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ILLUSTRATIONS: R. CRUMB, FROM R. CRUMB’S HEROES OF BLUES, JAZZ & COUNTRY, ABRAMS BOOKS. 1ST ROW, FROM LEFT: GETTY IMAGES; CHRISTIAN HEEB/LAIF/REDUX; MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES; SUZE WALCZAK/LAIF/REDUX; KEN MURPHY & SCOTT BARETTA, FROM MISSISSIPPI STATE OF BLUES. 2ND ROW, FROM LEFT: WANDA CLARK; WALCZAK/LAIF/REDUX; NICOLE BENGIVENO /THE NEW YORK TIMES; KEN MURPHY & SCOTT BARETTA; NICOLE BENGIVENO /THE NEW YORK TIMES; WALCZAK/LAIF/REDUX. CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE.

a Blues Delt
ney t h e jo u r

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he blues, the bedrock of American music, began on a vast stretch of fertile soil called the Mississippi Delta, which goes from Memphis to the Yazoo River and southerly to Vicksburg. The roots of blues can be traced to West African tribal songs, but the first seedlings grew out of this soil, rich in cotton—and rich in the misery wrought picking it. “The blues,” Howlin’ Wolf once said, “is problems,” and for a long time the history of the blues, like problems, was covered up. But in 2006, Mississippi began to protect its history with the Mississippi Blues Trail. Today the path courses through the Delta, touching nearly every juke joint, homestead and graveyard where the blues began. There are more than 130 markers, and as the trail heats up, more are added yearly. But it’s not just history. The blues live. ContinueD»

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From roadside juke joints to new hotels to the graves of greats, the blues live on in Mississippi. Here’s how to do it. by richard schweid

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Detours

blackbook
Today the blues can be heard nearly everywhere. Just turn on the radio: The 12-bar blues is the skeleton for everything from punk to jazz to country to rock ’n’ roll. But a journey across the Blues Trail yields new hues and deeper richness. The path has drawn many, from folklorist Alan Lomax in the 1930s to filmmakers Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel, whose 2008 documentary, M for Mississippi, captured the bittersweet richness of the area’s music and musicians. And as the blues have gained popularity worldwide, new hotels, restaurants and museums and modern juke joints have sprouted like morning glories along the Blues Trail. roughly 130 miles south, famous early bluesman W. C. Handy’s words still ring true: “Take my advice,” he sang in the 1916 classic “Beale Street Blues,” “and see Beale Street first.”
THIS PAGE: MICHAEL CLEMMER. PREVIOUS PAGE, CONTINUED: 3RD ROW, FROM LEFT: EUGENE ADEBARI/REX FEATURES/EVERETT COLLECTION; GILLES PETARD/ REDFERNS/GETTY IMAGES. 4TH ROW, FROM LEFT: KEN MURPHY & SCOTT BARETTA; BARRY BRECHEISEN/COURTESY B.B. KING MUSEUM. 5TH ROW, FROM LEFT: MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES; KEN MURPHY & SCOTT BARETTA (2); HEEB/LAIF/REDUX

Detours

golf tRail

RobeRt tRent Jones

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olf architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. retired after designing more than 500 courses but in the 1980s was lured back by the promise of a pan­Alabaman golf trail. Those original eight sites plus three more form this epic 32­course circuit. Despite recent devastation from the tornados, the trail emerged relatively unscathed. (Sadly, one course, Silver Lakes, is closed indefinitely.) To book at these courses, go to rtjgolf.com.

the southeRn bbQ tRail

Lord, that I’m standin’ at the cross­ road, babe, I believe I’m sinkin’ down.

GREENWooD, MS

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n the South, barbecue is as serious and sectarian as religion. Moving east to west the gospel changes, from chopped pork with a vinegar sauce in eastern North Carolina to beef brisket with a tomato­based molasses sauce to the smoking method in Texas. The Southern Foodways Alliance crafted a trail—a pilgrim­ age, perhaps?—through the South; for a complete list and oral histories, go to southernbbqtrail.com. undisputed king of west N.C.–style barbecue and has been since 1962. At 10 U.S. Hwy. 29 70 S.; 336-249-9814. riDgewooD barbeCue bluff City, tennessee Here, ham replaces shoulder, and the sauce in this third­generation Appalachian mountain BBQ joint is sticky, sweet and dark red. At 900 Elizabethton Hwy.; 423-538-7543.

