Thursday dawned dreary and drizzly in the delta, hence the use of the line from Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis. We decided on an indoor activity for today. Poker! There is a town called Tunica in Mississippi which is home to a number of casinos, including the Horseshoe, part of the Caesars chain. It holds a daily poker tournament starting at noon and Thursday’s event has a $65 entry fee so we decided to take the hour-long drive down there to brush up our rusty poker minds. In the end, we both bust on the same hand so neither of us had to spend time hanging around waiting for the other.
On the way back, we stopped at a visitor information centre that also had a nice little museum attached to it. We stopped for a look around then headed back to Memphis. The weather just kept deteriorating all day, so we enjoyed a quiet evening in.
Friday, the weather wasn’t much better but we had set today aside for a look at one of the most famous locations in the history of the blues: the junction of highways 61 and 49. Also known as the Devil’s Crossroads.
This is where, legend has it, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar in a masterly fashion. This legend is referenced in Walter Hill’s 1986 movie and, of course, in Johnson’s own song Cross Road Blues, which was subsequently covered by artists such as Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Cyndi Lauper.
Robert Johnson died at the age of 27 in 1938, allegedly poisoned in a juke joint, and left behind a legacy of only 29 recorded songs. His work has been hugely influential on the subsequent development of blues and rock and roll music. If you’re unfamiliar with his music, I urge you to give it a listen.
This crossroads is in the town of Clarksdale, Mississippi which brands itself the birthplace of the blues, with good reason. Many great bluesmen, including Son House, came from the area. Sam Cooke was born there. Bessie Smith died there. Chicago Blues exists because of the migration of rural workers from the Mississippi delta to the north, seeking industrial work.
Also in Clarksdale is the Delta Blues Museum, which features a huge range of artefacts from blues greats across the decades.
Unfortunately, there are no photos allowed inside the building, so we’ll have to make do with our memories. We really enjoyed our Clarksdale visit, and our immersion in old school delta blues. If you’re in the area and you like music (and why would you be in the area if you didn’t), pay a visit.