Where blues had a baby and named it rock â€™n ro
Where blues had a baby and named it rock â€™n ro
May 11, 2011
Karen T. Bartlett
It started in the slavery days on cotton plantations and shacks, and matured in depression-era saloons, factories and warehouses of poor southern towns and grimy city back streets. It expressed the pain and despair of the African-American condition, and also a joyfulness and faith in a better hereafter. Blues. Ragtime. Rhythm and blues. Jazz. Soul. Gospel. And finally, rock â€™n roll. Each distinct, but all share a nearly 1,000-kilometre stretch of the Mississippi Riverâ€”the birthplaces of Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, W.C. Handy, Elvis and the rest.
If the spirit moves you, too, start here:
ST. LOUIS: Birthplace of ragtime, R&B
Delmar Street: See the starsâ€™ stars on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, then score a 78- or 33-rpm record at Vintage Vinyl record store. Tour the home of Scott Joplin, King of Ragtime; see Miles Davisâ€™ trumpet and other iconic treasures at the Missouri History Museum. Meet Davis and Joplin themselves, among others (in wax) at the Griot Museum of Black History and Culture.
Jazz and blues in the â€™hoods: Soak up soulful notes in the recently gentrified Soulard Historic District. BBâ€™s Jazz, Blues and Soups and the 1860 Saloon all sizzle. Check out the mix of nightlife on the gas-lit cobblestone streets of Lacledeâ€™s Landing, which formerly housed 19th-century warehouses. Hear living legends at the 1950â€™s-era Jazz at the Bistro in Midtown. Head toward the famous Arch for a riverboat Blues Cruise (second and fourth Thursdays through October; www.ticketsforthearch.com).
MEMPHIS: Birthplace of rock â€™n roll
Famous sons: Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, W.C. Handy, Booker T. Jones, Howlinâ€™ Wolf, Otis Redding, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Ike Turner, more.
Memphis Blues: Beale Street is the pulsating blues heart of Memphis, where the immortal W.C. Handy wrote a political jingle that became â€œMemphis Blues,â€ thought to be worldâ€™s first blues song.
Feast on gumbo and catfish fingers, catch a show, and dance till dawn at juke joints like B.B. Kingâ€™s original Blues Club, Silky Oâ€™Sullivanâ€™s and Rum Boogie CafÃ©. Pay homage to the idols, immortalized in bronze music notes on the Beale Street Walk of Fame.
3734 Elvis Presley Blvd.: Thatâ€™s Graceland, of course. Itâ€™s not a question of whether, but how, youâ€™ll have your Graceland experience. Your Elvis-themed wedding at Gracelandâ€™s Chapel in the Woods comes with a free â€œWe Got Married at Gracelandâ€ bumper sticker. Honeymoon in the Heartbreak Hotelâ€™s Graceland Suite, a mini-replica of Elvisâ€™ personal digs.
Blue Suede VIP: With Heartbreak Hotelâ€™s Ultimate Elvis & Memphis VIP package, around $500 buys three days and two nights at the hotel, the top-of-the-line Graceland VIP tour, and lunch at the Hard Rock CafÃ©. Also, tickets for two to Sun Studio, the Stax Museum, and the Rock â€™n Soul Museum. But thatâ€™s not all. You also get a package of Elvis goodies in a â€œblue suede-likeâ€ souvenir box. www.elvis.com.
Get on the Hound Dog Bus: $15 to $35 gets you a time capsule tour of Memphis, aboard a â€œ50s-era rockin,â€™ rollinâ€™ gospel-singinâ€™â€ bus. Itâ€™s loud, and you provide the backbeat. www.backbeattours.com and www.memphistours.us.
Pink Cadillac: Do Memphis Elvis-style, with a private music history tour (hourly or all day) in Tad Piersonâ€™s personal pink â€™55 Cadillac. www.americandreamsafari.com.
