The Mississippi Delta: Birthplace of the Blues
From the Blues to a steak big enough for an entire family, my trip to the Mississippi Delta will not be forgotten. It was spring and I was touring the region to find out about the South, its hospitable people and the diverse range of things to do.
The Gateway to the Blues Visitors’ Center and Museum
Tunica’s Gateway to the Blues Visitors’ Center and Museum on the Blues Highway was the perfect starting point for me to get a great overview on how the Blues was born. The exhibits included a wonderful collection of guitars used by famous musicians, such as W.C. Handy’s cornet. I learned all about the British Blues style, or “skiffle” that came about in the UK during the 1950s, and that bands like the Rolling Stones and Cream have been monumental in keeping the Blues genre going. I tried my hand at playing a lap steel guitar and a diddly bow, and made a pitiful attempt at recording my own blues song in the on-site studio. I e-mailed it to myself, and there in my in-box it will stay.
Delta Nature and Southern Fare
After an amazing cheeseburger for lunch at service station-turned-restaurant Blue and White, I headed over to the Tunica RiverPark and Museum, and learned about the Delta’s rich native flora and fauna. The museum overlooks the great Mississippi River, which is one muddy behemoth, but still stunning to take in. Dinner that evening was at The Hollywood Café, an unassuming bar named after a town in Mississippi, not, as you might think, the more famous city in California. Forever immortalised in Marc Cohn’s song “Walking in Memphis,” this slice of Hollywood, along with its yummy fried green tomatoes, will remain part of the Mississippi Blues Trail indefinitely.
Honouring Blues Icons in Greenwood and Indianola
The next morning, I headed to Greenwood, and the final resting place of Robert Johnson, legendary Blues musician, who is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for success as a Blues guitarist. The unassuming gravesite at the secluded Mount Zion Church is one of three places where Johnson is thought to have been laid to rest. While I stood at the headstone, several tourists arrived to pay their respects, three of whom were from England. “I feel like I’m in Mecca,” said one. He set a small bottle of whiskey down next to the others that stood in a line. Robert Plant came here in 2009 because Johnson made such an impression on him during his youth, and even Eric Clapton called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived."
My next stop was the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola. Built to honour the life and legacy of probably the most famous blues musician in history, the museum was brilliant. I could’ve easily gotten lost there for several more hours to soak everything in.
Southern Charm in Greenville
For dinner that evening, I stopped by Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville and met ‘Lil Charles,’ whose grandfather started the restaurant in 1941. I’d met up with some locals upon arrival who very kindly asked me to join them for dinner. Lisa said, “Now don’t expect fancy here, but do expect some darn good ole southern cooking.” She was right, although I unsuccessfully tried my hand (and stomach) at eating a steak the size of a football field, accompanied by baked beans, hot tamales and salad. I rounded off my day at the Walnut Street Blues Bar and washed everything down with Mississippi-brewed Southern Pecan beer while listening to live Blues music.
There is no other place on earth like the Mississippi Delta! I found it to be both magical and mysterious, and full to overflowing with southern charm.
When You Go
Where to Eat
Blue and White Restaurant
Doe’s Eat Place, Greenville
The Hollywood Café, Tunica
Things to Do
The Gateway to the Blues Museum and Visitor Center
BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
Tunica RiverPark and Museum
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