My fingers feel around the edges of a small package wrapped in balloon printed birthday paper. It feels like three homemade CD’s stacked on top of one another. My dad sits back in the wooden dining room chair and mom watches with a smile. I open it, impatiently ripping through the tape on the back.

Intro to the Blues Volume 1-3.

I read the play lists: Robert Johnson, Fresh Cream, Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, The Allman Brothers Band, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Bonnie Rate, Howlin’ Wolf… I look over at my dad, a stupefied smile creeping across my face.

“This is just to get you started.”

“Dad spent hours on those for you,” mom says.

“Yea. Yea, this looks awesome, thank you.”

Dad leans over and starts explaining his reasoning, this one is real blues, and this is an artist he listened to in college, and then there’s the old rule: how do you know if it’s a blues song? It has the word blues in the title. So there are a few of those courtesy of Joplin and the Allman Brothers.

My ride back to school is six lonely hours, but I pop in Volume 1 and the steady rhythm rolls, the guitar wails, and the voices pour pure soul into my ears. I fell in love with the music, devouring each song, listening to each CD over and over.

Not to say I know all there is to know. Not to say I know anything. But I know I like it. I love that sound, the rhythm, the way each singer sings the same song totally different. You make the blues what it is, so it is a part of you which, I think, is why it’s so damn good.

Tom called today to point out the comment on his last post. Don’t miss Route 61, The Blues Highway. Look it up on Wikipedia he tells me, write a blog for this one.

The history of the road is incredible. I thought Route 66 was going to blow my mind, but wait until you hear about this:

First there’s Robert Johnson:

The junction of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale is designated as the famous crossroads where, according to legend, Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for mastery of the blues” (Wikipedia article, “U.S. Route 61,” 02/06/09

Eric Clapton once said that there was a time when he would not talk to a person who did not know of Robert Johnson. A statement like that really makes you think twice about what you know and what you should look into knowing.

Robert Johnson was the father of the Blues, and the first member of the Forever 27 Club. Short lived though his career may have been, his songs are staples in the blues genre.

He is rumered to have sold his soul to the devil in order to play as well as he was able to. I guess we might find out about that first hand if we’re lucky.

Then there’s Jimmy Swaggart:

 “On Airline Highway [Rte. 61] in Jefferson Parish in 1987, Baton Rouge televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was confronted by rival preacher Marvin Gorman as Swaggart exited a motel with a prostitute. This incident increased the area's reputation as a locale of 'seedy motels'” (Wikipedia article, “U.S. Route 61,” 02/06/09

The really funny part about Swaggart is that he blew up the spot of a rival minister who was having an affair with someone’s wife. That came back to bite him in the ass now didn’t it? Old Jimmy was caught twice with hookers on this very road. Hopefully that won’t be a problem for anyone who is not Jimmy Swaggart…

A sobering bit of history right off of this road is that of the assisination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The famous picture of the men pointing towards where the shots rang out is from a motel right off the road we will be driving along. 

Now this is the best part, I think:

“Dylan himself commented, ‘I'm not gonna be able to make a record better than that one... Highway 61 is just too good. There's a lot of stuff on there that I would listen to.’

“It [Rte. 61] was regularly featured in blues songs, notably Mississippi Fred McDowell's "61 Highway" and James "Son" Thomas's "Highway 61." Bessie Smith met her death in an automobile accident on that roadway; Robert Johnson was said to have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 (itself the subject of a Howlin' Wolf song); Elvis Presley grew up in the housing projects built along it; and Martin Luther King, Jr. would later be murdered at a motel just off Highway 61.

“’A lot of great basic American culture came right up that highway and up that river", Robert Shelton told a BBC interviewer. "And as a teenager Dylan had travelled that way on radio. ... Highway 61 became, I think, to him a symbol of freedom, a symbol of movement, a symbol of independence and a chance to get away from a life he didn't want in Hibbing.’” (Wikipedia article, “U.S. Route 61” 02/06/09

This road is a hotbed of culture and history and I can’t wait to get out on it; to feel the wind blowing through my hair, put on some of those Delta Blues, and think about the events that happened here as we bomb down Highway 61 on the most amazing trip of our lives. 


Photo by US71 courtesy

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