Music Road Trip Deep South USA

June 2019

Nashville Tennessee

Dave enjoyed planning and routing this road trip.  We’re both big music fans, he still works for a record label and I used to work in the business so this trip to the Southern US states was based on following the music; from Country and Western, Rock n’ Roll, the Delta Blues to Jazz and Zydeco.  Arrived Nashville airport, only a short 2 and a half hour flight from JFK in New York; I love short flights!  Dropped by the car rental and picked up the Dodge Challenger.  An Englishman and his American muscle car; thankfully Dave didn’t go for the Turbo Power version or I’d have been throwing up the entire trip every time he accelerated.  We had our route planned and the music playlists lined up (you can find links to them at the end of this blog post).  00DeepsouthMapHeaded to our Airb&b in East Nashville in a leafy part of town lined with weatherboard houses painted in earthy tones, rocking chairs on porches and neat lawns out front.  Met the people renting the main house of which our accommodation for the night belonged to but stood separately in its own plot of garden at the back.    Friendly and ready to chat they mistook us for Australians…we’re long used to it now. One of the women asked Dave if he was a Doctor, “What made you think that?” I asked. “The t-shirt he’s wearing”. Baffled, Dave look down at his shirt and the word ‘Aesthetic’.  I guffawed loudly and pointed out that it didn’t say anesthetic.  In her defense she said she didn’t have her glasses on.Nashville TennesseeJune2019-4BLOGLeft our bags in our cabin style mini house furnished with a large bed, kitchenette and pretty much everything we’d need for the next 3 nights including 2 guitars, a mandolin and a piano.  Set out to walk to local hotspot Mas Tacos Por Favor to eat Mexican food, almost retreated to get the car after discovering the extended route we had to take to allow us any chance of crossing the busy highway.   USA is car country, pedestrians were relegated to a second thought once those shiny finned automobiles started rolling out of car plants back in the 50s.   En route we looked around in Star Struck Vintage, a clothing store where we met Britney who chatted to us for a while and then told us that she’s also a standup comedian.  She laughed at the irony of trying to do stand up gigs in a town totally obsessed with country music.  BritneyStarStruckVintageNashvilleJune2019BLOGMas Tacos is a fun spot with a busy bar, take out service and tables…we sat up on barstools and ate black beans, feta and sweet plantain tacos which were a mouth watering combination of flavours.  We walked back finding a short cut up an overgrown alleyway behind the houses back to our street where an old pickup sat gently rusting on the side of the road.Nashville TennesseeJune2019-2BLOGDrove downtown to the main drag in Nashville known as Broadway; sensory overload of rows upon rows of bright neon advertising signs, honky Tonk bars blasting out live country music from bands performing on stages open to the street. Kid Rock’s bar had two levels packed with around 700 people drinking and whooping it up at the female singer and fiddle player on stage dressed in black skintight Lycra.  And hen night / bachelorette parties; the city is swarming with them.  Pedalling around on 16 seater customised vehicles with a driver up front, often shirtless, blasting out music which the women screech along to, their beers sloshing in cup holders as they careen around town yelling out waving to people.  And if they aren’t on a pedal barrel they’re dancing in a flatbed trailer being pulled by a tractor, or on an adapted fire engine, or most ridiculous of all a hot tub on a trailer filled with screaming drunk people which during the day they’re slow roasting in the midday sun.  The noise along Broadway was deafening. Apparently it’s been nicknamed NashVegas.  We wandered in to cowboy hat shops and boot stores; selling from $250 up in to the $1,000s. Nashville TennesseeJune2019-17BLOGVisited Ernest Tubb’s Record Store where the walls are filled with fading photos of old country stars, memorabilia set up on a stage at the back.

We met The Bang This Twins; despite both having moustaches I’m pretty sure the one on the right without teeth in was a woman.  Dressed in bright orange t-shirts printed with Bang This…they repeatedly asked me if I’d got the name and to find them on their THREE Instagram accounts.  Downtown Nashville is a surreal night out.BangThisTwinsNashvilleJune2019We got talking with French national Antony D’Oliveira raising funds to make a documentary on equality and to continue exploring the world.  60 countries and counting.  His world map, photos and banknotes displayed on the pavement metres away from the packed out Honky Tonks.  He was trying to educated passersby but the country music blasted out and drunken tourists staggered across his display.   Neon signs washed the sidewalks in colour and the streets were heaving with people.  Thousands of drunk people partying in Nashville and purchasing overpriced cowboy hats made in China.  Never seen anything like it.   Downtown Nashville is on some serious steroids!  There are too many drunk people….we escaped the madness back to our country cabin.AntonyD'OliveiraNashville2019Next morning through a work colleague of Dave’s we were given free entry to the Country Music Hall of Fame, a huge museum taking you through the origins of the music up to present day. Gram Parson’s famous Nudie Cohn suit stitched with roses and rhinestones…it looked so slim hipped and small.  They had Elvis Presley’s gold plated Cadillac and Webb Pierce’s incredible customised car; the size of a boat, bull horns on the front grille, mounted with chrome bucking colts and rifles, pistols for door handles and intricately hand tooled leather seats… and bizarrely a saddle near the driver’s seat.Nashville TennesseeCountryHOFGramParsonsNudieSuitJune2019-1BLOG

