This journey will bring you to Clarksdale, the cradle of the Blues, during a special event, the 11th Juke Joint Festival, organized by the Clarksdale Downtown Development Association (CDDA) and staffed by enthusiastic volunteers like Roger Stolle. A weekend of music in the streets, open shops and restaurants, real juke joint blues musicians , together with blues fans eating bbq and drinking light beers from early morning to late in the night. A unique experience that will be completed by some visit of nearby places, cotton plantations, famous bluesmen graves or even museums, to give you the feeling of the real Mississippi blues plus a unique sight in last standing country bluesmen in the world. During the daytime, you can expect a dozen small stages with authentic blues. At night, we feature all of our surviving juke joints, blues clubs and other indoor stages!
We present a 9 days- 8 nights tour in April .
In this tour there will be visits to tombs of the most famous blues musicians in history and places that have hosted moments and unique characters of the genre, as well as’ live performances of country blues, acoustic blues and electric blues, some already planned but also organized specifically for these trip and for the real fans you can also have tickets to blues museums or locations far from the cities such as cotton plantations and the famous crossroads to get you deep into the true atmosphere of the Mississippi blues.
day 1 (Memphis, Tennessee) Saturday
Your trip starts in Memphis, Tennessee. After arriving at the airport, we will pick up the van, bus or motorbike. After settling in the hotel we will go to an evening dinner on Beale Street, in one of the places where the best BBQ ribs are cooked, the Blues City Cafe (http://www.bluescitycafe.com/), and to start with live blues concerts don’t forget to have a beer in Huey’s in Poplar Av. or Second St.
day 2 (Memphis) Sunday
We will then take a tour to visit to the STAX Museum of American Soul Music, 962 McLemore Avenue, the famous Soul Music label founded in 1957 from Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton. .
We will then move to visit (guided at least for newbies) the Sun Studios at 706 Union Avenue. Famous for having recorded blues musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf, Dr. Ross, B.B. King, Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Little Milton and others. It was also famous for seeing the birth of rock ‘n’ roll recording Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. Do not forget the famous gadgets at exit (also if pretty expensive!)
After lunch, just to be really living the spirit of the South, we will visit the National Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was killed.
We will then move to the Hollywood Cemetery (2012 Hernando Road) where, after parking at the entrance and a going up the hill of the cemetery, at the third street on the left will find the two tombstones of Walter “Furry” Lewis, even with a discordant date of birth.
The late afternoon is free for shopping on Beale Street with a visit to Tater’s Red, a shop famous for making voodoo amulets and mojos for every need (do not miss for example the famous John The Conqueror root oil).
Dinner will be at the Rum Boogie Cafe where, in addition to admiring the original STAX label sign, you can see the guitars hanging from the ceiling from many musicians have played here over the years, for example Ike Turner, Son Seals, or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
• Overnight in Memphis
day 3 (Memphis -> Holly Springs -> Harmontown -> Oxford) Monday
Before leaving Memphis ww will visit to the Blues Foundation (https://blues.org) which since its founding in 1980 has accomplished the mission to preserve this African American musical art form. It also organizes the annual International Blues Challenge and the Blues Music Awards, in addition to the Keeping The Blues Alive Awards. We will also visit the Center for Southern Folklore, co-founded by Judy Preiser and William Ferris, a place where you can find information and original material that is essential to understand the southern culture. Stop for the lunch break directly there, or it can be in Alcenia’s for some real good soul food or even on Beale Street at Dyer’s Burgers.
It’s time to go down in Mississippi, to visit the famous North Mississippi Hill Country. This is the area where the Burnside and Kimbrough families have lived for a long time, and it is the same place where every year Kenny Brown organizes the Hill Country Picnic every year on the last weekend of June.
Going out from Memphis and taking US-72 we will arrive to Hudsonville, where David “Junior” Kimbrough, famous for his music and patriarch of the Holly Spring Blues, is buried. On his grave, instead of flowers, his fans often leave a beer, as a last cheers for the afterlife.
Next stop Holly Springs and please do not miss the Aikei Pro’s Record Shop (if it is closed, keep persisting, and you will find someone from the shop to ask for the owner, whose real name is David Caldwell) at 125 N. Center Street. Among the used bicycles, which are perfect for hidden stray cats, and a dusty and messy interior, you might still find something really interesting (and at prices to discuss and deal!).
Find a place to eat such as Annie’s Restaurant, famous for fried chicken and down South cooking or the Chewalla Rib Shack located near the original Junior Kimbrough Jook Joint in Chulahoma. Junior’s Jook, one of the last of the Mississippi jook joints, was destroyed by a fire in April 2000 and honored by the Black Keys disc of the same name.