Stax Museum: Stax Records launched the careers of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. & The MGs and others, in a tiny recording studio at McLemore Avenue and College Street. Now the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, itâ€™s the worldâ€™s only soul museum. www.soulsvilleusa.com.
MISSISSIPPI DELTA: Birthplace of the blues
On your river journey from Memphis, Tenn. to Baton Rouge, La., paddle real slow and keep a sharp eye, or youâ€™ll miss the small Mississippi Delta towns where blues music is the raison dâ€™etre. Greenville is the home of Mary Wilson of the Supremes. If you can handle an authentic Mississippi juke joint, the Walnut Street Bait Shop blues bar is the one.
In Clarksdale, see Muddy Watersâ€™ guitar, and the remains of his sharecropper cabin, at the Delta Blues Museum and Gallery.
Greenwoodâ€™s claims to fame include B.B. King and actor Morgan Freeman. Also, singer Bobbie Gentryâ€™s infamous Tallahatchie Bridge, and WGRM Radio, the site of B.B. Kingâ€™s first live broadcast in 1940.
Blues Trail and Blues Fest: The new Mississippi Blues Trail is marking little-known birthplaces, gravesites, recording studios and clubs along the Delta backloads where the artists honed their craft. See jam sessions, radio shows and festival dates at www.msbluestrail.org.
October 2 is the date for the Mississippi Blues Fest in Greenwood. www.mississippibluesfest.com
BATON ROUGE: Blues capital of Louisiana
Before shaking the blues, check in for a night or two in Baton Rouge, immortalized in Janis Joplinâ€™s â€œMe and Bobby McGee.â€
Try the Red Dragon Listening Room, Phil Bradyâ€™s or Chelseaâ€™s CafÃ©. Some of the best blues on the continent can be heard on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Piccadilly Cafeteria. Donâ€™t miss the Sunday jam at Teddyâ€™s Juke Joint. The original shotgun-style shack on the Old Scenic Highway, loaded with kitsch and memorabilia, serves up good food and serious Delta blues.
Gospel: The gospel choirs of the Shiloh Baptist Church and Greater King David Baptist Church will stir your soul, and the congregations warmly welcome visitors.
NEW ORLEANS: And all that Jazz
Home of: Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt, Aaron Neville, Fats Domino, Harry Connick Jr., Mahalia Jackson and Wynton Marsalis. Also, composer/pianist/pool shark Jelly Roll Morton, who claimed that he single-handedly invented jazz.
Immerse in Louis â€œSatchmoâ€ Armstrong on South Rampart Street, the cradle of jazz. Here, in the Storyville neighbourhood of juke joints and bordellos bordering the French Quarter, young Satchmo was sent to a home for â€œcolored waifsâ€ for firing a pistol in front of the Eagle Saloon. It turned out okay, though; because it was there that he learned to play the cornet.
Hallowed Hall: The French Quarterâ€™s Preservation Hall has been packing them in for Dixieland jazz seven nights a week for nearly half a century. www.preservationhall.com. Rock â€™n Bowl is the worldâ€™s most famous bowling alley/ jazz music stage. www.rockandbowl.com
Bourbon Street: You canâ€™t leave New Orleans without doing tourist-entrenched Bourbon Street. To get your bearings first, Grayline Tours ( www.graylineneworleans.com) offers an early evening escorted stroll of the seven-block party street, beginning with a six-course table dâ€™hÃ´te dinner at the venerable 150-year-old Tujagueâ€™s Restaurant.
Afterward, check out one of these local hangouts: Mother In Law Lounge, founded by Ernie Claiborne, the self-proclaimed â€œemperor of the world;â€ or Tipitinaâ€™s, where Professor Longhair once held court.
A Smokinâ€™ finale: Catch the acts at Donnaâ€™s Bar & Grill on Rampart Street, or Vaughanâ€™s on Dauphin Street where trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers play while Kermitâ€™s own barbecue sizzles and smokes.