Wandered up to Jack White’s Third Man Records passing a line of men on the street, spaced out on drugs or alcohol, two of them passed out on the pavement in the fierce heat of the sun.  Two of the other guys trying to move them by dragging them across the pavement towards the shade.   It’s hard to know what to do in situations like these and knowing that people with a lot of problems can be unpredictable we still didn’t feel comfortable making an obvious move to cross the street to avoid them; so we got talking with them and 6 of them were really friendly characters.  One of them had served in the US military…he told us he knew martial arts and a couple of the guys were chuckling, told us that he went by the name of Miyagi as in Mr Miyagi from the movie The Karate Kid.  Miyagi told me he served in the army but messed things up when he left.  Smiling through his troubles… and that is one hell of a wonderful smile.MiyagiNashvilleJune2019BLOG.jpg Dave had been told about the Sunday Gospel at 4pm at The Station Inn.   Country Gospel music performed by 7 musicians on fiddle, guitars, bass and pedal steel.  Larry Cordel and his custom Blueridge guitar made specially with a shorter neck and smaller body for his injured hand. His nickname ‘Cord’ inlaid in Mother of Pearl.  Incredible voices, amazing guitar skills. Wish I’d got a photo of the guy on slide pedal steel.  I’m a country music convert. Nashville TennesseeJune2019-8BLOGHeaded back to eat in East Nashville, a small area but with a young neighbourhood feel; local bars and a few restaurants and graffiti murals land-marking it as a hipster hangout.

The following morning we take a drive by the Bluebird Cafe made infamous by hit TV show Nashville.  Many locals hold the show’s success responsible for the huge influx of hen nights in recent years.  The Bluebird is still a favourite small local Nashville venue hosting emerging new talent but also some of the biggest names in country music.  Since being featured in the TV show it sells out days in advance but driving by we were surprised to find that it’s actually situated in a typically American strip mall of low red brick buildings off the side of a major main road.  They only use the front of the venue in filming and the interior shots are filmed on set.Nashville TennesseeJune2019-23BLOGRyman’s Auditorium tour started with an innovative video tracing its past from a hell fire preaching tabernacle to it housing the Grand Ole Opry for 31 years. Nashville TennesseeRymansAudortiumJune2019BLOGMet John for a coffee, a friend of Dave’s also working for a record label.  I mentioned that I love the Johnny Cash album ‘Live from Folsom Prison’ and he encouraged us to visit the Johnny Cash museum.  We walked down Broadway to the museum, the area had been closed off to traffic as they were setting up stages for the CMA event at the weekend.  Hundreds of equipment flightcases were stacked inside a barricaded area in the middle of the street and teams of people set up a large stage, slotting huge lengths of scaffolding in to place.  The Johnny Cash museum was a fascinating hour wander through the history of the Man in Black. Originally named JR Cash but told to choose a first name to be called by when he joined the army, settling on John.  The chair from his infamous video for his cover version of the song ‘Hurt’ is on display along with his guitars, outfits, original vinyl pressings, letters, displays of album covers and photos and even furniture from his house.  A poster for his London gig at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1966.  A great museum really well laid out with a tasteful giftshop at the entrance. So good, I bought a t-shirt.

Took a drive along Bellmeade to see the huge stately mansions,  opulently grand plantation houses in rolling green manicured lawns.

Drove to Grimey’s Record Store, two floors of vinyl, CDs and books and incredibly hospitable staff.  Rounded out the day watching the fabulous Time Jumpers playing at Third and Lindsley; we walked in to a packed house filled mainly with locals.  Incredibly we got a seat right at the front by joining a table with lovely father and daughter duo Al and Erin.  Right up front to see the 10 musicians onstage; 3 fiddles, pedal steel, an accordion and keyboardist, double bass, fantastic drummer, two guitar players including Ranger Doug (seated), a member of the Grand Ole Opry, in his 70s and wearing a white cowboy hat.  Nashville TennesseeTimeJumpersJune2019-2BLOGNashville TennesseeTimeJumpersJune2019-1BLOGA female vocalist belted out a great version of ‘Ode to Billy Jo’ and another guy they invited up sang a blinding version of ‘Summertime’.  We had food and drink served to our table, really low prices and the ticket price for the band was only $20.   A great night out. For true music fans I’d really recommend seeking out the alternative local venues and avoid Broadway downtown where the atmosphere is more about the drinking than the music.

Lynchfield Tennesse 

Returned our key to the lockbox and headed out on the road for Memphis, passing a vintage road sign as we left Nashville.  Passed a hand painted sign further along the road which said:
‘For Sale. Spud War’.  Tempted to roll up at the door:  “We’ve come for the spud war…..and we’ve brought our own Maris Pipers”.  (you’d need to be British to get it). Nashville TennesseeJune2019-22BLOGWe made a (further than calculated) detour to Lynchfield to visit the Jack Daniel’s Distillery.  The oldest in the country and ironically based in a dry county.  We joined the 70 minute ‘dry’ guided walking tour (we were driving) of the grounds, seeing the process from start to finish with an excellent guide.  From the honey maple wood charcoal burning process sprayed with pure whisky as a non toxic natural accelerant right through to the sourmash, barrel storage and bottling.  Guess how JD died? By kicking his safe shown here, out of frustration when he couldn’t open it.  Infected toe…amputation, spread…amputated leg, more infection…died. On exiting, this women turned to me very seriously and said “Well just goes to prove that you shouldn’t kick things”.

