Day Three, Part One: Memphis to Rosedale

An early call this morning; I got up at 6 a.m., which was especially difficult after only 5½ hours sleep. I felt bad to make Linda get up so early, but 400+ miles, all on back roads, were scheduled for the day. As the sun rose, we hit the streets of Memphis in the car. I was able to grab a picture of a couple of the Beale Street icons that I had to rush by last night. Then on to the former Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum and where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. We, of course, didn’t have time to go inside (actually, it wasn’t even open at that hour), but were able to park and see the balcony. My mind could instantly picture what is probabaly one of the most famous pictures ever taken – King’s colleagues standing on the balcony pointing to the direction from which the bullet came. We then drove by Sun Studios, probably best known for recording Elvis Presley’s first record, but many other stars have recorded there as well.  Speaking of Elvis, before we said goodbye to Memphis, we drove by Graceland. I had visited there before, but Linda had not and everyone should see those gates once in their lives. Because the trees were bare, the mansion was easily visible. Elvis’ private jet, the Lisa Marie, is still across the street.

The Blues Highway

Leaving Memphis behind we got on Route 61, known as the Blues Highway, and set out to take the Mississippi Blues Trail. The blues were born in this area of the country. The early musicians worked on plantations in the delta region and many eventually took the music to Chicago (sometimes you hear the distinction between the “the Delta blues” and “the Chicago blues”). Even if you don’t like the blues, perhaps you like rock and roll. This area is the root of all American music; it started here in the delta with the creation of the blues.

Our first stop was Clarksdale, which refers to itself as the birthplace and world capital of the blues.  Although there are lots of things to see and visit in Clarksdale, including the Delta Blues Museum, there were four places on our quest. The site of Muddy Waters’ cabin is northwest of the city. Waters, who worked on the Stovall Plantation at the time, is regarded as the father of Chicago blues.  Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and other musicians have taken wood planks from the cabin to make their guitars; the cabin is now in the Delta Blues Museum. Since 1944, The Riverside Hotel has provided lodging for numerous musicians traveling through town.  Before it was a hotel, however, it was the G.T. Thomas Hospital and it was here that Bessie Smith, the “empress of the blues,” was taken after she was in a car accident outside of Clarksdale, and it was here that at the age of 43 she died. One of the main things associated with Clarksdale is the intersection of routes 61 and 49, known as “the crossroads.” Legend has it that Robert Johnson, whose recordings are often regarded as the highpoint of the blues, sold his soul to the Devil one midnight at the crossroads. In return, the Devil tuned Johnson’s guitar so he would play like none other before him. The intersection is marked by a guitar sculpture.  Johnson’s famous “Crossroad Blues” has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and has been recorded numerous times by artists like Cream.  South of the city is the Hopson Planting Company, where famus blues pianist Pinetop Perkins worked driving a tractor. Perkins, who was born in nearby Belzoni, is still touring at the age of 96.

We left route 61 at that point and headed west to Rosedale. Johnson talked about this town in his “Traveling Riverside Blues,” the lyrics of which have been used by my favorite band, Led Zeppelin, and another fav, Eric Clapton, which is really the reason I wanted to visit the town. Some say that Johnson’s crossroads really aren’t in Clarksdale, but rather are at the intersection of routes 8 and 1 in Rosedale.  Turning west on route 8, we headed to what I think are the REAL crossroads . . .

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