Thursday, November 6, 2014

Highway 49 Revisited

The intersection of Highways 49 and 61, in Clarksdale, is where Robert Johnson is supposed to have sold his soul to Scratch.* Seems a little excessive really. He was good but them roads are littered with blue, and red, signs honoring people that were good...and who didn't get poisoned with lighter fluid or whatever.


The obvious choice for Indianola is B.B. King...born and reared there, playing on Church St. He's not the only King born in Indianola though...

Actually BB is the only King from Indianola...Albert was a Nelson. So, from Indianola Mississippi of my favorite snippets of recorded sound...ever.

Six miles down the road in know what happens next.

R.C. Cola...Inverness
Another 10 miles and you're in Isola.


We got red signs too...Isola is the hometown of Hank Cochran. He played under his own name eventually but what he really did was write songs...songs that have been recorded by everybody from Elvis Costello to Elvis Presley....Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and...this one.

This is exactly the kinda pop song that made my Grandmother despise Patsy Cline...sell out. It's a pretty good way to sell out though.

Then you come to Belzoni...

The opposite side of town from where he was actually born?

Pinetop played the piano instead of the guitar...cause a girl in Arkansas cut his arm up.

Him and Robert Nighthawk.

BB King has a special place with me. He was a constant around our house because my Daddy loves him...and Albert...who don't like Little Milton? But that urban soul blues is not favorite...Nighthawk is closer to the mark. Elmore James, born in Holmes county**, but a regular on the streets of as good a turn at country-Delta type Blues as they'll ever be.


After that you pass by Louise and Midnight...eventually coming to Yazoo City (used to be Manchester)...the end of The Delta. There's a few musicians but, we gon' hear from Jerry Clower. Y'all may not know him...but, he is a true Southern treasure and one of the funniest men to ever live.

"Sir what's wrong with you...NOT A THING IN THE WORLD."

Vicksburg and the grim Louisiana Delta today.

*There is, of course, controversy about this...some of the old players put the crossroad north of Clarksdale in Rosedale...I think.

**Holmes county could mean Lexington, Pickens...godforsaken Tchula...who knows.


  1. Indianola, Isola, Belzoni, Yazoo City... one of the delights of driving through Mississippi some 20 years' ago was those fabulous place names, somehow as exotic and mythical as anything in The Odyssey or The Iliad. My favourite is probably Avalon, where (as I'm sure you'll know) the great Mississippi John Hurt was from, and where the musicologist Tom Hoskins tracked the old guy down in 1963 by treating the line "Avalon, my home town, always on my mind" from "Avalon Blues" (recorded in 1928) as the literal truth.

    I loved the Indianola Mississippi Seeds album too - I know BB King has made a lot of great records, but that's always struck me as a high point.

    Anyway, I can't tell you how much I enjoy your musical tours and the evocative photographs that accompany them, Erik - they transport me from my West London eyrie in an instant.

  2. I'm glad to hear it because I genuinely love these places. Hopefully I'll be back to traveling regularly before too long.

    There are some great names around here...we haven't talked about Alligator or Itta Bena...but Pantherburn is my favorite. Speaking of mythology....that is the area most likely depicted in Oh Brother Where Art Thou. That's the area that was hit hardest by the flood.

    Names fall into regular categories...first and second wars of independence, Indian names and British place names. Along my trail yesterday there's Inverness, Cleveland and Dover. I'll pass by Bolton today.

    Seeds...Chains and Things.

  3. By second war of independence I am of course referring to our war against the invading United States...Lincoln's War. Often ridiculously referred to as a civil war.
    I am not referring to the war of 1812 (though I do hail from Andrew Jackson Ms) which is also ridiculously, in my estimation, sometimes called the second war of independence.

  4. Sounds like a road trip worth taking Erik. Interesting and educational as always

    1. Glad to hear that.

      I used to do about a thousand miles a week...from Lafayette Louisiana to Corinth Mississippi. I miss that road time.

  5. Thanks for the tour. Love the photos and what can I say about the music? No need to say anything.

    1. You are more than welcome sir...and I'm going back next week.

  6. As in the comments above, fabulously evocative photos, place names and music. Thank you. I can almost smell the air. Your mention of 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou' makes me want to watch that film again, too.

    1. Thank you for coming by to read it.
      I was in Tallulah, Louisiana Thursday.
      Tallulah is reportedly named after the girlfriend of the man who built the railroad through Scotland Plantation. The plantation was why there were buildings and people there in the first place.

      Makes me want to watch it again too.

    2. Oh I wish I had a 'Tallulah' address! Brilliant.

  7. The way you've framed these brilliant photos make the places seem like ghost towns, deserted shadows of what used to be. Are there horrible modern monstrosities lurking just out of shot? It always seems to be the case. The music is perfect too.
    I'm going on a roadtrip myself in a week or so, passing through Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and Romford, hugely unromantic after reading this great post. I won't bother packing my camera.

    1. The Swede, judging by photos you've shown us before, I think you should pack your camera. Knowing the places you mention you could get some evocative views of everyday life and surroundings in the flatlands of Essex and Suffolk..?

    2. would certainly be interesting to me.

      These are inhabited ghost towns...Indianola and Belzoni are decent sized little towns but there are no new buildings. It's all very much like the first picture of Inverness I posted in the first Highway 49 post.

      Even the bigger places (still small towns) like Greenwood, Greenville and Clarksdale are still using the same buildings they've always had...or the ones that were built after the Yankees burned them down.

      It's a very strange place...18 of the poorest counties you'll find outside of an Indian Reservation and probably some of the oldest and biggest piles of money you'll find. A lot of them old buildings have swanky boutiques in them...quaint bookstores...there are obviously musicians, authors and world class potters.

      It's been described as the most Southern place on Earth but it's very insular. I'm going back next week and maybe we can get the Sister to chime in. She married into a Delta family and has her own opinions.

  8. Grits Ain't Groceries is probably the best song ever.

    1. I can't think of a good reason against it.