Memphis Tennessee

With Dave’s Spotify curated playlist we drove on serenaded by Johnny Cash, Bobbie Gentry and Link Wray.  Along the highway through wide open pastures dotted with old red barns, collapsing wooden structures, cattle huddled under trees and white fenced horse ranches.  4 hours later pulling in to Memphis and our eccentric ‘painted lady’ Victorian Airb&b, The Captain Harris House.  We checked in to our top corner room; bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and long hallway, met the owners and a full time tenant living in the room next door with her dog.  On the advice of the owner’s son, we walked 10 minutes down to the road to Soul Fish to eat a feast of fried green tomatoes, Ruby Red trout, griddled zucchini, blackened catfish and hushpuppies made from deep fried cornbread and onion.  Southern food is the soul food that all the books say it is; absolutely delicious.MemphisTennesseeCapatinsHousebbJune2019-4BLOGWe got up early to visit Graceland, a place I’d wanted to see since being a kid hooked on Elvis movies in the 70s.  A friend had asked me before leaving if I was an Elvis fan and I said not really, not anymore, but I loved him as a kid.   We played Elvis songs in the car and when we hit Elvis Presley Boulevard my heart quickened…this is when you realise how stupidly excited you are and by the time we’d pulled in to Graceland’s parking lot I had tears in my eyes.  I guess Elvis had a huge impression on many kids back then and it brings back a lot of memories; slicing your mum’s shag carpet with your feet in time to ‘Do The Clam’ whilst Elvis wiggled seductively surrounded by gorgeous young women in bikini’s…it was the highlight of your weekend TV viewing.  It was a long way removed from a Northern childhood in 1970’s Britain.

Graceland is a much bigger set up than we expected, the house being the first stop on our gifted VIP tour.  A grand portico entrance flanked by columns give way to opulent rooms.  You can see where Elvis had some fun with the decor in his entertaining areas like the infamous Jungle Room with its green carpet and animal hide chairs.  The house leads on to other buildings which were converted in to a Graceland museum of exhibits accessed by walking across his family garden.  Elvis Presley’s grave with an internal flame sits in the garden close to that of his mother’s which was moved here.MemphisTennesseeGracelandJune2019-8BLOG

There are a lot of exhibits including a set of his house keys for Graceland, receipts of payment to staff and builders who worked on the property, family photographs and portraits.  There is so much to see.   After leaving Graceland and it’s adjoining buildings you take a shuttle bus back to the main entrance to see Elvis’s collection of cars and motorbikes…and a lot less rock n’ roll are his tractors.   Outside in a large tarmacked lot are two of his planes, one called the Lisa Marie which you can go inside to see the sleeping area and boardroom table for in-flight meetings.  Elvis’s TCB logo for ‘Taking Care of Business’ painted on the tail of the ‘plane.

Another huge building displays more memorabilia and a fantastic display of Elvis’s stage outfits; rows upon rows of the infamous rhinestone jumpsuits held in glass cases.

There is so much here that it does become a little overwhelming and it is a bit bonkers, but also fabulous fun and at times very moving.   It isn’t a cheap place to visit, VIP passes to see everything here weigh in at a hefty $100 per person and at every building exit there is another shop selling memorabilia, loads of t-shirts, mugs, key rings and Christmas decorations.  Coach loads of people pass through and almost everyone buys something.  We found this all over Tennessee at every major place we visited, the tills in the gift shops were constant.MemphisTennesseeGracelandJune2019-LezaBLOGFull on music day in Memphis. After Graceland we headed to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.  They had speakers in the parking lot playing hit records from  the Stax recording catalogue.  Dave’s a big soul music fan, especially Otis Redding so this was a highlight of the trip for him.  It isn’t the original studio but it’s been rebuilt on the original site and it’s really well done.  Stax was founded by Jim Stewart and his older sister Estelle Axton.  Estelle refinanced her house to pay for the recording equipment.  The studio started out being named Satellite but was renamed Stax in the early 1960’s from a combination of the first two letters of their surnames.  The record shop they set up in the same building stayed with the Satellite name and sales helped to fund the early days of the studio.   In 1960 they released their first single, a Rufus and Carla Thomas duet called ‘Cause I Love You’.  1962 saw the arrival of Otis Redding who went on to become one of Stax most famous recording artists.

Check out Isaac Hayes car…1972 gold plated Cadillac El Dorado, custom built for and gifted to Isaac Hayes as part of his contract negotiations.  The museum includes an original Mississippi Delta gospel church from 1906 and the original dance floor from ‘Soul Train’. MemphisTennesseeStaxMuseumJune2019-9BLOGAnd a short drive away we arrived at Sun Studios, our third major music landmark of the day.  Where Elvis cut his first commercial record and where Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis jammed together at the piano.  One of the microphones used by Elvis is shown in the downstairs studio and folks are free to go up to croon in to it…unplugged.   You can only visit here as part of a guided tour but the guide we had is a musician and very obviously a huge fan of the studio.  They have the ubiquitous gift shop selling Sun Studio t-shirts and a bunch of other related merchandise.  It would be easy to be sarcastic about all the gift shops related to these studios but generally the quality is decent and the designs are great and the income generated is used to keep these places going.  Memphis is the seedy gritty relation to Nashville’s upmarket rhinestones and tidiness.  Both great music cities but I love the edginess of Memphis.