—robert johnson, “cross road blues” obert Johnson, the world’s most notorious bluesman, met his end in Greenwood at the age of 27, the victim of a jealous husband. At the little Zion

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Cambrian Ridge course in Greenville

Cambrian riDge greenville Ringed by pine trees, the Loblolly course is among the most challenging and beautiful, and the Sherling has the trail’s best nine holes. Greens fees start at $45. Capitol Hill prattville The property features three courses: Legis­ lator, Senator and Judge. The latter, which lies along the Alabama River and has beautiful views, gets the most accolades. Greens fees start at $45. granD national opelika Built on the 600­acre Lake Saugahatchee, Grand National boasts 54 holes, 32 of which are on the shore. There are many options here, but the Lake course’s 15th hole is often called the most beautiful of the entire trail. Greens fees start at $45. magnolia grove mobile These three newly renovated courses (the last, the Short Course,

will open in mid­August) boast MiniVerde, an ultra­dwarf grass, but there’s nothing under­ sized about the 54­ hole links. Greens fees start at $45. oxmoor valley birmingham With 54 holes, there’s plenty to golf at Ox­ moor, but the 18th hole on the Valley course, nicknamed “The Assas­ sin,” might be the most dramatic. Greens fees start at $45. ross briDge birmingham The spa at the Renais­ sance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa, which abuts the newest course on the trail, is a necessary detour for après­links relaxation. Greens fees start at $95. tHe sHoals muscle shoals At more than 8,000 yards, the Fighting Joe course, which opened in 2004, is one of the longest. Its narrow links are siren calls for shotmakers. Greens fees start at $45.

There’s nothing like the Handy Band that played the Memphis Blues so grand.

MEMPHIS, TN

missionary baptist Church (Money Rd.; 662-

—w. c. handy, “memphis blues”

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peabody Hotel (rooms, from $180; 149 Union
Ave.; 901-539-4000; peabodymemphis.com)

n 1948, author David Cohn wrote that the Delta begins in the lobby of the

in downtown Memphis. The grand lobby, with its high wooden ceilings, dates from 1925, and the fountain is home to the five famous ducks that make their stately way from the bank of elevators to the fountain, where they pass the day. Guests assemble every day at 11 in the morning to watch the parade. Blues arrived early in Memphis, dug in deep and gave birth to rock ’n’ roll. Elvis Presley, who grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, and moved to Memphis, was influenced early on by the blues, as were Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Lee Perkins and Johnny Cash, all of whom recorded at producer Sam Phillips’s sun studio TENN. (sunstudio.com). The legMemphis endary venue is open ARK. daily for tours, and a number of clubs, like MISS. the B. B. King’s Blues Clarksdale Club and the Rum Boogie Cafe, keep Holly Ridge Beale Street lively. Greenwood Indianola Though the real work Leland of the blues begins

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: REDFERNS/ GETTY IMAGES; AMY EVANS STREETER/ SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE (3)

a humble wooden church set under oak trees, a small graveyard holds Johnson’s tombstone. “He influenced millions in his time,” it reads. Devotees come from all over the world to leave guitar picks, coins and bottles of beer and whiskey on his grave. At the base of the pecan tree, there’s another marker. “When I leave this town, I’m ’on’ bid you farewell,” it says, a line from Johnson’s “From Four Till Late.” “And when I return again, you’ll have a great long story to tell.” There are at least two other graves for Johnson—one in Quito and another near Morgan City, both in Mississippi—but that’s fitting for a man who was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil to learn how to play guitar. Such bargains are unnecessary at the
455-0004),

Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’ too.
—b. b. king, “indianola mississippi seeds” he stretch of Highway 82 between Greenwood and Greenville is a 50-mile-long belt across the Delta, past planted fields and catfish ponds. Redwinged blackbirds perch on telephone wires, and armadillos (deceased) lay by the road. A little more than halfway down this stretch is Indianola, the seat of Sunflower County and the heart of the Delta. Indianola is where a young man named Riley B. King worked on a cotton plantation in the 1940s. On Saturday nights, he would come to town to stand on the corner of Church and Second streets and play his guitar. In 1947, he moved to Memphis to play his blues on Beale Street and changed his name to B. B. King, but he never forgot his roots. At age 85, having sung the blues to presidents and royalty around the globe, the man known as “the ambassador of the blues” returns to the Delta every summer, as he has since 1973, to give a homecoming concert. In 2008, the building that once housed a cotton gin where the young

