns and at concerts. Many of the old country jooks have closed or converted to recorded music only.     The physical remains of the old-time blues, such as ever existed at all, also are precarious things. Blues singers were mostly rambling sorts who didn't leave behind much in the way of estates, memoirs, letters, or other personal papers or belongings. They left their music, fortunately, and some sketchy details of the particulars of their lives. So you might not find the house where your favorite blues artist grew up or the joint where he first played your favorite song.     On the other hand, looking at things in a different way, there is much to see. The blues world hasn't changed as rapidly as the rest of the country--in fact, in many ways it hasn't changed a whole lot in the hundred years since the blues began. There are still cottonfields, shacks, and barbecue spots. There are courthouses and jails where defendants--many of them poor and black--receive some kind of justice. There are the roads, narrow, twisting, dark, and poorly marked, leading through fields, woods, and more fields, past cotton gins and over creeks. There are trains. And there is always the river--the Big River, the continent's Main Drain, with its boats, birds, fish, fishermen, levees, and bridges, its precious silt, its threat of flood.     There are old storefronts and depots, in front of which the crowds gathered on Saturday afternoons to listen to Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, or another of the hundreds of blues singers, most of them unrecorded and now unknown, who sang their hearts out as they passed through. And there are places where people still laugh, dance, drink, and listen to the blues.     This book will help you find what is left in the Mississippi blues world. And it will help you remember and visualize what is gone and to pick up clues from the songs, the landscape, and literature. Let's go. Planning Your Blues Tour     Unfortunately, the days of local train service to little Mississippi towns are long past. You will need an automobile to get to most of the places in this book.     Chapters 2 through 10 form a rough circle beginning and ending in Memphis. So if you want to see it all, just follow the chapters in numerical order (or reverse numerical order).     If you are flying in from out of state to see Mississippi blues sites, you probably will arrive in Memphis, where you can rent a car and begin the tour. Note that Memphis-- not New Orleans--is the most convenient major city from which to begin a Mississippi blues tour. The Mississippi Delta and most other areas of interest to blues lovers are in the northern half of Mississippi.     But if you happen to be in New Orleans and want to tour Mississippi blues sites, that's okay, too. Just be sure to figure in the extra driving time of about three hours from New Orleans to Jackson, where you would begin this tour (or you could take the train to Jackson and rent a car there). Start with chapter 8 and then follow the circle in either direction, looping from 10 back to 2 or vice versa. Other starting points work just as well. Jackson has an international airport, and there are regional airports in Tupelo, Greenville, and Meridian.     Of course, you don't have to do the whole tour. The places described in this book are close enough to one another that you can get from any spot to any other in four hours or less (in many cases, much less). So you might want to read through the book before starting your trip, and draw your own route. Whatever you choose--take your time, keep your patience and sense of humor handy, and have fun! Trains     There is still one passenger line that might be of interest to blues travelers: Amtrak's City of New Orleans. It runs daily from New Orleans, with stops in Hammond, Louisiana, McComb, Brookhaven, Hazlehurst, Jackson, Yazoo City, and Greenwood in Mississippi, and then Memphis. It continues north to Chicago. Call Amtrak (800-USA-RAIL) for schedules, reservations, and more information.     Sonny Boy Williamson II and Willie Love rode the line from Jackson to New Orleans in April 1953, on their way to Houston for a recording session. On the train, the bluesmen danced, sang, and told jokes to the other passengers. When they got to Houston, one of the songs they recorded was Sonny Boy's "City of New Orleans" (different from the 1970s pop tune by Steve Goodman): I heard the City of New Orleans gonna run today I got to find my baby before she get too far away.     Bukka White's 1940 "Special Streamline" also celebrates this train line, re-creating the sounds and feelings of riding it out of Memphis, headed for New Orleans.     Amtrak gives passengers a good dose of New Orleans culture on the trip, with a jazz band playing in the lounge car and Cajun-inspired cooking in the dining car. The company has not yet offered live blues (or barbecue and moonshine) while the train passes through Mississippi, however.     