Standing outside Sun Studios and it’s Memphis Recording Studio;  The Stone Celts Chapter O’Fallon Illinois. In Memphis for the Beale Street bikers’ meet.  We came out of our guided tour of Sun Studios and I offered to take a group photo for them.  MemphisTennesseeSunRecordingStudiosJune2019-12BLOGHeading in to the centre of town we ate at the Rendezvous, which looked like a run down place from the outside but opened in to a cavernous space packed with tables, most of which were filled.  This is a really popular BBQ joint and we ate huge pates of Ribs and Brisket.  To round off the day we checked out the Bikers Meet on Beale Street.  Both sides of the street lined with Blues Bars, not unlike Nashville with its Honky Tonks but a smaller area.  It feels a little more raw and edgy but still very touristy.   And a different kind of Memphis Blues.  Michael, President of the Thin Blue Line biker’s club from Arkansas with his Road Captain; both of them bikers and police officers.   Check out their club colours of blue and black…they believe that they’re the only bike club with this colour combo.  Hundreds of bikers gathered on Beale Street which runs 1.8 miles from East Street to the Mississippi River.  In the 1860s travelling black musicians started performing here making it an historical landmark in the history of the Blues.  Beale Street has been referenced in songs from Cab Calloway to Joni Mitchell.  On this night the blues couldn’t be heard above the roaring of several hundred motorbikes and it was great to hear one of the guys from The Stone Celts Chapter hollering out to us to come on by and talk with them again as they leaned against a wall smoking cigars.

We ventured in to The Withers Collection, a gallery further down Beale Street with a huge collection of black and white photographs taken by Dr. Ernest C. Withers.  Allegedly he had over a million photographs in his archives from key Civil Rights Movements.  From Martin Luther King to images of legendary performers like Elvis, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin.  Dave treated me to a wonderful print of Dick Gregory on the porch of James Meredith’s family porch, putting his boots on for the ‘March Against Fear’, Mississippi 1966.  Meredith was the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi and was shot by a sniper one day in to starting his lone march from Memphis to Jackson.  Hospitalised, other civil rights activists including Martin Luther King and Stokey Carmichael continued the march which Meredith, after recovering, re-joined to see it’s route completed in Jackson, Mississippi on 26 June 1966.

Clarksdale Mississippi

Back on the road the next morning, destination Clarksdale to pick up the Blues Trail on our music trip of the Southern States.  En route we visited the Lorraine Motel at 450 Mulberry Street where Martin Luther King was murdered and the National Civil Rights Museum has been built in his memory.  One of the girls working the entrance greeting people was blown away by us being English, talking to Dave first, saying “I’ve never met anyone from England before!” He told her to wait til I came in because she’d learn everything she ever wanted to know from a very talkative Englishwoman.

Visiting this site is an humbling experience. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 on the balcony outside room 306…and the lady who owned the motel suffered a huge stroke that night and died 5 days later.   Walking past the hotel and in to the museum entrance, leads you in a loop through a large and impressive collection of civil rights history; artifacts, original film footage, taped recordings of speeches and first hand spoken experiences of segregation.  It includes the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and more shockingly the burned remains of the first freedom fighters Greyhound bus going from Atlanta to Alabama, attacked once by the Klan… attacked again when forced off the road and set on fire.

The final loop of the museum leads up a ramp…. and suddenly you are standing in the Lorraine Motel, looking out across the balcony where Martin Luther King spent the last minutes of his life, flanked on either side by his motel room and that of his aides.  It’s unexpected and shocking to be standing here but brilliantly designed as the denouement of the civil rights museum experience.   It felt awkward exiting through the gift shop connected to a place still resonant with so much suffering.  I assume the museum needs the funding to keep teaching people about this tragic legacy of American history, one which still hasn’t moved on enough.

We took a slight detour in to Arkansas as part of our music tour to visit Bubba’s Blues Corner store on Cherry Street in Helena…but when we got there the place was closed up and the streets deserted.  Allegedly it’s one of Robert Plant’s favourite music stores so we’d added it to our route but we’d hit a rain storm and decided to drive back over the border in to Tennessee to continue on to Mississippi. Driving in the rain to Clarksdale I said to Dave: “I hope it’s not raining like this when we go to Robert Johnson’s Crossroads.”  Dave replied: “Well we might see Muddy Waters.”
ClarksdaleMSShackUpInnJune2019-1BLOGWe checked in to the Shack Up Inn.  Amazing place.   A bar and blues venue surrounded by reclaimed shotgun shacks.  Our room was in the main barn which had been sectioned up in to separate rooms with rough plank walls.  All of the shacks had sold out for the night.  The main room has a stage and a bar but no restaurant and the place is filled with recycled farm equipment, old wooden signs and windows.  Very cool place to spend a night.

For dinner and music we went to Ground Zero, a bar in the centre of Clarksdale owned by Morgan Freeman.  Clarksdale feels like a one horse town, it’s small and rough round the edges but has a ton of character in its weathered buildings, broken down cars and Blues music belting out of various small clubs and bars.  We ate way too much food and topped it off with deep fried pecan pie, we thought the waitress was joking…but it was ridiculously delicious.  The next morning we visited Robert Johnson’s Crossroads where legend has it that he sold his soul to the devil in return for becoming the best guitar player in the world.  Underwhelming for such a significant transaction; a triangular patch of grass serving as a traffic island.

