After spending some time in New Orleans, we kind of needed to prolong the music experience of the deep south. I don’t exactly know where the original blues road starts, but for us the start was Indianola (about 280 miles north of New Orleans). That B. B. King museum was a treat and basically the only thing we went to see in this tiny little town. He died just about 2 months prior to our visit. The museum has a statue of a guitar at the entrance that looks totally cool. Before entering an older woman approached us and asked if we could take a photo of her by the guitar – she said she used to be his (B. B.’s) girlfriend. Now how about that!
The museum told B. B.’s story from a poor black boy (parents working on a cotton plantation) to his huge success as a musician. There was an auditorium in the museum, where you could watch a short documentary about his life and at the end of the film, there’s a short clip from a live concert somewhere – gave me the chills (and I didn’t even like blues all that much.) Obviously changed my mind. Blues is the type of music that should (more than any other genre) be felt not just heard.
A few (about 30) miles to the east, you can visit a grave of another great delta blues artist Robert Johnson. He was a big womanizer and drank a lot, which (both) eventually got him to this graveyard. Allegedly a bar owner poisoned his whiskey, because he showed too much interest in his wife. Blues fans from all around try to console his restless soul by bringing whiskey to his grave. Yes, full bottles, just left there to evaporate (possibly in the direction of the cloud he is now riding).
Blues road is full of these little monuments that only true blues fans will really appreciate. But still.. I wasn’t a big fan at that time and the “pilgrimage” to these sites was just as interesting to me than my husband (a big blues fan always and forever). In between these sites is a whole lot of nothing. Miles and miles of cotton or corn fields and always some terrifying weather ahead. Most of the time it looked like a tornado is going to form right in our direction (and possibly chase us around a bit just for it’s own amusement). Thankfully that didn’t happen.
Another 30 miles back to the west (I guess we were zig-zagging a bit) is another blues monument and this one is not to be missed. The Dockery farms is an empty old cotton farm where the delta blues sound began. Many famous musicians (also Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf…) lived and worked here or in the near surroundings. The place is completely abandoned but a big board with all the info on this place, invites you to push a big red button. And when you do that, delta blues begins playing from speakers placed all over the farm. Best idea ever! Nothing ever creates a better atmosphere than music itself. How obvious. Just walk around a little and be glad you didn’t miss this gem.
The last stop on our blues road was Clarksdale. We spend the night at the fantastic Shackupin, where you actually sleep in an old style shack (but fully equipped) with an absolute must in these parts – a front porch with two rocking chairs. Fantastic! Keep in mind, you need a reservation for this experience well in advance. The “hotel” is just a few miles from Clarksdale where all the action happens. We were there in June, so the action was actually at it’s lowest – it pretty much seemed like a ghost town. We could still find live music on two locations. The famous Ground zero (owned by Morgan Freeman) was full and loud while the rest of the town looked completely empty. Like a ghost town. The other live band (a really good one) was playing in a little joint called Club 2000 -i think. It was really hard to find and was probably “unofficial”. They didn’t really have a real bar or a stage or anything. Just a big room where we sat on plain wooden chairs and a lady of indeterminable age (really she could be anywhere from 26 to 65) brought you a beer. And she was dancing all the time.
Daytime in Clarksdale offers another picture. There’s some life to be seen outside these blues joints too. You can visit the Delta blues museum and the Rock’n roll museum (which is basically a ground floor apartment of a music enthusiast who will tell you all the juicy details of rock’n roll history if you let him).
For the end of our music trip, we stopped by the Clarksdale crossroads. It’s a crossroad with two guitars pointed at different directions, where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil and now he’s haunting the streets of Clarksdale at night. As I’ve said before – it’s a ghost town at night.