Amtrak also plans to take over the Kansas City Southern as a passenger line. That train runs between Shreveport, Louisiana, and Meridian, Mississippi. Guidelines for Good Times     Traveling the back roads of Mississippi, you might sometimes feel you've wandered into a foreign country or a different era. Here are some guidelines to help you get along and stay out of trouble. Feeling the Rhythm     If Mr. Turner doesn't feel like playing right now, or if the goat is sold out, or the deejay won't play the kind of music you were expecting--relax or come back tomorrow or next year. And if you want to shoot pictures or video, ask permission and don't block others' views or dance-floor space.     This may be your dream vacation--perhaps you have planned and saved for years, and traveled many miles. But to the local people next to you, it may be a hard-earned night of fun before they head back to work in the morning. So don't expect them to defer to you or entertain you or pose for your picture.     Don't show up with the insulting attitude that this food and drink may be good enough for the locals, but not for you. Even if you eat steamed grains and organic vegetables at home, consider trying the barbecue if that's what's served--or at least don't turn your nose up at it. And even if you drink microbrews back home, have a regular old American mainstream beer. And enjoy it. You can resume your diet and your highfalutin tastes after your visit. (Continues...) Excerpted from BLUES TRAVELING by Steve Cheseborough. Copyright © 2001 by Steve Cheseborough. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Chapter One LOOKING FOR THE BLUES Blues Traveling through History     Perhaps the first "blues traveler" in Mississippi was the Harvard archaeologist Charles Peabody, who dug up an Indian mound near Clarksdale in 1901-1902. He looked up from the ground and took careful note of the local black workers' songs.     As Peabody reported in an article he wrote for a folklore journal, the workers sang almost constantly during the day and as they relaxed in the evening. They sang hymns, ragtime pieces, and (what most interested Peabody) "improvisations in rhythm more or less phrased, sung to an intoning more or less approaching melody." The lyrics of those songs were "'hard luck' tales (very often), love themes, suggestions anticipative and reminiscent of favorite occupations and amusements" If that wasn't the blues, it certainly was close. Among the verses he recorded in his notes are some that have become familiar blues lines: They had me arrested for murder And I never harmed a man The reason I loves my baby so `Cause when she gets five dollars she give me fo'. Some have not entered the blues lexicon: Old Dan Tucker he got drunk, Fell in de fire and kicked up a chunk Oh we'll live on pork and kisses If you'll only be my missus.     According to Peabody's description, the guitar accompaniment also sounded like the blues--"mostly `ragtime' with the instrument seldom venturing beyond the inversions of the three chords of a few major and minor keys."     In 1903, W. C. Handy, an Alabama-born, African American band musician who had been touring the country for years, settled in Clarksdale to lead an orchestra of black musicians. Handy's first exposure to the blues happened soon after that, while he was waiting for a long-overdue train in the Tutwiler depot:     A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly.     Goin' where the Southern cross' the Dog .     The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard. The tune stayed in my mind.     It certainly did. A few years later, Handy would publish "The Yellow Dog Rag" (which he would rename "The Yellow Dog Blues"), incorporating that line. And he would become known as the Father of the Blues for pieces like that one and "The St. Louis Blues" and "The Memphis Blues"--songs written in standard notation, arranged for bands, and published nationally as sheet music, based on what Handy heard from anonymous guitar-plunking Mississippians like the man in the train station.     Handy's compositions spurred the first blues craze. The word "blues" became nationally known and identified with the twelve-bar, AAB (sing line, repeat line, answer with rhyming line) format--a format that does not apply, by the way, to much of the very real blues of Charley Patton, Skip James, Fred McDowell, R. L. Burnside, and dozens of other genuine down-home blues artists, past and present. But even today, if you ask a rock, pop, or jazz musician to play the blues, that standardized format is what you will get.     The next blues craze began in 1920, when bandleader-composer Perry Bradford persuaded the Okeh record company in New York to make the first recording of a black blues singer. That first recorded singer was not a scraggly, self-taught, guitar-toting southern man of the sort Handy had heard in Tutwiler, though. It was Mamie Smith, a well-dressed woman with a professionally trained voice, singing before a full orchestra. Smith's voice is smooth, lacking what we now consider bluesy effects. Still, blacks who were hearing such a sound on records for the first time were thrilled. It was a huge hit. Smith's recording would be followed by those of other sophisticated blueswomen, or "Classic blues" singers, as they are known, eventually including the great, rougher-voiced Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.     