The rather lovely Marilyn Monroe (real name!) of the Rest Haven restaurant in Clarksdale, Mississippi. We turned up after breakfast had finished but they made one for us anyway. If you’re travelling the Blues trail of the Mississippi Delta region, make sure to stop by this place for a big plateful of good food and genuine Southern hospitality…and to say hi to Marilyn Monroe.MarilynMonroeRestHavenDinerClarksdaleMSJune2019Stuffed on our huge plate of breakfast we explored some more of Clarksdale.  The Delta Blues Museum was good fun filled with original Blues men’s stage clothing and even Muddy Water’s original shack rebuilt in the museum.

And what a treat….meeting Blues musician Deak Harp in his shop where he makes customised harmonicas, refurbishes 1950s and ’60s amps and builds Diddly Bow guitars.  Coincidentally we’d seen him jump on onstage at Ground Zero the night before and play harmonica on a couple of tracks and he played a few of his own songs to us in the shop… swapping guitar, for harmonica for a diddly bow.  Bloody great guy.   Deak did a basic harmonica customisation at my request…which I’ve sworn to Dave I’ll only play whilst in a different postcode.

Outside Deak Harp’s Shop, the lovely Linda…who stepped back when she saw me taking a photo.  I told her to jump right in.  People in the South are incredibly friendly.  Great service, great food. Getting used to people randomly saying hello or how are y’all is a world of difference to what we’ve become used to living in New York.ClarksdaleMSStreetsLindaoutsideDeakHarpsshopJune2019BLOGGreenwood, Mississippi.

Leaving Clarksdale and heading for Greenwood, we drove via Glendora to visit the Emmett Till Museum.  Paying our respects to 14 year old Emmett Till who was murdered in a brutally racist attack in 1955.  They’ve made a small museum out of an old farm building to commemorate him just metres from the site where he was abducted from his Uncle’s house.  I’ve read about Emmett several times through the years and wanted to stop by here on our way from Clarksdale to Greenwood.GlendoraEmmettTillMuseumJune2019-2BLOGWe spent just over an hour at the museum which was low key but held some interesting civil rights displays, local domestic and agricultural artifacts as well as items directly linked to the murder.  We left feeling understandably sad and a little awkward as to what to say to the local people overseeing this small but intimate museum.   We reached Greenwood late afternoon. The streets were deserted apart from a few passing cars.  Other than one street, most of the rest in town are boarded up.  Rows of closed up businesses, shops and cafes…you expected tumbleweed to roll down the road.   Never been anywhere like this.  We were told that this is what’s become known as ‘the Wal-mart effect’; the huge superstore moves in just outside of town easily accessible from the highway and the local town slowly dies off as the mom and pop stores can’t compete with the American behemoth on price or quantity.   Former busy small towns with healthy commerce and the social aspects which go hand in hand with shopping at small local shops become ghost towns in a very short space of time.

It feels eerie but there are a couple of thriving local restaurants, one with the original 1930s lunch counter; such a popular place we couldn’t get seated in the main dining area so we left to find another place to eat.  There were some antique shops and bizarrely an expensive hotel, where we stayed being as it was pretty much the only option in town.  Aside from how broken down and deserted it all looked there were glimpses of former glory in some of the beautiful buildings and ornate balconies.  Greenwood doesn’t lack in charm but it’s missing the everyday motion of people engaging with each other on the street which gives a town its vibrancy and heart. GreenwoodMSStreetsJune2019-10BLOGWe ate delicious catfish at The Crystal Grill.  Dave ordered a creamy dessert pie and was served with something so huge it would bring on the fastest inducement of a heart attack over a dessert plate.  Luckily he remained unaffected even though he ate the entire thing which was at least a foot high.SouthernFoodJune2019-8GreenwoodPieBLOGLeland, Mississippi

When Dave starts a sentence with “Well if we do a slight detour we can go to the Kermit place” ….and I assume… being as we are on a music tour, that he means New Orleans musician Kermit Ruffins.  LelandMSKermitTheFrogJune2019-1A short drive the following morning and we’re in Leland standing in front of ‘The Birth Place of Kermit the Frog Museum’ occupying a small building backing on to the tranquil Deer Creek.  We would have been in and out in about 15 minutes but the lady who runs the place got chatting with us, talking about Jim Henson and the local community…and of course I wanted my photo taken with a giant Kermit the Frog and then it was one hour later and we left knowing a lot more than we ever thought we’d need to about a fictional frog.  Back on the road and our next overnight stop is Vicksburg, MS.  Along the way we drove by huge areas of The Mississippi Delta submerged under water and signs hung on half submerged houses saying ‘Trump turn on the Pumps’.  Thousands of acres of the Mississippi Delta are flooded; an unbelievable sight.  Houses, farming equipment, huge barns…some totally submerged.  Heavy rain overflows the weirs which need pumping out in to the Mississippi River.  Whole crops totally washed out with farmers unable to plan for new crops to be planted.  This area would usually yield several thousand acres of soybeans and corn.  Alligators and snakes navigating the flood waters have been brought closer to residential areas.