Indianola, MS

Riley B. King worked was transformed into the $15 million, world-class b. b.
King museum and Delta interpretive Center (400 Second St.; bbkingmuseum.org),

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alluvian Hotel (rooms, from $195; 318 Howard

opened in May 2003 by the Viking Range Corporation, whose HQ is in this town. The Alluvian has 45 guest rooms and five suites, plus a full spa and a cooking school at which some of the South’s best chefs, like Tyler Brown of Nashville’s Capitol Grille, give courses on barbecue and other, lesser traditions. Next door is giardina’s (314 Howard St.; 662-455-4227), one of the Delta’s most historic restaurants. Founded in 1936, Giardina’s maintains its old Southern charm but is helmed by young chef Nick Seabergh, who serves bright, ingredient-driven cuisine such as baked oysters with Benton’s bacon.
St.; 866-600-5201; thealluvian.com),

which provides a solid grounding in the basics of the blues and the Delta, using King’s life as a parable. The tour ends, fittingly, in a guitar studio. But the blues don’t stop there. A few years ago, King bought Club ebony (404 Hannah St.; 662-887-2264), a historic blues club from 1948 where Ray Charles, Count Basie and King himself played as young men. Although he reinvigorated the place, it doesn’t traffic in nostalgia. Club Ebony is as good a place for a juicy hamburger and a cold beer as it ever was. Although the live bands have largely been replaced with a jukebox, on Saturdays you will still find bluesmen such as Jerry Fair and Blues Crew and Jake and the Pearl Street Jumpers performing on the stage. Forty-five minutes northwest of Indianola, off Highway 61 in the middle of a field near Merigold, is the classic juke joint po’ monkey’s (662-748-2254). It looks like a strong wind could blow it down—but it’s looked like that for nearly 50 years. Owned by Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry, it doesn’t have live music, but its sound system delivers a connoisseur’s selection of rhythm and blues every Thursday night. ContinueD»

sKyligHt inn ayden, north Carolina Using a cornbread recipe from 1830, Pete Jones serves chopped whole hog—everything but the squeal—barbe­ cued with a tangy, vin­ egary sauce. 1 At 4618 Lee St.; 252-746-4113. big bob gibson bar-b-Q Decatur, alabama “Big Bob” Gibson opened this joint in 1925 and invented a white sauce now famous in Alabama. Today his grandson runs the place and still specializes in barbecue chicken and tender ribs. At 1715 6th Ave. SE; 256-350-6969; bigbobgibson.com.

spooney’s trail bar-be-Que greenwood, mississippi Leroy “Spooney” Kenter Jr. learned how to BBQ in Kansas City, Kansas, but came up with his spicy secret sauce after his first wife left him. Now his barbecue ribs are nonpareil in Leflore County. 1 At 404 Pelican St.; 662-709-1465. new Zion missionary baptist CHurCH barbeCue Huntsville, texas At this tiny spot, which started as a fund­raising project 20­plus years ago, May and Horace Archie serve chicken, brisket and ribs smoked over a mix of oak, mes­ quite, hickory and pecan. 1 At 2601 Montgomery Rd.; 936-294-0884.
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lexington barbeCue lexington, north Carolina West of Raleigh, bar­ becue is made solely with shoulder meat. Lexington pitmaster Wayne Monk is the

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HollY RIDGE, MS claRkSDalE, MS
Detours

I’m goin’ away, to a Clarksdale, Missis­ world unknown. I’m sippi, always gon’ be my worried now, but I won’t home. That’s the reason be worried long. you hear me set right —charley patton, here and moan. “down the dirt road blues”

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the natchez tRace

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—son house, “clarksdale moan”

here’s hardly a town here now, but there is a cemetery, and in it rest the remains of Charley Patton, whose tombstone reads “The Voice of the Delta.” Patton died young—at the age of 43, in 1934—and was buried at a tombstone long lost, but such was his legend that John Fogerty, of Creedence Clearwater Revival, paid for a gravestone to be placed on the site.

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Delta blues museum (1 Blues Alley; deltablues
museum.org),

owhere has the worldwide interest in the blues spurred greater revitalization than in Clarksdale. The town is home to two blues museums: the public

utting from Natchez, Mississippi, northeast to Nashville, the 444 miles of the Natchez Trace have changed little over the centuries. First trundled by buffalo, then traced by Choctaw Indians, followed by traders, trappers and now tourists, its two­lane road wends through forest, swamp and field, undisturbed by billboards or tractor­trailers. As William Least Heat­ Moon wrote in his classic Blue Highways, the Trace, as it is called locally, is “just tree, rock, water, bush and road.” For details, go to scenictrace.com.

