Roadtrip 2020 Day 3: Delta Blues Highway

Ever since I was fortunate to meet with B.B. King for an interview in his tour bus in 2010, my interest in the origins of American music grew immensely–especially in the Delta Blues region.

The proverbial “melting pot” accurately describes how the Mississippi Delta was fertile grounds to grow gospel, blues, country, and rock into the soul of American music.

Highway 61 Marker in Vicksburg, 6/24/20.

Combined with the selfish need to dive deeper into the roots that influenced Elvis Presley’s success, it was a natural like desire to want to see, feel and experience Highway 61.

Our trip exploring the legendary Blues Highway began South, right through the heart and soul of Vicksburg. The antebellum architecture, Civil War history and of course, the Blues music are just some of the highlights in Vicksburg.

Up the road about 2 1/2 hours was my favorite Delta Blues town, Clarksdale. Dodie and I agreed it was like time stood still. The 1930s-40s-50s was alive, steeped in history with rugged character to boot.

It’s no wonder Oscar winning actor Morgan Freeman co-owns Ground Zero Blues Club there because that’s exactly what Clarksdale is–the ground zero center for the Blues. It’s Blues to the bone.

Clarksdale is just forty minutes south of Tunica and is famous for the landmark that is said to be the site where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, it’s called “The Crossroads.”

B.B. King told me in 2010 the two biggest musical influences for him were Jimmy Rodgers and Robert Johnson, both absolute legends and pioneers of American music.

Clarksdale has lots of funky places to stay for music lovers and visitors. Even the Ground Zero has rooms available upstairs above the bar for overnight stays. A sign described the rooms perfectly: “…It Good.”

 Shack Up Inn is perhaps the most beloved, made up of restored sharecropper flats. It has its own restaurant and music venue and claims “The Ritz we ain’t.”

Tunica, which is home to the Gateway Blues Museum that also doubles as a visitor’s center. This museum is extremely well done and is really worth a stop. The front of the venue is constructed from a rustic train depot, circa 1895. Inside are beautiful Blues exhibits and artwork.

We found two good spots to consider for Southern comfort food. Back in Clarkddale, we saw “Baby Back Ribs and Hot Tamales” on the Crossroads northeast corner at Al’s Bar B-Q and the Blues since 1924. There is probably no better, or historic, place than Tunica’s Blue & White Restaurant. Also established way back in 1924, the Blue & White is situated right on Highway 61 and has served all the great Blues musicians over the decades.

Before we arrived in Memphis, we traveled through DeSoto County. Located due east of Tunica and just across the border from Memphis, DeSoto County is the home of Jerry Lee Lewis, John Grisham and timeless Delta traditions. Visitors will find the final resting places of blues greats, like Gus Cannon and Memphis Minnie.

A must stop for me was off the beaten path to the gravesite of Memphis Minnie.

Her real name was Lizzie Lawlars, and she rests besides her husband, Ernest Lawlars, who recorded under the name “Lil’ Son Joe.” They are buried in the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, Mississippi.

The headstone memorial unveiling took place on the morning of October, 13th, 1996 in beautiful fall sunshine and was recorded for radio presentation by the BBC of London.

The ceremony was next to the Memphis Minnie marker and the New Hope Baptist Church. It stands between Highway 61 and the Mississippi River, and cotton fields surround the church and the adjacent cemetery. The front of the monument has a small picture of Minnie and her birth and death dates.  

Ninety people attended, including Minnie’s sister Daisy and 33 members of her extended family, many of whom had no idea of their relative’s powerful musical legacy. Bonnie Raitt financed the memorial stone which bears engraved roses and a ceramic cameo portrait.

A plaque, one of many along the historical region, describes it best:

MISSISSIPPI BLUES TRAIL

Travel has been a popular theme in Blues lyrics, and highways have symbolized the potential to quickly “pack up and go,” to leave troubles behind, or seek out new opportunities elsewhere. Some of the most famous Mississippi artists who lived near Highway 61 included: B. B. King, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Robert Nighthawk, Sunnyland Slim, Honeyboy Edwards, Sam Cooke, James Cotton and Jimmy Reed, just to name a few.