Continuing to Harmontown we will visit the grave of R. L. Burnside, one of the last original bluesmen back in the music business. Thanks to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, R.L. re-launched his career in 1996 with the album “A Ass Pocket Of Whiskey”. Fisherman and sharecropper and bluesman in his spare time, he learned to play directly from Fred McDowell.
We will finally arrive in Oxford, with a visit to the Square Books Shop, 1110 Van Buren and food choices on the square like the City Grocery, the Ajax Diner, and Rooster’s Blues House and the music venue Proud Larry’s.
Night in Oxford
day 4 (Oxford -> Jackson -> Vicksburg) Tuesday
Once in Oxford we should visit the headquarters of Fat Possum, the famous label that has recorded many musicians of North Mississippi, as well as being known for the sound called Mississippi Hill Country Blues
From Oxford we will move to, Jackson but before arriving in Jackson we will briefly stop to Canton, where Elmore James and Sonny Landreth were born, a small town famous for the Cohen brothers movie “O Brother Where Are Thou”. In Ebenezer we will visit the tomb of Elmore James, in black stone with a three-dimensional metal sculpture dedicated to the “King of the Slide Guitar”, which is located within walking distance to Lonnie Pitchford’s grave, who was famous for his “one-string guitar “.
We then go to Bentonia, birthplace of Skip James, and visit the Blue Front Café, a jook joint managed for many years by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, one of the last bluesman playing “hardcore” style. We will also visit the grave of Jack Owens, one of the founders of this style who was also known for appearing in the films “Deep Blues,” and “Land Where The Blues Began.”
We will visit Jackson that offers many attractions for black music, such as the King Edward Hotel, where musicians like Bo Carter and Mississippi Sheiks were recorded, or the residences of Tommy Johnson, Skip James and Elmore James. There are also the Jook Joint Queen Of Hearts and Farish Street, the local version of Beale Street, which is now in decline, but in the process of refurbishment (we can also point out the home of Malaco Records and Ace Records). But for blues lovers the main stop in the Magnolia State is a visit ad the Ole Miss University, where, at the 3rd floor of the J. D. Williams Library we can find the office of Greg Johnson, archivist, full of a lot of fantastic objects, open for the public under the careful check of William Ferris (ex professor of the University and co-founder of the Center of Southern Folklore) in 1984. Before leaving just give a look at the Greyhound Bus Station, a classical example of America Art-Decò. Today it is the personal office of Robert Parker Adams, architect, and it became famous during the battle for civil rights, when the Freedom Riders were arrested here because they used restrooms for white people.
We will finally arrive in Vicksburg where we can admire places like Slipper’s Inn, or Willie Dixon Way, and eat catfish at the LD’s Restaurant and Lounge.
Overnight in Vicksburg
day 5 ( Vicksburg -> Greenville -> Greenwood) Wednesday
We will continue north on Highway 61 we we must stop at Rolling Fork, the birthplace of Muddy Waters, commemorated by a monument in China Street.
Our daily trip will finally reach the muddy river, that divides Greenville from the Arkansas state. Here we will tour Nelson Street, where from the 1940s to the 1970s people the like Little Milton, Eddie Cusic, Charlie Booker, Willie Love, T-Model Ford and Little Bill Wallace ruled the street. The Mississippi Blues Trail marker reminds us the importance of this place in music history. Don’t miss Walnut Street, famous for its live music venues or the Playboy Club, immortalized in the film Mississippi Blues by Bernard Tavernier
After a short break we will continue to go west, arriving in Leland, where, in addition to blues murals at Lilo’s Italian Restaurant, we will visit the tomb of James “Son” Thomas, bluesman by vocation and undertaker by profession. Thomas was famous in Europe having visited it several times with the harmonica player Walter Liniger. We will also stop at the Highway 61 Blues Museum at 307 N. Broad Street.
For lunch we will arrive to Indianola, “The Home of B.B. King “as stated in the sign of the city. Here, we will visit among other things, the Club Ebony and the B.B. King Blues Museum. We will enjoy a concert and a lunch at the Ebony club
We will arrive in Greenwood where we will be now devoted to Robert Johnson, to the west of Greenwood, just northeast of the intersection of 89 and 49E is Three Forks Store, which is the bar (rebuilt after several tornadoes) where it is said that Robert Johnson made his last “concert” before he was killed, apparently by the jealous husband of a woman Johnson was drinking with.
To the north of Greenwood is the third grave of Robert Johnson, currently thought to be the real one, according to eye witnesses who attended his burial at the Little Zion Cemetery
Overnight in Greenwood
day 6 ( Greenwood -> Avalon -> Cleveland -> Clarksdale ->Lula) Thursday
Going north to Avalon we will also visit the grave of Mississippi John Hurt, pioneer of folk blues music, who died in 1966 (it is important to know the date so that you do not take pictures of the wrong headstone, given the numerous Hurt in the cemetery).