DeltaMSFloodingJune2019-1BLOGPulling in at an unusual roadside structure which sprawled in to several random brick sculptures.  We couldn’t find any information and the rain set in so we didn’t hang around.  Most of it was cordoned off with signs warning you not to get close and there were religious messages painted on old boards. VicksburgMSontheroadJune2019-2BLOG Vicksburg Mississippi

So….the posh expensive hotel in Greenwood last night at $250 a night was modern, boring and quite frankly absolutely rubbish.  So much so that we got a full refund for all the errors they made.  For half the price we check in to this beauty!  The Corners Mansion Inn Vicksburg is stunning.  We enter through a beautiful high walled garden and are greeted by owners Macy and Joe and led in to a long reception area with large picture windows overlooking the garden. VicksburgCornerMansionJune2019-6BLOG Our room is off to the side of the main drawing room with a carved antique wooden bed and library shelving crammed with books and artifacts. Two concertina doorways lead in to our small shower room and separate toilet.  Lace curtains hang from wooden rods and a scrolled ottoman lies regally at the foot of the bed.  It’s like staying at your Grandma’s….if your Grandma was a Duchess.

Walking uphill from the guest house a car was in flames on the road with 3 policemen spraying it down with foam whilst onlookers stood by and filmed it.  Most likely an electrical fire, but a surreal introduction to a quiet town.  We wandered to the popular rooftop bar ’10 South’ on top of an old bank with views across the river and the town of Vicksburg.  Lively, packed with locals and day trippers, the bar staff running up and down the length of the long bar taking orders.  Lunch at The Biscuit Company overlooking the river.

The sun blazed…we walked down to look out over the Yazoo River.  There’s a line of painted murals covering panels of the river flood wall depicting the history of the town and nearby an old train depot.  Still too hot even in the evening hours to sit and watch the river but a beautiful spot.  Walking back to the guest house we stopped to talk to some guys on the main shopping street,  One Shot and Michael…who explained to me that the slang word for posh is ‘boujee’ meaning bourgeois.  Great characters. Doesn’t matter who you are or what your circumstances…slow down, make time for people.  Back in our room we watched the final episode of ‘Chernobyl’ on the giant flatscreen TV, tucked up amongst the antiques and books and fell asleep in our huge antique bed.OneShotandMichaelVicksburgMSJune2019BLOGNatchez Mississippi to Sunset via Vidalia Louisiana

The following morning we ate a huge southern breakfast at an opulently laid communal dining table.  Southern biscuits, ham, sweet pudding and eggs; an early morning feast served with antique silver cutlery, plates laid out on chargers, pewter drinking cups and linen napkins.  Macy sat head of the table and lit some candles, told stories about previous guests and gave us a great route to follow to lead us to our next destination.  Following Macy’s advice we picked up the Natchez Trace Parkway, an historic forest trail which is approximately 440 miles long, running from Natchez MS to Nashville TN passing through Alabama.  NatchezTraceParkwayJune2019BLOGWe followed the trail for several miles stopping in Natchez to see ‘Longwood’, an antebellum beauty from the pre-Civil War era and the largest octoganol mansion in the United States; 6 levels and an exotic onion style dome…building started in 1860 but was abandoned when the Civil War broke out in 1861.  The mansion was never completed but the main structure still stands on Lower Woodville Road shaded by trees hanging with Spanish Moss and ferns.  We didn’t go inside but paid a smaller fee to park in the grounds and marvel at the eco-system growing on the huge trees.

Leaving the mansion we crossed in to our 4th US State to see the Old River Control structure at Vidalia, Louisiana; a floodgate system which regulates the flow of water leaving the Mississippi River in to the Atchafalaya River, preventing the Mississippi from changing course.  These rivers are wild and huge.  The nearby Morganza Spillway is another levee in the area.  Both almost failed in 1973 during the Mississippi Flood when the largest volume of water flowed down the Mississippi since the last great flood of 1927.  In 1973 the flood waters were so high it caused the Morganza Spillway to open for the first time to divert the huge influx of water.   At that same time the Bonnet Carre Spillway had to be opened for a record 75 days to cope with the floodwater levels.

By the time we reached Sunset where we had booked another Airb&B for the night, we hadn’t eaten since the breakfast feast and were feeling pretty hungry, but trying to find a place open on a Sunday proved difficult.  After driving all over town, and checking out everything we could find recommended on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet (all closed) we finally found a large restaurant called Prejean’s,  further out in Lafayette and packed out with locals where we gratefully took a table and stuffed our faces with Gumbo and Corn Chowder.  Reached the Airb&b and the view from our room was beautiful sitting up on the second floor amongst the trees.  Run by a Cajun lady and her Welsh husband the place had a gorgeous garden and quirky sheds; they built it themselves.

So many giant bugs in this humidity…none of which bother me unless they bite.   The lady who owned the Airb&b told me in her wonderful southern drawl as we sat on the steps of one of the sheds whilst she weeded and planted: “We’ve got everything down here. Fire ants will bite ya, the spiders bite ya, the horse flies oooohwee you feel them when they bite ya. Then there’s the snakes, the copper heads, the cottonmouth …and the water moccasins stand up in the bayou to bite ya. But I sleep with a .38 on my bedside table. I just shoot them”.  The people you meet along the way are the highlight of these road trips.SunsetLAJune2019-2BLOGNew Orleans via New Iberia

Still very hot and humid at 9.30am when we left Sunset.  We passed a road sign saying “Prison area, do not pick up any hitch hikers.”  An image of Paul Newman in ‘Cool Hand Luke’ though the reality wouldn’t be so blue eyed and pretty.  We are on the trail of James Lee Burke, one of our favourite writers whose novels are set in and around New Iberia.   We wandered the old streets of East and West Main Street and along the boardwalk overlooking the Bayou Teche.  A quiet, pretty town; great fun to see such familiar names right there in real life.  Visited ‘Books Along the Teche’ where they had several signed copies of James Lee Burke novels.  Dave bought a standard copy of ‘Neon Rain’ to read again whilst on the road.   We ate at Victor’s Cafeteria where his main character, Detective Dave Robicheaux eats…and met Trameka, serving me up with fried chicken and ‘dirty rice’.