It wasn't until the mid-twenties that the companies would record the kind of person Handy had seen in Tutwiler and whom we still consider the quintessential blues singer: a self-accompanied male singer. Among the earliest were the banjo-playing (and not scruffy at all) Papa Charlie Jackson of New Orleans, the southeastern guitar virtuoso Blind Blake, and the most popular and influential of them all, the Dallas street singer Blind Lemon Jefferson. Jefferson traveled widely, recorded prolifically, and became the first superstar of the country blues. He showed record companies that there was lots of money to be made in recording male, rural, southern, self-accompanied blues singer-guitarists. So the companies combed the South, auditioning everyone of that description they could find and giving the promising ones tickets to recording studios in the North. Soon they hastened the process by sending the recording equipment south and setting up temporary studios in hotel rooms.    They found the richest mine of bluesmen--and a few blueswomen--in or near the flat, fertile cotton lands of the Mississippi Delta: Charley Patton, Son House, Willie Brown, Louise Johnson, Skip James, Tommy Johnson, George "Bullet" Williams, Rubin Lacy, Memphis Minnie, Kansas Joe McCoy, the Mississippi Sheiks, Kid Bailey, Bukka White, Robert Johnson, Mattie Delaney, Geechie Wiley, Ishmon Bracey, Mississippi John Hurt, William Harris, Eugene "Sonny Boy Nelson" Powell, and many others. These musicians went to Memphis or all the way up to Chicago or Grafton, Wisconsin, to sing and play for a few bucks and the chance to become immortal. As producer Frank Walker said of those sessions: "You might come out with two selections or you might come out with six or eight, but you did it at that time. You said goodbye. They went back home. They had made a phonograph record, and that was the next thing to being president of the United States in their mind."     Commercial country-blues field recording peaked in the late 1920s. By the thirties the record companies, hurt by the Depression, were releasing records only by proven artists, most of whom were southerners transplanted to Chicago, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie, and Tampa Red. But down in Mississippi, people continued to play the down-home blues in jook joints and on street corners, even if they weren't making it onto record as often.     The blues just might have been born in Mississippi. On the other hand, it might not have. The first blues may have been played somewhere else in the rural South. There are early reports of blues in east Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, and even Missouri.     What is clear is that the blues, since its beginnings, has always found a home here. Mississippians have always made up a large proportion of all blues singers and an overwhelming proportion of the finest blues singers. That includes the whole Chicago blues scene from the 1930s to the present--nearly all its stars have been Mississippi-born. And that is true of both the prewar acoustic period and the later electric period, when Mississippians like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, B. B. King, and Little Milton set the standard.     Mississippi was more rural and agricultural, with a greater concentration of cotton planting, than other states. And it had a large, poor, strictly segregated black population, which was overwhelmingly rural and working in agriculture. In other words, Mississippi has long been more southern than the rest of the South, and that goes double for the Mississippi Delta, which has been dubbed "the most southern place on earth" So the conditions that fostered the blues throughout the South were intensified in Mississippi, especially in the Delta.     When people speak of the delta of a river, they usually mean the area where it washes into the sea or a lake. But the Mississippi Delta is hundreds of miles upstream, in northwest Mississippi (it has a mirror image in northeast Arkansas, but "the Delta" usually refers just to the Mississippi side, and that's how we'll use it here). It's a flat, leaf-shaped expanse of seven thousand square miles, with the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers on its curved sides and Memphis and Vicksburg at its tips.     