We present a unique journey down in Mississippi, passing by Arkansas and Tennessee, searching for the grave of the music that has been so important in everyone’s life: The Blues.
This tour includes also visits to the graves of the most famous blues musicians in history, born and buried in Mississippi. In this tour there will be visits to places that have hosted moments and unique characters of this music, as well as live performances of country blues, acoustic blues and electric blues, some already planned but also organized specifically for these trips. For the real fans you can also have tickets to blues museums or locations far from the cities such as cotton plantations and the famous crossroads to get you deep into the true atmosphere of the Mississippi blues.
We present a 9 days/8 night tour
This tour is organized for April
day 1 Saturday (Memphis, Tennessee)
Your trip starts in Memphis, Tennessee. After arriving at the airport, we will pick up the van, bus or motorbike. After settling in the hotel we will go to an evening dinner on Beale Street, in one of the places where the best BBQ ribs are cooked, the Blues City Cafe, and to start with live blues concerts don’t forget to have a beer in Huey’s in Poplar Av. or Second St.
day 2 Sunday (Memphis, Tennessee)
We will then take a tour to visit to the STAX Museum of American Soul Music, 962 McLemore Avenue, the famous Soul Music label founded in 1957 from Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton. .
We will then move to visit (guided at least for newbies) the Sun Studios at 706 Union Avenue. Famous for having recorded blues musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf, Dr. Ross, B.B. King, Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Little Milton and others. It was also famous for seeing the birth of rock ‘n’ roll recording Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. Do not forget the famous gadgets at exit
We will then move to the Hollywood Cemetery (2012 Hernando Road) where, after parking at the entrance and a going up the hill of the cemetery, at the third street on the left will find the two tombstones of Walter “Furry” Lewis, even with a discordant date of birth.
The late afternoon is free for shopping on Beale Street with a visit to Tater’s Red, a shop famous for making voodoo amulets and mojos for every need (do not miss for example the famous John The Conqueror root oil).
Dinner will be at the Rum Boogie Cafe where in the past we could admire the original label STAX sign, now back to the museum, and you can see the guitars hanging from the ceiling from many musicians have played here over the years, for example Ike Turner, Son Seals, or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Overnight in Memphis
day 3 Monday (Memphis -> Oxford)
Before leaving Memphis we can’t forget crossing the Mississippi River to West Memphis, Edmondson, Arkansas, and visiting the tomb of the one and only Albert King at Paradise Grove Cemetery. Because there was an 11 pm curfew in Memphis during the 1940s and 1950s, West Memphis across the river was the favorite place to play for musicians such as Sonny Boy Williamson II, B. B. King and Howlin’ Wolf. The tomb of Albert King, located next to Martin Luther King Jr. Park, contains the famous bronze plaque on a Flying V guitar, his trademark, suitably adapted for this left-handed guitarist.
We will visit to the Blues Foundation (https://blues.org) which since its founding in 1980 has accomplished the mission to preserve this African American musical art form. It also organizes the annual International Blues Challenge and the Blues Music Awards, in addition to the Keeping The Blues Alive Awards. We will also visit the Center for Southern Folklore, co-founded by Judy Preiser and William Ferris, a place where you can find information and original material that is essential to understand the southern cultureBefore that, just to be really living the spirit of the South, we will visit the National Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. Stop for the lunch break in Alcenia’s for some real good soul food or even on Beale Street at Dyer’s Burgers.
It’s time to go down in Mississippi, to visit the famous North Mississippi Hill Country. This is the area where the Burnside and Kimbrough families have lived for a long time, and it is the same place where every year Kenny Brown organizes the Hill Country Picnic every year on the last weekend of June.
Going out from Memphis and taking US-72 we will arrive to Hudsonville, where David “Junior” Kimbrough, famous for his music and patriarch of the Holly Spring Blues, is buried. On his grave, instead of flowers, his fans often leave a beer, as a last cheers for the afterlife.
Next stop Holly Springs and please do not miss the Aikei Pro’s Record Shop (if it is closed, keep persisting, and you will find someone from the shop to ask for the owner, whose real name is David Caldwell) at 125 N. Center Street. Among the used bicycles, which are perfect for hidden stray cats, and a dusty and messy interior, you might still find something really interesting (and at prices to discuss and deal!).
Find a place to eat such as Annie’s Restaurant, famous for fried chicken and down South cooking or the Chewalla Rib Shack located near the original Junior Kimbrough Jook Joint in Chulahoma. Junior’s Jook, one of the last of the Mississippi jook joints, was destroyed by a fire in April 2000 and honored by the Black Keys disc of the same name.
Continuing to Harmontown we will visit the grave of R. L. Burnside, one of the last original bluesmen back in the music business. Thanks to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, R.L. re-launched his career in 1996 with the album “A Ass Pocket Of Whiskey”. Fisherman and sharecropper and bluesman in his spare time, he learned to play directly from Fred McDowell.
We will finally arrive in Oxford, with a visit to the Square Books Shop, 1110 Van Buren and food choices on the square like the City Grocery, the Ajax Diner, and Rooster’s Blues House and the music venue Proud Larry’s.
