Rolling Down the Blues Highway

Enjoy Mississippi's musical history by visiting spots like the Delta Blues Museum and Po' Monkey's juke joint.

Courtesy of Stax Museum
Courtesy of Stax Museum

On a gravel road just off Highway 61 in Merigold, Miss., sits the rundown shack Poor Monkey Lounge, better known as Po’ Monkey’s, believed to be one of the last authentic juke joints. Juke joints were essential to rural blacks, who needed a place to unwind, and blues musicians, who honed their craft as they headed north to the larger cities. Po’ Monkey’s is famous for its intimate, down-home feel. The place has no phone, no website and no regular hours — it’s open only from Thursday night into the wee hours of Friday morning.

But if you really want to understand where the blues began rather than just groove to it, hit Dockery Farms in Cleveland, Miss. No one knows for sure the exact site where the blues was born, but this location certainly played a central role. The farm, about two hours south of Memphis, was the childhood home of Patton, one of the Delta blues’ most important figures. Howlin’ Wolf, Johnson and “Pops” Staples — the patriarch of the Staple Singers — are also said to have spent time performing there.

In fact, some have called Patton the “father of the Delta blues,” a guitarist with so much flair and style — “swagger,” if you will — that he influenced just about every musician who followed him — from Howlin’ Wolf to Bob Dylan. You can pay respects to Patton at his grave in Holly Ridge, Miss.

A blues tour wouldn’t be complete without visiting the spots where two of the genre’s greats were born. First, there is Muddy Waters’ birthplace in Rolling Fork, Miss. McKinley Morganfield’s grandmother gave him his nickname because he loved to play in the muck; his friends added the “Waters” later. In the 1940s, Muddy was instrumental in the development of Chicago blues, an electrified version of the Delta blues. His influence was so far-reaching that the Rolling Stones took their name from one of his songs.

And finally, Vicksburg, Miss., is where you’ll find Dixon’s birthplace. He was one of blues’ most influential songwriters and, along with Muddy, a key contributor to the Chicago blues. Like Muddy, Dixon was also a major influence on rock and roll. Artists such as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and the Doors covered his songs.

Genetta M. Adams is a senior editor at The Root.

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