That idea that you have to go to a place to get a feel for it was really the impetus for the trip down the Blues Highway. I don't know that I'll be a better player for it, but the pictures in my mind will be different.
Along the way, I learned some things.
First, and most happily, the blues legacy does live. The state of Mississippi has belatedly realized that the music is a thing of value. Mississippi is now the Birthplace of American Music. Louisiana might take issue with that, but it's good that Mississippi values the history.
Second, the language of the blues is alive, surviving mass media and other challenges, in people like the owner of the Riverside Hotel and many other people I listened to and talked with.
Third, I knew about the mechanization of agriculture and its effect on the rural population, but I had to go to Mississippi to understand its effects on the people and the music. In Helena, Arkansas, I was talking to the owner of the Blues Corner. Looking down the nearly empty street, he said, "Back then, on Saturday, the streets would be so crowded you could hardly get through. Down here, Cherry Street, it was all white; the next street over, Walnut, all black." In the small towns, like Tutwiler and Lula and Avalon, I got used to the fact that about 2/3 of the buildings are unoccupied. Ghost towns. But, the population back in the blues days was five or even ten times what it is today. The cotton gin had made cotton the king of crops, but harvesting was done by hand until the mid-'30's. That population shift made me understand why there could be many, many small jooks out in the country.
Fourth, when you see history being lost, look to local politicians. Whether it's leveling Storyville or building large casinos right over the top of Tunica, the local folks lean toward 'development' over history. I guess that's a good thing?
Fifth, there is one and only one breakfast food a national chain motel can't ruin: sausage.
Thanks so much for traveling with me. I will keep this blog open for an occasional update. Sign up for an e-mail 'poke' if you want to continue...