We can’t miss (also if armed guards walking close to the white gate always try to avoid people in stopping) the Parchman Farms, the “Mississippi State Penitentiary” at the intersection of 32 and 49W, which is popular both for researches and registrations of Alan Lomax, and for having been visited by many bluesmen (such as Son House and Bukka White), and sung by many musicians not only blues (we mention for example Johnny Winter and John Mayall). Even today you can see the prisoners, with the classic striped uniform, working the land surrounding the prison.
After lunch we drive south to Tutwiler, where it is said that W.C. Handy, standing at the train station, heard for the first time what was then called the “blues”, a black stranger who was playing a guitar using a knife as a slide. We will visit the grave of Sonny Boy Williamson II, where despite the fact that the reported date of death on the tombstone is wrong, (as well as that of his birth is uncertain), many musicians still go on a pilgrimage leaving their harps as a tribute to Sonny Boy.
The tour will continue through the famous Stovall Plantation, where Muddy Waters worked as a tractor driver and where Alan Lomax heard him play and recorded him in 1941. Here you will find an indication of where it was located what is said have been the home of Muddy Waters, currently housed and rebuilt in the Delta Blues Museum.
We will finally reach the Hopson Plantation, where the Shack Up Inn is located. Each year, the Shacks organize the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming on the Sunday just after the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena (second weekend of October). The festival is held even after the famous pianist passed away in 2011. This place is very unusual and tipical, because the owner, Bill Talbot, kept the old shacks of country and farm workers, and he refurbished them (mainly just adding the restroom) in order to obtain some “spiritual refuges” helping in this way to preserve part of the historical Mississippi Delta that is almost disappeared.
We will get the Juke Joint Festival tickets in Clarksdale, enjoy a couple of concerts and we will reach Lula, at the Isle Of Capri, where we will spend the night
day 7 (Lula-> Como ->Senatobia->Lula) Friday
From Lula we will arrive in Como, a small town crossing the railway, where Mississippi Fred Mc Dowell is buried. His gravestone was partially financed by Bonnie Raitt. On the reverse side of his tomb are written some verses of the song “You Got To Move” (famous also for the Rolling Stones version). You can also find some food or drinks in the Windy City Grill, located right on Main Street.
Continuing to return towards Memphis, we will stop in Senatobia where in the afternoon we will visit the grave of Jessie Mae Hemphill, great-granddaughter of Sid Hemphill, a musician who Alan Lomax recorded, as well as Rosa Lee Hill, aunt of Jessie Mae. In addition she to appearing in the movie “Deep Blues” by Robert Palmer, Jessie Mae also played for long time in Europe.
Near Senatobia, in Gravel Springs, if you are travelling at the end of August you will find the famous Othar Turner’s Picnic, in memory of this famous African-American musician, who played flute and drums with a unique style. These picnics last throughout the last weekend of August, with free admission and food and drink available locally at popular prices.
Back to Lula to take the shuttle for the Juke Joint Festival
day 8 (Clarksdale) Saturday
We will spend the whole day in Clarksdale and maybe will have dinner at the Ground Zero Blues Club, owned by Morgan Freeman, with live concert of local bluesmen
A mandatory stop is in Clarksdale is at the Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, managed by Roger Stolle, who along with Jeff Konkel, is very active to preserve the African American tradition and culture. In this shop you will find any blues record you want, books, CDs, DVDs, as well as Southern folk art objects and handcrafts made by bluesmen such as Pat Thomas, son of the legendary James “Son” Thomas. Also a few blocks from the Cat Head store, visit Stan Street’s Hambone Gallery for original folk art or the Rock and Blues Museum which features historic items like blues 78s, instruments, and photographs. Every Tuesday night, Street also hosts a jam for local and visiting musicians in his studio.
Lunch will be at Abe’s BBQ (closed on Sunday), located at the intersection of Highway 61 and 49 (although the real crossroad between the highways is different, as the historical HW 61 moved from the current one, thus it is unknown where exactly where the real crossroads are.).
The afternoon will be spent walking around Clarksdale, enjoying the Juke Joint Festival and visiting places such as the Wade Walton’s Barber Shop or the Riverside Hotel, where Bessie Smith died, Sarah’s Kitchen restaurant, the building where there was the famous Rooster Records and even visit the Delta Blues Museum (closed on Sunday).
Night in Lula
day 9 (Lula -> Memphis)
Directly to the Memphis airport for the flight to Europe.