& blues museum (113 E. 2nd St.; blues2rock.com),

in which one can find the cabin from Muddy Waters’s sharecropper days reassembled, among other exhibits; and the private, nonprofit storefront rock

—johnny winter, “leland mississippi blues”

Further reading
R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country (Harry n. abrams) One of America’s greatest underground artists is also one of its greatest champions of Delta blues. In the 1980s, Crumb cre­ ated 36 blues trading cards here reissued. Son House, Charley Patton and Memphis Minnie are here, along with a 21­track CD curated by Crumb.

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his tiny town has turned out an amazing number of fine blues players, from James “Son” Thomas to Johnny Winter and boogie-woogie pianist Mose Allison. At the Highway 61
blues museum (307 N.

(121 E. 2nd St.; 888-510-9604; fiveanddimelofts.com)

Broad St.; highway61blues. com),

Leland’s musical sons are enshrined in murals and exhibits. Pat Thomas, the son of Son Thomas, can be found at the museum performing every day. The younger Thomas says, “Playing the blues makes me feel good, so I’m just going to keep the good work up. I’m satisfied, and I got an 11-year-old who wants to learn the blues. He’s already got a guitar.”

are six spacious new lofts above a landmarked Woolworth building. At night, venture to madidi (164 Delta Ave.; 662-627-7770; madidires.com), a sophisticated restaurant co-owned by another native son, actor Morgan Freeman, with riffs on Southern soul food like buttermilk-fried quail accompanied by truffle-clover honey. And after the fried quail, let the blues draw you into the night. Clarksdale is home to two of the Delta’s best blues clubs: ground Zero blues Club (387 Delta Ave.; groundzerobluesclub.com), also co-owned by Freeman, and red’s lounge (395 Sunflower Ave.), a genuine juke joint, small, hot and crowded, where you’re likely to hear some of the Delta’s greatest living bluesmen, like Robert “Wolfman” Belfour and Terry “Harmonica” Bean. Little has changed (except the cover charge) since Son House sang “I can have a good time there, if I ain’t got but one lousy dime.”

Cypress swamp milepost 122 Through a swamp of bald cypresses and tupelos, this half­mile trail is accompanied by birdcalls and the oc­ casional alligator. tupelo milepost 266 Take a detour off the Trace to stop by Elvis Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, and to check out the little­changed hardware store, Tupelo Hardware

roCK spring nature trail milepost 330.2 In late summer, this 20­minute loop is surrounded by bloom­ ing jewelweed, which attracts hundreds of ruby­throated hum­ mingbirds with its bright orange­and­ red flowers. JaCKson Falls milepost 404.7 Although there are waterfalls all along the Trace, these, named after Andrew Jackson, who led his army down the path in 1812, are the most stunning. loveless CaFe milepost 444 Half a mile after the end, stop by the Loveless Cafe for its fried chicken and famous redeye gravy and biscuits. lovelesscafe.com.

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CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: R. CRUMB, FROM R. CRUMB’S HEROES OF BLUES, JAZZ & COUNTRY, ABRAMS BOOKS; MARC MUENCH (2)

I’ve been in Texas, I’ve been on the run. I’m going to Leland, Missis­ sippi, mama, You all know that’s where I come from.

lElaND, mS

opened in 2006 by Theo Dasbach, a blues lover from Holland who hosts biannual blues festivals in downtown Clarksdale. Roger Stolle, a codirector of M For Mississippi, owns Cat Head Delta blues & Folk art (252 Delta Ave.; cathead.biz), which is full of Delta blues books, albums, DVDs and CDs, some of which are produced by Stolle’s own label, Cat Head Presents. “People didn’t believe the blues could save Clarksdale, but it has provided a solid foundation,” Stolle says. Clarksdale offers more than just music. The lofts at the Five and Dime

Cypress Swamp, along the Natchez Trace Parkway; biscuits from the Loveless Cafe.

sunKen traCe milepost 41.5 Outside Natchez, this section of original trail, sunken by thou­ sands of years of use, makes for an en­ chanted hike.

Company, where the king of rock ’n’ roll bought his first guitar.