Thousands of years of Mississippi River floods left the Delta with a thick, dark layer of fertile topsoil. In its natural state, the Delta was a jungly place full of swamps, large trees, vines, and animals. Nineteenth-century settlers quickly perceived its economic value, however. The area was cleared, and it became first a huge lumber camp and then a huge cotton plantation. Both the lumber and the cotton operations were labor intensive, as was the building of levees to protect the settlers and their farms from the regular, gargantuan floods. So tens of thousands of blacks were brought in to work the Delta--first as slaves and later as levee gangs, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, or transient day laborers from the hill country.     Today, the Delta is a sparsely populated, generally quiet place. But back in the twenties and thirties, before the mechanization of agriculture, its fields and now-sleepy towns were alive with people. The crowds and the money attracted musicians (many Delta blues artists were actually born in the hills) who interacted, competed, and innovated. As ethnomusicologist David Evans has explained, the Delta, despite its rural nature, functioned like an urban area, pulling in people from widespread places with diverse musical traditions. In this environment, the famed Delta blues developed.     Outside the Delta, Mississippians also played the blues. The North Mississippi hill country is home to a droning, hypnotic variety of blues exemplified by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, and R. L. Burnside, among others, as well as to related traditions including African American fife-and-drum bands. The state capital, Jackson, has long been an important recording center, with plenty of live music as well. There and in nearby towns, Bo Carter, the Mississippi Sheiks, and others practiced their smoother blues styles. Bentonia is the birthplace of Skip James and Jack Owens, two artists with styles so similar to each other's yet distinctive from anyone else's that some scholars consider the town a unique blues "school." Jimmie Rodgers, the white singing brakeman whose yodeling versions of black blues songs were the start of country music, came from Meridian, in east-central Mississippi. And Memphis, Tennessee, has always attracted Mississippians, among them musicians who played on Beale Street and heavily influenced that city's sounds.     Mississippi blues reemerged as a national phenomenon in the 1940s, after the young Mississippian Muddy Waters caught the train north, bringing his slide-guitar-driven music style with him. His collaborators and competitors who also made the trip included fellow Mississippians Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Rogers, Big Walter Horton, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, and Otis Spann.     The image of Muddy Waters leaving Mississippi and taking the blues with him is a powerful one, but it is not quite true. For one thing, when he arrived in Chicago, the blues was already there--although he did usher in a harder, electric version of it. And, for another thing, Mississippians didn't stop singing the blues after Muddy left.     Popular attention focused again on Mississippi blues--not just on its Chicago outpost--in the folk and blues revival of the 1960s. Young white northerners went south to scout out the old blues records of the twenties and thirties and, in some cases, the old people who had made them. Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt were among those found alive and well enough to enjoy new performing and recording careers late in life.     That blues boom faded out soon enough. But there would be yet another in the nineties, kicked off by the rerelease of Robert Johnson's complete output as a double-CD box set that turned out to be a smash hit. That set was the first, and is still the only, million-seller by an original country-blues artist. A few years later, the Robert Mugge film Deep Blues showed that there still were down-home Mississippi blues artists in real life, not just on old records. Other fairly recent developments include Living Blues magazine moving its offices from Chicago to Oxford; Rooster Blues and Fat Possum record companies opening in Clarksdale and Oxford, respectively, to record a new generation of the state's bluesmen; several major Mississippi blues festivals beginning or picking up steam; and blues museums opening in Clarksdale and Robinsonville. Finally, Mississippi blues was enjoying a renaissance that extended even into Mississippi.     But that doesn't mean the Mississippi blues is the same as it was in 1929--or 1969. For one thing, you just don't hear much of the complex, solo, acoustic-guitar style that characterized Mississippi blues of the prewar period, except maybe in the hands of a young revivalist in Memphis or Oxford. But then you might hear such a revivalist in Seattle or New York, too. Don't expect to hear a Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, or Memphis Minnie playing on a corner or in a jook joint in Mississippi.     Yes, blues in Mississippi, as elsewhere, generally means electric blues. But even electric blues, sadly, is not easy to find. The best way to get your fill of live music is to schedule your visit around a blues festival. Besides the music at the festival, many local clubs, which otherwise use jukeboxes or deejays, will schedule live performances. When it's not festival time, look for live blues at clubs in the bigger towns and at concerts. Many of the old country jooks have closed or converted to recorded music only.     