The Mississippi Blues Trail road trip markers tell stories about Blues artists through words and images, about the places they lived and the times in which they existed—and how that influenced their music. The marker sites run the gamut from city streets to cotton fields, train depots, cemeteries, clubs to churches.

2020 Presidential Candidates flag/sign sitings, days 1-3:

Trump 36, Biden 0

History RVing Travel Log

Texans Jack & Dodie View All →

Raised in San Antonio, Jack Dennis’ early experiences were as a newspaper reporter and private investigator. With a Texas State University bachelor’s degree, Jack studied journalism, education and psychology. He was the founding vice-president of Sigma Delta Chi, the Association of Professional Journalists at the University. Jack has received numerous awards, including Investigative Reporter of the Year from Rocky Mountain Press Association, David Ashworth Community Award, and Leadership in Management.
Some of the people and groups Jack has interviewed include:
Music
Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, George Strait, Roy Orbison, Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Steve Wariner, Tanya Tucker, Scotty Moore, Fats Domino, Patty Page, Tommy Roe, Emmy Lou Harris, Johnny Rivers, Charly McClain, Kinky Friedman, John McFee, Guy Allison & Patrick Simmons (Doobie Brothers) , Randy Bachman (BTO), Jim Messina, Todd Rundgren, Alvin Lee, Gary Puckett, The Ventures, Freddy Cannon, Augie Meyer, Christopher Cross, Whiskey Myers, Sha Na Na (John “Bowzer” Baumann), Flash Cadillac, Jerry Scheff, John Wilkinson, Darrell McCall, and more.
Politicians & News
George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Greg Abbott, Rudolph Giuliani, Larry King, Jack Anderson, Tom Bradley, Connie Mack, and more.
Actors
Clint Eastwood, Mike Myers, Taylor Lautner, Cameron Diaz, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Selena Gomez, Tippi Hedren, James Earl Jones, James Woods, Jim Nabors, Martha Raye, Rosalind Russell, June Lockhart, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Howie Mandel, Meg Ryan, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, James Drury, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Lane, Alan Thicke, Lou Diamond Phillips, Clint Howard, Tony Sirico, Cesar Romero, Michael Berryman, Tracy Scoggins, William Windom, Warren Stevens and more.
Space Explorers
Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Wally Schirra, Dave Scott, Gene Cernan, Walt Cunningham, Scott Carpenter, Gene Kranz (NASA Flight Director), Ed Mitchell, Richard Gordon, Bruce McCandless, Vanentina Treshkova (first woman in space, Russia), Alex Leonov (first man to walk in space, Russian), Al Worden, Dee O’Hara (nurse to astronauts) and more.
Sports: Joe Torre, Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes, Billie Jean King, Manuela Maleeva, Drew Pearson, Bob Lilly, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, George Gervin, Tony Parker, Shannon Miller, Cathy Rigby, Bruce Bowen, Wade Boggs, Fernando Valenzuela, Bernie Kosar, Dale Murphy, Jim Abbott, Dick Bartell, Mike Schmidt, Dan Pastorini and more.
Notables
May Pang, Bob Eubanks, Vernon Presley, Vester Presley, Charlie Hodge, Joe Esposito, Rick Stanley (Elvis’ step-brother, Harold Lloyd (Elvis’ first cousin), Doyle Brunson, Kara Peller, Hank Meijer, Norman Brinkler, Stanley Marcus, Jerry King, Mac King, Nathan Burton, Zach Anner, Louie Anderson, Owen Benjamin, Steve Byrne and more.

As head of Facilities for a major retailer (H-E-B Food/Drugs) for 20 years, Jack co-founded Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM) and was elected President to establish PRSM magazine. Jack is a writer, speaker, golf-concierge and happiness coach. He has researched and studied happiness for over 40 years.
Jack was a prolific writer for Examiner.com, with over 1,900 articles written in six years. His articles and stories have appeared in AXS Entertainment, The ROWDY Country Music, Memphis Flash, and numerous magazines.

He is author of “Miracles of Justice,” a true courtroom drama novel about social injustice and miracles.

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