Night in Oxford
day 4 Tuesday (Oxford -> Jackson)
Once in Oxford we should visit the headquarters of Fat Possum, the famous label that has recorded many musicians of North Mississippi, as well as being known for the sound called Mississippi Hill Country Blues
From Oxford we will move to, Jackson but before we will briefly stop to Canton, where Elmore James and Sonny Landreth were born, a small town famous for the Cohen brothers movie “O Brother Where Are Thou”. In Ebenezer we will visit the tomb of Elmore James, in black stone with a three-dimensional metal sculpture dedicated to the “King of the Slide Guitar”, which is located within walking distance to Lonnie Pitchford’s grave, who was famous for his “one-string guitar “.
We then go to Bentonia, birthplace of Skip James, and visit the Blue Front Café, a jook joint managed for many years by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, one of the last bluesman playing “hardcore” style. We will also visit the grave of Jack Owens, one of the founders of this style who was also known for appearing in the films “Deep Blues,” and “Land Where The Blues Began.”
We will visit Jackson that offers many attractions for black music, such as the King Edward Hotel, where musicians like Bo Carter and Mississippi Sheiks were recorded, or the residences of Tommy Johnson, Skip James and Elmore James. There are also the Jook Joint Queen Of Hearts and Farish Street, the local version of Beale Street, which is now in decline, but in the process of refurbishment (we can also point out the home of Malaco Records and Ace Records). But for blues lovers the main stop in the Magnolia State is a visit ad the Ole Miss University, where, at the 3rd floor of the J. D. Williams Library we can find the office of Greg Johnson, archivist, full of a lot of fantastic objects, open for the public under the careful check of William Ferris (ex professor of the University and co-founder of the Center of Southern Folklore) in 1984. Before leaving just give a look at the Greyhound Bus Station, a classical example of America Art-Decò. Today it is the personal office of Robert Parker Adams, architect, and it became famous during the battle for civil rights, when the Freedom Riders were arrested here because they used restrooms for white people.
Night in Jackson
day 5 Wednesday (Jackson-> Vicksburg-> Greenwood)
Continuing west we will arrive in Vicksburg where we can admire places like Slipper’s Inn, or Willie Dixon Way, and eat catfish at the LD’s Restaurant and Lounge.
We will continue north on Highway 61 we we must stop at Rolling Fork, the birthplace of Muddy Waters, commemorated by a monument in China Street.
Our daily trip will finally reach the muddy river, that divides Greenville from the Arkansas state. Here we will tour Nelson Street, where from the 1940s to the 1970s people the like Little Milton, Eddie Cusic, Charlie Booker, Willie Love, T-Model Ford and Little Bill Wallace ruled the street. The Mississippi Blues Trail marker reminds us the importance of this place in music history. Don’t miss Walnut Street, famous for its live music venues or the Playboy Club, immortalized in the film Mississippi Blues by Bernard Tavernier
After a short break we will continue to go west, arriving in Leland, where, in addition to blues murals at Lilo’s Italian Restaurant, we will visit the tomb of James “Son” Thomas, bluesman by vocation and undertaker by profession. Thomas was famous in Europe having visited it several times with the harmonica player Walter Liniger. We will also stop at the Highway 61 Blues Museum at 307 N. Broad Street.
Then we will drive to Holly Ridge, where we will find the grave of Charley Patton, known as “Voice Of The Delta”, as well as the graves of Willie Foster, Asie Payton, the latter right next to a cotton gin, which fills the surrounding earth with a white film similar to snow
After lunch we will arrive to Indianola, “The Home of B.B. King “as stated in the sign of the city. Here, we will visit among other things, the Club Ebony and the B.B. King Blues Museum. Possible combination dinner + concert & museum.
We will arrive in Greenwood where we will stop for the night
day 6 Thursday (Greenwood-> Cleveland -> Hopson)
We will leave Greenwood, and we will be now devoted to Robert Johnson, to the west of Greenwood, just northeast of the intersection of 89 and 49E is Three Forks Store, which is the bar (rebuilt after several tornadoes) where it is said that Robert Johnson made his last “concert” before he was killed, apparently by the jealous husband of a woman Johnson was drinking with. To the north of Greenwood is the third grave of Robert Johnson, currently thought to be the real one, according to eye witnesses who attended his burial at the Little Zion Cemetery
Going north to Avalon we will also visit the grave of Mississippi John Hurt, pioneer of folk blues music, who died in 1966 (it is important to know the date so that you do not take pictures of the wrong headstone, given the numerous Hurt in the cemetery). If you are interested you can also visit the Valley Storeandthe Mississippi John Hurt Museum.
We will pass by Cleveland and visit this beautiful city, especially the Airport Grocery, where Willie Foster recorded his CD “Live At Airport Grocery”, then we will go east and visit also the Dockery Farms, where once upon a time Charley Patton was employed.