From New Iberia on highway 90 to New Orleans, crossing The Hale Bogg Memorial Bridge.   We checked in to a fabulous AirB&B for a few nights, a walk away from the French Quarter on a characterful street; two young men sitting on a second floor balcony opposite playing violins.  The place looked unassuming…like a trailer hitched up on cinder blocks, but inside was a fabulous surprise.  One long space with entrance hall and a bathroom leading in to a kitchen/dining/living area with original tin ceiling panels used as a splashback and old 1950s metal kitchen cabinets.  Ingenious touches like magnifying observation lights from Doctor’s offices or dentists, long reclaimed slab wood worktops and at the far end huge sliding doors gave privacy to a bedroom strung with glowing outdoor garden lights.  A fun base for the next 3 nights.

Keen to get out in to the city of New Orleans, we’d both visited around 30 years ago, we wandered local streets of clapperboard houses and inventive trailer conversions, leading us in to the French Quarter; as beautiful as I remembered it.  Ornate wrought iron wrapped around verandahs green with planters.

People I Met Today:  Bill, pedalling around New Orleans pulling his 2 dogs Cynnamon and Sugar Bear on a trolley…wearing his hand crocheted coat and hat made from ribbons. He started making this several years ago and it’s a work in progress.  He calls it ‘Wearable art’.  He’s on Facebook ‘Cynnamon’s Crosses’.  On every corner there’s a musician or an eccentric character trying to make a living.  BillCynnamonsCrossesRibbonCrochetNewOrleansJune2019BLOGWe wander in to The Graphite art gallery, got talking to the owner Taylor.  He was playing back to back English music; Blur, The Cure, Pulp…we exchanged numbers with plans to meet for dinner whilst in town.NewOrleansTaylorGraphiteGalleryJune2019-1BLOG On Taylor’s recommendation we ate a great meal at a Vietnamese restaurant called Nine Roses then wandered in to a bar where a trio were playing;  double bass, piano and a singer/trumpet player.  Pretty much every bar you walk in will have a rotating set of musicians; they play a set then head off to play another set at the next bar along the street.  Musicians also play on street corners; you could spend all night listening to really talented live jazz, blues, Cajun music for the price of a few dollars in a tip jar.  NewOrleansStreetsJune2019-19BLOGPeople I Met Today: Roland the best dressed doorman on Bourbon Street. What can I say, New Orleans is lively!  Bourbon Street is another one of those main drags that have become ubiquitous in these popular American cities; like Broadway in Nashville and Beale Street in Memphis…Bourbon Street is crowded with people partying, loud music blaring from bars and drunk guys on stag nights.  Get off the beaten track for a more authentic insight in to the city but you will wind up on Bourbon Street at some point; just take it for what it’s become and roll with it. RolandClubDoormanBourbonStNewOrleansJune2019BLOGThe sun is blazing down on us and there’s pretty much zero shade on our guided tour, which is the only way you can access the St.Louis Cemetery No.1, the oldest in the city dating to 1789.  The last resting place of 19th century Marie Laveau, New Orlean’s infamous Voodoo Princess and the desired last resting place for actor Nicolas Cage.  Cage has a history with New Orleans.  He bought the allegedly haunted early 1800’s LaLaurie Mansion (where serial killer Madame Delphine LaLaurie had a torture chamber) and the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel, but lost both in his 2009 run-in with the IRS over taxes.  His pyramid tombstone caused outrage with locals who disagreed with the actor being granted permission to buy a plot in the already crowded historical cemetery.  All of the tombs are built above ground due to New Orleans being built on a swamp, often stacked one on top of another in the older brick tombs.  Families sometimes sell off plots or space in a tomb.  The cemetery featured in the Peter Fonda film ‘Easy Rider’ in a scene where Jack Nicholson freaks out on acid. NewOrleansCemetryJune2019-3NicCagepyrmaidBLOGDrove to the Garden District, a former plantation area thought to be the best preserved collection of historic mansions in the Southern US, established between 1832 to 1900.   We wandered the manicured streets looking at huge mansions.  Former Nic Cage mansions including the former chapel ‘Our Mother of Perpetual Help’ now owned by Anne Rice the famous vampire novelist.  Sandra Bullock and John Goodman have huge houses here.

Lafayette Cemetery 1, founded in 1833 is at 1427 Washington Avenue in the Garden District area.  It’s still in use today and takes its name from when the area was known as the City of Lafayette.   Free to enter you can wander the tombs and see if you can recognise any landmarks from ‘Interview with a Vampire’ or ‘Dracula (2000)’. NewOrleansGardenDistricCemetryJune2019-2BLOGPeople I Met Today: Wandering the cemetery Candice and CK originally from China…just graduated from University in New York.  They love living in the Big Apple and were on a trip to New Orleans to celebrate graduating before heading back to find jobs.  Lovely people…fabulous sunglasses.CandiceandCKNewOrleansCemteryJune2019Back to the French Quarter. Ate an early dinner at a bar on Frenchman Street with a guy playing solo blues guitar.

