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Travelled north from Louisiana and entered Mississippi on Highway 61. Made our way to Natchez for two nights. Toured around Natchez, Ante Bellum houses, restored to their former glory, and the once notorious Natchez – under – the – Hill (now rather quaint).
Tour of Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.
Left Natchez heading for Vicksburg. Took Highway 51 north to Hazlehurst. A Robert Johnson memorial has recently been erected. The courthouse in Hazlehurst is where Robert Johnson married Callie Craft.
Continued on Highway 51 to Crystal Spring. Made enquiries at the Post Office regarding the location of Tommy Johnson’s grave at the Warm Springs Methodist Church. No one knew anything about this church. (Further investigations, later in the tour, revealed that the cemetery is on private land and Tommy’s relatives are reluctant to reveal the exact location.)
Discussions developed into the Robert Johnson legacy and the recent court case involving Claude Johnson, who lives in Crystal Springs. We were given the phone number of the lawyer who dealt with the case as he would be interested in talking blues with us.
Also could not locate the grave of Houston Stackhouse in Crystal Springs.
Skirted Jackson and took Interstate 20, stopped off at Bolton and Edwards – The area in which Charlie Patton was born.
Arrived Vicksburg – Not a great deal to see in Vicksburg. Riverfront has the Mississippi River flood levels marked on the wall and casinos. Had some seriously hot chilli sauce chicken wings from a local takeaway.
Took Interstate 20 east then Highway 61 and Highway 3 north to Yazoo City – photo stop. Continued north on Interstate 55 and Highway 14 to Ebenezer. Found the New Port Cemetery, the resting-place of Elmore James and Lonnie Pitchford. A nice touch on the headstone for Lonnie is the inclusion of a Diddly Bow.
Through Belzoni towards Silver City. The Christian Valley Methodist Church is where Johnnie Temple is buried. Largely overgrown with a number of unmarked graves. No grave marker located.
Continued on Highway 12 to Hollandale. Enquiries lead us to the Sanders Memorial Garden Cemetery and the grave of Sam Chatmon. At the far side of the railway tracks down Main Street are a set of buildings known as The Blue Front. This had an active blues scene in the past with many of the great players performing in front of the juke joints and stores. Blues is currently played on Sunday afternoons.
Took Highway 1 to Greenville. Two nights stay – Greenville used as a base for exploring. Nelson Street being the main area for blues action within Greenville.
Just outside Greenville is Metcalfe, located here is the Evergreen Cemetery where Eugene Powell (Sonny Boy Nelson) is buried.
Highway 82 to Leland, located Bogue Cemetery where James “Son” Thomas and Willie Nix are buried.
Continued on Highway 82 to Holly Ridge. The New Jerusalem M.B. Church Cemetery has more grave markers than our previous visit. Not only is Charlie Patton buried here the other blues players are Asie Payton and the recently departed harp player Willie Foster.
Continued on Highway 82 to Indianola and onwards to Quito. Located Payne Chapel and the Robert Johnson marker. The location of the Three Forks store where the poisoning incident happened is near by.
Continued on Highway 49 east through Ruleville onto Dockery Plantation. Dockery is now a place of historical interest.
Left Greenville – heading for Memphis. Drove through Leland, home of Kermit the Frog.
Took Highway 1 north. Stopped at Beulah, Rosedale and onto Clarksdale. The Delta Blues Museum has moved location and is now near the railway depot. Photo sessions in Clarksdale. Had lunch in the Ground Zero Blues Club.
Continued on Highway 1 north through Friars Point – not a great deal here, a few tanks and guns on display.
Lula, a small town off Highway 1. Blues mural on the wall of the Washbucket launderette.
Arrived in Memphis, wandered around Beale Street. The are seems a lot more commercialised than in previous visits to the city with less blues being played around Beale Street. The city has developed a lot, in our opinion for the worse. Baseball stadium built right in the centre of the city – traffic chaos.
Gibson factory and store is an interesting couple of hours. The new Rock and Soul Museum in the same block is worth a visit. Strangely Tommy Johnson’s music is heard several times during the tour.
Mud Island at Memphis is a great day out. A one mile long scale model of the Mississippi River also the history of the area. Even blues from Charlie Patton being played in the history area.
In Memphis it is possible to locate the cemeteries where blues players are buried, however, it was only possible to find the grave of Walter “Furry” Lewis at Hollywood Cemetery. Frank Stokes is also buried here but no information is available to locate the gravesite, too large to search in the time available. Tried to locate Robert Wilkins at the National Cemetery to no avail, likewise, Will Batts at Mount Carmel Cemetery.
Booker (Bukka) White is buried at New Park Cemetery, however, a fire several years ago destroyed the cemetery records and plot plans therefore it was not possible to locate the grave. I suppose if the time was available a concerted and organised search would locate the grave.
Used Memphis as a base for travelling into northern Mississippi.
Crossed the Mississippi Bridge into Arkansas and headed through West Memphis, where Albert King is buried, and south on Highway 79 to Helena home of the King Biscuit Blues Festival. Spent a great deal of time walking around Cherry Street and all the surrounding streets. The Cultural Centre is worth a visit, several items of memorabilia and a video sampler of the King Biscuit Festival. Several scenes from the Robert Johnson documentary were filmed in Helena featuring Johnny Shines and John Hammond. Several of the cafes and juke joints still provide blues on an infrequent basis.
Just outside Helena at the Magnolia Cemetery are located the grave markers for guitarist Robert McCollum (Robert Nighthawk) and harp player Frank Frost.
Crossed over the Mississippi Bridge eastwards to Como, located Fred McDowell’s grave at Hammond Hill Church. Retraced steps and took Highway 3 north to Pritchard. Willie Brown is reportedly buried at the Good Shepherd Cemetery, however, a through search of the cemetery did not reveal any grave marker. The cemetery contains a large number of unmarked graves.
The next port of call was the Hernando and Nesbitt areas via Highway 55 north. Located Gus Cannon’s grave at Greenville Memorial Cemetery (Oak Groove M.B. Church) at Nesbitt. Approximately three miles away is Mount Olive C.M.E. Church at Hernando where Joe Callicott is buried.
The Mississippi Hill Country is within easy reach of Memphis. Follow Highway 78 out of Memphis to Holly Springs. One place to visit is a must - Aikei Pros Shop. Just outside Holly Springs on Highway 7 north is Hudsonville where David “Junior” Kimbrough is buried.
Left Memphis and headed along Interstate 40 towards Nashville, stopped at Brownsville on route.
Nashville, the home of Country Music, however, there is a surprising amount of blues played in the various clubs and bars.
All in all, the tour was a success, even with the little information we had from Sheldon Harris’s book The Blues Who’s Who, which we used to plan the trip, we were able to locate most of the gravesite and blues towns that we intended to visit. To be continued……
Courtland and Hazel Bresner
7th October 2001
Article Text & Photographs
© Copyright 2001 Courtland
Bresner. All Rights Reserved.