Following the old blues trail of Route 61, we head for Natches (sounds like matches with an n) with no particular plan in mind with the first night booked in Vicksburg Mississippi. The country is Ireland green with rich fertile soil. First time I have seen fields of cotton. I sing to myself all the cotton songs…they look so pretty.
We detour in and out of the little towns getting lost and then being found. We look and sound so different. Talk about being the only brunette at the Brownlow; we are positively glowing with our whiteness.
The poverty is visible here still. Many of the locals still work as share croppers, but most work for the local farms which have been bought by big corporations. Much of the housing looks portable yet cosy. The only stores are usually a petrol station that also sells grocery items, and a few fried chicken joints. And at least 3 churches; Baptist, Pentecostal and a Revival Centre.
We are having the best fun listening to all the local radio stations. Even the tiniest town has its own community station. Every second station is Christian, sometimes the music is good, sometimes downright freaky. How’s this for an opening line for a song “If you’ve got cancer, an you don’t wanna die, then pray” which is sung to a tune that sounds a lot like “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”. To each their own I guess. What’s more, to save your soul there is a boxed set of 6 CD’s for only $150 – “Yours to keep and to listen to anytime time you feel the need for salvation!” (For $150, I would sure be keepin’ them). Remember, the basic wage is a little over $6 an hour.
Thank goodness for Steve Irwin because he has put Australia on the map out here. As soon as we open our mouths, the locals want to know where we are from and what we are doing in their neck of the woods. The kids all want to hear about our spiders, snakes and sharks. They squeal with delight when we tell them we have 2 of the most deadly spiders on earth. One little guy said “Well, I was goin’ to go there when I was big, but hell no I ain’t never going there no more.” I told him that redbacks love to live in old toilets…
You need to be careful as a tourist guide though. In New Orleans, a bus driver drove past a big football stadium and told us that, along with the Great Wall of China, it’s one of the few structures that can be seen from space. I could have said “I beg to differ, Sir, the only thing that can be seen from space is the migration of the wilderbeast in Africa” (because that’s what Steven Fry said, and he knows things).
Can you imagine what this place was like in the 1920’s? Back breaking work for little pay. and if you were black, life was tough, and if you were black and female, it was the toughest. Music and religion was the only solace, so it’s no wonder they are so linked. That black gospel music is hypnotic with a rhythm and soul that I find lacking in say a traditional Church of England hymn that was written by someone in 1860 and still sung today. Maybe if their music was better…well, I’m just sayin’.
Driving this land you feel where the blues started. Blues is not only about the notes they play, but more importantly it’s the notes they don’t play. This is the birthplace of all the music to come.
I won’t bore you with all the sights we have seen, where the greatest musicians played (often to small crowds), but to me it has been an amazing journey. Honestly, I thought I knew a fair bit about music, now I realise I know next to nothing. But what I do know is this – coming up from scratch, and honing and refining your craft makes for a great singer and musician. Gaining fame on a TV show is not the same thing.
And now to one of the best 2 hours of the trip.
Ferriday Louisiana is the childhood home of Jerry Lee and where his sister Frankie Jean still lives. At this stage, decisions hadn’t been made about whether to call in. Because even though I am a big fan of his music, I’m not a collector of memorabilia nor even a pilgrim. So we called in.
The house is modest but unique; it has a drive inn bottle shop in the garage. This is where Frankie Jean (and yes, you never say just Frankie or Jerry, it’s always the full moniker) has lived for most of her life. I will not write about anything she said because the libel laws are strict over here, and after seeing a correctional facility it’s another place I don’t need to visit.
What I can say is that we talked and laughed for over 2 hours. The house is full of memorabilia, but it’s her home as well. We could have stayed the night with her (true), but I was so high I needed a bit of a drive to calm down. She loaded us with gifts, a rare recording of Jerry Lee and his sister Linda Gail and his mamma singing “I’ll fly away” on the piano, recorded on an old tape in their own house. She told us to “just make me a copy when you get home and send the original back!” She gave me jewellery from her mamma and an old booklet of Jerry Lee and Linda Gail lyrics and songs. She liked us, she said. She said she gets a few crazies and nuts here, but she could tell we were good Christians with good hearts. Most amazing and a quite surreal experience. I loved her. She even talked about why she got married at 12. What a life, someone needs to write a book about her life.
And haven’t we had a lot of unusual experiences. Saw the biggest human on earth in a little pawn shop. And believe me, there have been hundreds of people vying for that privilege. Yep, some very big people in this neck of the woods. Been to a Walmart. This is exactly the sort of store we don’t need in Australia. Makes Bunnings look like the local corner store. I urge you all to shop at local butchers, bakers and greengrocers, or we will all end up like this. So endth the lesson.
Okay guys talk later,