We can’t miss (also if armed guards walking close to the white gate always try to avoid people in stopping) the Parchman Farms, the “Mississippi State Penitentiary” at the intersection of 32 and 49W, which is popular both for researches and registrations of Alan Lomax, and for having been visited by many bluesmen (such as Son House and Bukka White), and sung by many musicians not only blues (we mention for example Johnny Winter and John Mayall). Even today you can see the prisoners, with the classic striped uniform, working the land surrounding the prison.
After lunch we drive south to Tutwiler, where it is said that W.C. Handy, standing at the train station, heard for the first time what was then called the “blues”, a black stranger who was playing a guitar using a knife as a slide. We will visit the grave of Sonny Boy Williamson II, where despite the fact that the reported date of death on the tombstone is wrong, (as well as that of his birth is uncertain), many musicians still go on a pilgrimage leaving their harps as a tribute to Sonny Boy.
The tour will continue through the famous Stovall Plantation, where Muddy Waters worked as a tractor driver and where Alan Lomax heard him play and recorded him in 1941. Here you will find an indication of where it was located what is said have been the home of Muddy Waters, currently housed and rebuilt in the Delta Blues Museum a Clarksdale.
We will finally reach the Hopson Plantation, where the Shack Up Inn is located and where we will spend the night. Each year, the Shacks organize the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming on the Sunday just after the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena (second weekend of October). The festival is held even after the famous pianist passed away in 2011. This place is very unusual and tipical, because the owner, Bill Talbot, kept the old shacks of country and farm workers, and he refurbished them (mainly just adding the restroom) in order to obtain some “spiritual refuges” helping in this way to preserve part of the historical Mississippi Delta that is almost disappeared.
day 7 Friday (Clarksdale)
Day of rest and relax in the middle of the tour to gather energy and strength.
A mandatory stop is in Clarksdale is at the Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, managed by Roger Stolle, who along with Jeff Konkel, is very active to preserve the African American tradition and culture. In this shop you will find any blues record you want, books, CDs, DVDs, as well as Southern folk art objects and handcrafts made by bluesmen such as Pat Thomas, son of the legendary James “Son” Thomas. Also a few blocks from the Cat Head store, visit Stan Street’s Hambone Gallery for original folk art or the Rock and Blues Museum which features historic items like blues 78s, instruments, and photographs. Every Tuesday night, Street also hosts a jam for local and visiting musicians in his studio.
Lunch will be at Abe’s BBQ (closed on Sunday), located at the intersection of Highway 61 and 49 (although the real crossroad between the highways is different, as the historical HW 61 moved from the current one, thus it is unknown where exactly where the real crossroads are.).
The afternoon will be spent walking around Clarksdale, visiting places such as the Wade Walton’s Barber Shop or the Riverside Hotel, where Bessie Smith died, Sarah’s Kitchen restaurant, the building where there was the famous Rooster Records and even visit the Delta Blues Museum (closed on Sunday)
The evening will continue at Red’s Lounge or at the Ground Zero with live concert of local bluesmen
Night at the Shack Up Inn
day 8 Friday (Clarksdale-> Memphis)
In the morning we will pass Friar’s Point and we will take a side trip across the Mississippi River to Helena, Arkansas, home to the King Biscuit Blues Festival to visit the Delta Cultural Center
We will move east and arrive in Como, a small town crossing the railway, where Mississippi Fred Mc Dowell is buried. His gravestone was partially financed by Bonnie Raitt. On the reverse side of his tomb are written some verses of the song “You Got To Move” (famous also for the Rolling Stones version). You can also find some food or drinks in the Windy City Grill, located right on Main Street.
Continuing to return towards Memphis, we will stop in Senatobia where in the afternoon we will visit the grave of Jessie Mae Hemphill, great-granddaughter of Sid Hemphill, a musician who Alan Lomax recorded, as well as Rosa Lee Hill, aunt of Jessie Mae. In addition she to appearing in the movie “Deep Blues” by Robert Palmer, Jessie Mae also played for long time in Europe.
Near Senatobia, in Gravel Springs, if you are travelling at the end of August you will find the famous Othar Turner’s Picnic, in memory of this famous African-American musician, who played flute and drums with a unique style. These picnics last throughout the last weekend of August, with free admission and food and drink available locally at popular prices.
Continuing on Highway 61 we will stop in Tunica to visit the Gateway To The Blues shop
We will pass Walls to visit the tomb of Memphis Minnie, one of the few blues female singers as well as an exceptional guitarist. In the 1930s, It was said that Minnie played guitar like a man.
Back to Memphis. A must for dinner is at B.B. King Blues Club in Beale Street, with catfish tasting, a typical dish of the Mississippi (only for comparison with the catfish that we will always eat always going further south to the swamps of Louisiana). If you are lucky you can also attend a concert (live performances are frequent) and take home a t-shirt.
Overnight at Memphis
day 9 Sunday (Memphis)
Pick up your bags and directly to the airport for the flight to Europe.
The program includes 9 days travel by bus, mini van or motorbike, with stops every day and night in the most important shopping and entertainment places!
Note: All the itineraries are subject to change without notice during the season or even during the trip due to some unforeseen and unforeseeable reasons. Prices may vary according to departure dates.