We caught the devil train up from New Orleans through the swamplands up to the land of the Delta Blues and into Memphis. Our carriage was number 666 and upon seeing this number it set the more religious amongst us into hysterics 'Oh lordy, goodness, its the devil train!'
(seriously what she said!).
Greg gave me a tattoo just in case I got lost. (see below).
Oh and he almost had to deliver a baby too. Luckily the ambulance arrived right in the nick of time.
Walking In Memphis....
"Buckle up y'all. It's the law"
This was a public service message about the necessity of seatbelts, but it became the catch cry of Jade & Greg as we made our wild tour of the Blues highway of the Mississippi Delta: always in search of adventure, never compromising on safety.
Memphis was our starting point, and where - thanks to our dear friend Amanda (a friend of Greg's from uni) who miraculously set us up at a self catered apartment, with pool, gym and bbq! All courtesy of her german friend Kristina who was away visiting folks. The bar has been set for any friends who are going to put us up - be warned!
Thanks Amanda we love you!
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But it was also for the BLUES. This is the land where the blues was born. The blues was arguably where modern music started, jazz, rock'n'roll, country, rock all came from the blues...
This was the birthplace of all good music and we were here on a quest to find it.
The map here shows the 'Blues/Jazz Triangle' that is known as the Delta Blues as it is along the Mississippi Delta.
Stretching from Nashville (home Country Music) to Memphis (home of Elvis) to New Orleans (home of Jazz). And right in between, in the tiny towns like Clarksdale, Cleveland, Jackson, Franklin and more was the birthplace of the Blues.
Inspired by Ghandi the black community started to practice peaceful protests by holding sit ins, in cafeterias formerly only for whites. The videos of these are amazing and the violence that was simmering below the surface would erupt.
It was shocking to realise it was as late as 1968, the year Martin Luther King was assassinated, that President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and started to make the southern states enforce it.
Bearing in mind that, when the first black university student enrolled, just a few years earlier in 1962, riots broke out and President Kennedy still had to send out 5,000 troops to protect that student and contain the riots.
Here is a fantastic time line of what we learnt at the Civil Rights Museum at the old Lorraine Hotel, and I urge everyone to go. Its a wonderful museum, touching and emotional and giving you a sense of hope at the end.
It started to form from the gospel music sung in the bare run down shacks that were the churches.
It came from the spirit of a people who wanted to be recognised.
Following this musical journey we went down to Clarksdale, a little town rich with musical history
Clarksdale: Right here at Big Redd's place!
After visiting the Delta Blues Museum I'm going to be listening more to the musicians that were born and worked around here, people like: the original blues boy Robert Johnson (who died at 29 but is the biggest influence on all later musicians), Muddy Waters, Mama Thornton, Big Joe Williams, Charlie Musselwhite and more.
Sitting in the golden buckle of the Cotton Belt Clarksdale back in the day was a thriving cotton town with many large plantations in the area. It was also significant in the blues, as you can find the devils crossroads. Thankfully Greg didn't sell his soul!
Famous musicians like Ike Turner, Bessie Smith all visited there to play and many blues musicians lived & worked on nearby cotton plantations. Nowadays this tiny town hosts the annual Blues Festivals such as Juke Joint, Sunflower River Blues, Cathead festivals and more.
Even the famous folklorist & Ethnomusicologist, Alan Lomax visited Clarksdale. In the late 1930's he packed his car with one of the first portable sound recorders and went on the road to document the folk music of America.
He was the first to record interviews and songs of legendary folk musicians such as, Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Lead Belly. He even then took these musicians and made commercial recordings, helping them get to the cities and launch their careers. You can hear some of his early recordings here.
We ended up visiting twice because it was so darn interesting! Second time we went to a tiny juke joint called Redd's. Now Redd owns the juke joint, but there is no signage, no website, no phone number (its disconnected). But loads of Tripadvisor reviews. To find who's playing you call the guy at Cathead who owns another business but puts the lineup on his website.
We went early on the saturday night, and Red himself welcomed us into a tiny shack. There was junk everywhere, including a kitchen sink (not attached). The roof was falling in and there were no lights other than some lit up notes on the walls. You can bring any booze you want into the juke joint, 'jus' not beer, as I sell dat'. Out of an eski. There's no fridge either. So naturally we brought our own wine and champagne. (Muddy Waters style - he preferred the champers).
Outside a big black guy was tending a mean looking bbq/roaster. He silently gave us pork chops and sausage sandwiches and sent us back in refusing to take any payment. One gets the sense he couldn't be bothered with money.
The band was great fun. Traditional blues songs sung passionately and loudly by Space Cowboy and his band. I ended up dancing with the lead guitarists wife at several points, (you get friendly in a tiny room), and the 14 year old drummer was astounding. (He was the Space Cowboy's nephew). In fact everyone seemed to know each other, and you felt like you were in the neighbourhood gathering spot.
Greg got chatting to a very white american guy who was visiting too. He was in awe of the shabbiness of the place, and then more in awe of our trip when greg told him. He said my favourite quote of the trip so far:
Greg: So we are going around the world for around a year
Guy:....But..wont you get bored?
Greg didn't know how to respond. Later when the guy left he said, "Have a good time, hope you don't get bored!"
It is by far, the oddest response we've had to telling people about our plans!
We ended up dancing and drinking until the wee hours of the morning, when only us, Redd, his wife, and the band were left!
You can see a video of the band and Space Cowboy here!
Nashville, Home of Country
We heard some amazing singing from two girls and a guitar (who happened to be aussies!), some very country music and then the rock/blues mix of the Don Kelley Band at Roberts Western World. The star of which was the 19 year old guitar player Daniel Donato who was just amazing to watch. Sure to have an unbelievable career with Fender already sponsoring him. Also the bassist played that double bass like a demon on speed - see the video below I took!
Following our musical odyssey we visited Sun Studios in Memphis. Memphis in 1950's was a hub of musicians and new music, all coming out of Beale St. Sun Studios was the created to record and spread the new sound called the Blues. It was a tiny studio that started the careers of musicians like, Ike turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and a musician named Elvis Presley.
When we arrived at the studios, there was a stage outside, and a huge crowd gathered around a small building. What was going on?! It was the 60th anniversary of the first time Elvis was played on the radio. The song was That's All Right. (Click for the song)
The DJ received so many calls by the end of the song, he just put the song on repeat for the hour!
The BBC had followed us there to celebrate the anniversary. There was free cake, and a special limited edition of the LP of Chris Isaack singing 'That's All Right' recorded right there at Sun Studios.
Little known fact is that, whilst Elvis sang rock'n'roll he was a blues fan at heart and influenced by many older blues musicians like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.
Saw the ghost of Elvis...on Union Avenue
We were actually surprised at how humble it was, he had his parents come and live there with him.
The highlight was the green shag carpet walls and the JUNGLE ROOM! With tiki furniture, a built in waterfall and the green shagpile carpet.
True homage to the 70's.
Also if there is one artist we found that we recommend you see - check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She's cited as being many a musicians influence so I looked her up - shes just AWESOME!
I'm gonna go and enjoy the soul and blues music! Hope you enjoyed this slightly long post and maybe it helped inspire you into hearing some music!
Lots of love
Jade & Greg