Down the Mississippi Blues Trail, cathartic sounds tell a story of overcoming in spite of it all
Story by Judy Garrison
Photography by Seeing Southern Photography
The delta changes you. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
The blues highway drew me to Mississippi like a Southerner to good BBQ. Its music, rhythms and flavors led by reputation as being a one-of-a-kind, intense, and simply, a world unto itself. From its dusty back roads, surrounded by hundreds of cotton fields as far as the eye can see, to the renaissance of small towns thriving as entrepreneurs take back their community from decay, the heart of the delta beats loudly.
Locals will tell you the delta is not easy— heat, poverty, pain—but its story of overcoming in spite of it all has been like cream rising to the top. And its blues has been its cherry.
When youngster Charley Patton picked up a guitar in 1905, and with his gruff voice, told of life on the plantation, it was the beginning of what still drives music today. Juke joints popped up throughout the delta, and sharecroppers spent evenings listening to the soundtrack of their lives. The blues mirrored their suffering, anguish and hopes.
Considered Father of the Delta Blues, Patton started what would be a string of blues artists rising to the top. Robert Johnson, Sam Cooke, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, B.B. King. And then, “the blues had a baby, and they named the baby rock and roll.” The Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones credit the delta blues for their foundation in music.
Today, the heartbeat of the blues pounds as loudly as ever. In Clarksdale, there’s live music every night at Reds or Ground Zero or another juke joint. In Cleveland, enjoy your authentic delta tamales with a side of local music. In Indianola, Blue Biscuit and B.B. King’s Club Ebony will keep you swaying to that cathartic blues sound.