The physical remains of the old-time blues, such as ever existed at all, also are precarious things. Blues singers were mostly rambling sorts who didn't leave behind much in the way of estates, memoirs, letters, or other personal papers or belongings. They left their music, fortunately, and some sketchy details of the particulars of their lives. So you might not find the house where your favorite blues artist grew up or the joint where he first played your favorite song.     On the other hand, looking at things in a different way, there is much to see. The blues world hasn't changed as rapidly as the rest of the country--in fact, in many ways it hasn't changed a whole lot in the hundred years since the blues began. There are still cottonfields, shacks, and barbecue spots. There are courthouses and jails where defendants--many of them poor and black--receive some kind of justice. There are the roads, narrow, twisting, dark, and poorly marked, leading through fields, woods, and more fields, past cotton gins and over creeks. There are trains. And there is always the river--the Big River, the continent's Main Drain, with its boats, birds, fish, fishermen, levees, and bridges, its precious silt, its threat of flood.     There are old storefronts and depots, in front of which the crowds gathered on Saturday afternoons to listen to Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, or another of the hundreds of blues singers, most of them unrecorded and now unknown, who sang their hearts out as they passed through. And there are places where people still laugh, dance, drink, and listen to the blues.     This book will help you find what is left in the Mississippi blues world. And it will help you remember and visualize what is gone and to pick up clues from the songs, the landscape, and literature. Let's go. Planning Your Blues Tour     Unfortunately, the days of local train service to little Mississippi towns are long past. You will need an automobile to get to most of the places in this book.     Chapters 2 through 10 form a rough circle beginning and ending in Memphis. So if you want to see it all, just follow the chapters in numerical order (or reverse numerical order).     If you are flying in from out of state to see Mississippi blues sites, you probably will arrive in Memphis, where you can rent a car and begin the tour. Note that Memphis-- not New Orleans--is the most convenient major city from which to begin a Mississippi blues tour. The Mississippi Delta and most other areas of interest to blues lovers are in the northern half of Mississippi.     But if you happen to be in New Orleans and want to tour Mississippi blues sites, that's okay, too. Just be sure to figure in the extra driving time of about three hours from New Orleans to Jackson, where you would begin this tour (or you could take the train to Jackson and rent a car there). Start with chapter 8 and then follow the circle in either direction, looping from 10 back to 2 or vice versa. Other starting points work just as well. Jackson has an international airport, and there are regional airports in Tupelo, Greenville, and Meridian.     Of course, you don't have to do the whole tour. The places described in this book are close enough to one another that you can get from any spot to any other in four hours or less (in many cases, much less). So you might want to read through the book before starting your trip, and draw your own route. Whatever you choose--take your time, keep your patience and sense of humor handy, and have fun! Trains     There is still one passenger line that might be of interest to blues travelers: Amtrak's City of New Orleans. It runs daily from New Orleans, with stops in Hammond, Louisiana, McComb, Brookhaven, Hazlehurst, Jackson, Yazoo City, and Greenwood in Mississippi, and then Memphis. It continues north to Chicago. Call Amtrak (800-USA-RAIL) for schedules, reservations, and more information.     Sonny Boy Williamson II and Willie Love rode the line from Jackson to New Orleans in April 1953, on their way to Houston for a recording session. On the train, the bluesmen danced, sang, and told jokes to the other passengers. When they got to Houston, one of the songs they recorded was Sonny Boy's "City of New Orleans" (different from the 1970s pop tune by Steve Goodman): I heard the City of New Orleans gonna run today I got to find my baby before she get too far away.     Bukka White's 1940 "Special Streamline" also celebrates this train line, re-creating the sounds and feelings of riding it out of Memphis, headed for New Orleans.     Amtrak gives passengers a good dose of New Orleans culture on the trip, with a jazz band playing in the lounge car and Cajun-inspired cooking in the dining car. The company has not yet offered live blues (or barbecue and moonshine) while the train passes through Mississippi, however.     Amtrak also plans to take over the Kansas City Southern as a passenger line. That train runs between Shreveport, Louisiana, and Meridian, Mississippi. Guidelines for Good Times     Traveling the back roads of Mississippi, you might sometimes feel you've wandered into a foreign country or a different era. Here are some guidelines to help you get along and stay out of trouble. Feeling the Rhythm     If Mr. Turner doesn't feel like playing right now, or if the goat is sold out, or the deejay won't play the kind of music you were expecting--relax or come back tomorrow or next year. And if you want to shoot pictures or video, ask permission and don't block others' views or dance-floor space.     This may be your dream vacation--perhaps you have planned and saved for years, and traveled many miles. But to the local people next to you, it may be a hard-earned night of fun before they head back to work in the morning. So don't expect them to defer to you or entertain you or pose for your picture.     Don't show up with the insulting attitude that this food and drink may be good enough for the locals, but not for you. Even if you eat steamed grains and organic vegetables at home, consider trying the barbecue if that's what's served--or at least don't turn your nose up at it. And even if you drink microbrews back home, have a regular old American mainstream beer. And enjoy it. You can resume your diet and your highfalutin tastes after your visit. (Continues...) Excerpted from BLUES TRAVELING by Steve Cheseborough. Copyright © 2001 by Steve Cheseborough. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Chapter 1 Looking for the Bluesp. 3
Blues Traveling through Historyp. 3
Planning Your Blues Tourp. 10
Guidelines for Good Timesp. 11
Chapter 2 Memphisp. 21
Beale Streetp. 21
Away from Beale Streetp. 34
Chapter 3 Down Highway 61p. 47
Highway 61p. 47
Wallsp. 48
Robinsonvillep. 50
Tunicap. 54
Lulap. 55
Helena, Ark.p. 55
Chapter 4 The Clarksdale Areap. 67
Clarksdalep. 67
Stovallp. 84
Farrellp. 86
Lambertp. 87
Chapter 5 The Mid-Deltap. 89
Tutwilerp. 89
Parchmanp. 92
Shelbyp. 96
Mound Bayoup. 98
Merigoldp. 99
Clevelandp. 101
Rosedalep. 104
Beulahp. 105
Dockeryp. 106
Drewp. 109
Rulevillep. 110
Glendorap. 111
Chapter 6 The Greenwood Areap. 113
Greenwoodp. 113
North of Greenwoodp. 116
Avalonp. 116
Itta Benap. 118
Blue Lakep. 119
Quitop. 120
Morgan Cityp. 122
Moorheadp. 124
Chapter 7 Greenville to Vicksburgp. 127
Greenvillep. 127
Metcalfep. 137
Lelandp. 138
Bourbonp. 141
Holly Ridgep. 141
Indianolap. 143
Belzonip. 145
Hollandalep. 147
Murphyp. 149
Panther Burnp. 150
Rolling Forkp. 150
Vicksburgp. 150
Chapter 8 The Jackson Areap. 153
Jacksonp. 153
Vaughanp. 169
Ebenezerp. 170
Bentoniap. 172
Yazoo Cityp. 174
Crystal Springsp. 174
Hazlehurstp. 174
Port Gibsonp. 176
Natchezp. 176
Church Hillp. 179
Chapter 9 East Mississippip. 181
Meridianp. 181
Crawfordp. 184
West Pointp. 186
Whites (White Station)p. 188
Aberdeenp. 189
Tupelop. 189
Chapter 10 North Mississippi Hill Countryp. 195
Oxfordp. 196
Water Valleyp. 200
Holly Springsp. 200
Chulahomap. 205
Hudsonvillep. 206
Comop. 207
Gravel Springsp. 210
Sardisp. 211
Hernando-Nesbitp. 212
Recommended Readingp. 215
Recommended Listeningp. 217
Indexp. 223
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Chapter 1 Looking for the Bluesp. 3
Blues Traveling through Historyp. 3
Planning Your Blues Tourp. 10
Guidelines for Good Timesp. 11
Chapter 2 Memphisp. 21
Beale Streetp. 21
Away from Beale Streetp. 34
Chapter 3 Down Highway 61p. 47
Highway 61p. 47
Wallsp. 48
Robinsonvillep. 50
Tunicap. 54
Lulap. 55
Helena, Ark.p. 55
Chapter 4 The Clarksdale Areap. 67
Clarksdalep. 67
Stovallp. 84
Farrellp. 86
Lambertp. 87
Chapter 5 The Mid-Deltap. 89
Tutwilerp. 89
Parchmanp. 92
Shelbyp. 96
Mound Bayoup. 98
Merigoldp. 99
Clevelandp. 101
Rosedalep. 104
Beulahp. 105
Dockeryp. 106
Drewp. 109
Rulevillep. 110
Glendorap. 111
Chapter 6 The Greenwood Areap. 113
Greenwoodp. 113
North of Greenwoodp. 116
Avalonp. 116
Itta Benap. 118
Blue Lakep. 119
Quitop. 120
Morgan Cityp. 122
Moorheadp. 124
Chapter 7 Greenville to Vicksburgp. 127
Greenvillep. 127
Metcalfep. 137
Lelandp. 138
Bourbonp. 141
Holly Ridgep. 141
Indianolap. 143
Belzonip. 145
Hollandalep. 147
Murphyp. 149
Panther Burnp. 150
Rolling Forkp. 150
Vicksburgp. 150
Chapter 8 The Jackson Areap. 153
Jacksonp. 153
Vaughanp. 169
Ebenezerp. 170
Bentoniap. 172
Yazoo Cityp. 174
Crystal Springsp. 174
Hazlehurstp. 174
Port Gibsonp. 176
Natchezp. 176
Church Hillp. 179
Chapter 9 East Mississippip. 181
Meridianp. 181
Crawfordp. 184
West Pointp. 186
Whites (White Station)p. 188
Aberdeenp. 189
Tupelop. 189
Chapter 10 North Mississippi Hill Countryp. 195
Oxfordp. 196
Water Valleyp. 200
Holly Springsp. 200
Chulahomap. 205
Hudsonvillep. 206
Comop. 207
Gravel Springsp. 210
Sardisp. 211
Hernando-Nesbitp. 212
Recommended Readingp. 215
Recommended Listeningp. 217
Indexp. 223

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