People I Met Today: Tim the bicycle shop guy on Frenchman Street. Told us that folks there ‘bunnymumble’; slur all their words together; that Dr John spoke out in a protest against drilling saying: “Next thing they’re going to do is dig a hole all the way to the magma of the earth!” Tim had a dog called Leonard who died last year and was known all along Frenchman St.  One of the cafes Leonard used to amble to on his own for biscuits, has a plaque outside for him. TimNewOrleansBikeRepairManJune2019BLOGAnd a highlight of our trip when later that evening with our pre-booked tickets we headed to St Peter Street in the French Quarter to Preservation Hall.  Founded by tuba player Allan Jaffe in the 60’s in a building dating back to the 1800’s, the famous Hall had to close its doors temporarily in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina but the band continued to tour.  When Jaffe originally set it up he hired older musicians aged in their 60s to 90s; many were poor…and suffering from racism.  Jaffe gave them a venue and a way to earn money and their reputation grew when the band began to tour.  Fans travelled from all over the world to see George Lewis the clarinetist, trumpeters De De Pierce and Kid Thomas Valentine, pianist Sweet Emma Barrett.  Today, different line ups play here whilst some of the permanent band members tour. The hall is small with bench seating and performances run daily for different time slots at 5pm, 6pm, 8pm, 9pm and 10pm.   If you book in advance you’re guaranteed a seat, it’s a bit more expensive but the money pays the musicians and some goes to the Hall’s foundation to “Protect, Preserve, and Perpetuate the musical traditions and heritage of New Orleans.”  For a tip you can ask the band to play a song…try to think of something original; they’ll actively encourage you to fill their tip jar and call for a song.  No photography once the band starts but they give you time beforehand to photograph the venue.  Great atmosphere, take a bottle of water as it can get hot inside this old building.

People I Met Today: Will Smith one of the trumpet players at Preservation Hall, just after he’d finished the set we watched.  “Not that Will Smith, he has a lot more money than me.”  They play around 5 sessions a night each lasting 45 minutes.  Foo Fighters also recorded here as shown in their ‘Sonic Highways’ documentary.  You can book tickets on the official website or take a chance and queue up on the night to see if you can get in but get there at least 45 minutes before each session is due to start.

Another highlight for us was meeting a genuine New Orleans 9th Ward resident.   If you saw the tv show Tremé a few years ago, you’ll totally get this.  Ronald W Lewis set up his small museum ‘The House of Dance and Feathers’ in an old trailer in his back yard in the 9th Ward on Tupelo Street to celebrate and help preserve the tradition of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians.   To visit the museum you need to contact Mr Lewis in advance and he’ll open it for you and talk to you about the culture and his collection. NewOrleansMuseumDance&FeathersJune2019-12BLOGEver since learning about this tradition from watching Treme it has fascinated me.  There are around 38 different ‘tribes’ or as they call themselves ‘krewes’ ranging in numbers of members and each krewe has a ranking system starting with the Kings, Queens, Dukes etc.  A list of krewes here  The exact origins of the Mardi Gras Indians differ but some believe that escaping black slaves found asylum with Native American Indians from Louisiana tribes.  Krewe members spend a year hand-making their costumes for Mardi Gras where they parade their elaborately hand-beaded intricate designs, personal to the Chiefs or persons wearing them. Ostrich feathers, sequins, embroidery and rhinestones also combine in these stunning costumes which in most instances are only worn once.  Mr Lewis has some on display along with other items from Mardi Gras including a headdress which he encourages you to try on and photograph.

Ronald W Lewis still works hard to preserve the culture of Mardi Gras Indians, The Skull & Bone Gangs and The Social Club Parades. He does all his own hand beading including the blue beaded Indian head shown above and the one he’s holding below.  He told us about Hurricane Katrina…having to move away for a year before being able to return and start it all over again after losing everything. He fought tirelessly to keep his community together and 85% of them were able to move back. He doesn’t charge an entrance fee but a tip is expected.  He also sells his own book for $30 which is a great insight in to this culture.  An authentic souvenir…I love it. back from the museum to leave the car at the house we saw this amazing place on one of the streets nearby.  I don’t know who Sir Earl is but his house sure is magnificent.  NewOrleansCrazyhouseJune2019-1BLOGOn the edge of the French Quarter there are some great local bars, restaurants, eccentric houses away from the more touristed streets.

Walking to the French Market we met Quan who was with his dog Kai…he told us he set off from Baltimore with pretty much nothing and most of what he has in his trolley was given to him; he was wearing fabulous purple hand-painted shoes.  He gets by in New Orleans as a musician and reading people for their ”animal spirit. He asked for our bottle of water for Kai.   A gentle guy with a big heart.

QuanNewOrleaansJune2019-1And echoing what Quan said earlier: Billy Wolf. “There’s so many musicians here who’ve been somebody. Go find Smokey in the French market, he played on the song ‘Low Rider’ by War”. Sadly we didn’t find Smokey.  NewOrleansBillyWolfJune2019-12BLOGBilly Wolf’s nail technique! It  lifted the strings…it sounded great. He had a pickup in his guitar.NewOrleansBillyWolfJune2019-3BLOGAnother James Lee Burke haunt.  Cafe Du Monde where his fictional character Dave Robicheaux comes to drink cafe au lait and eat beignets.  Established in 1862 and open 24 hours every day apart from Christmas Day, the cafe is in the New Orleans French Market.  We wandered the market stalls selling food, crafts, tourist souvenirs…but the beignets were the draw for us; square shaped French style doughnuts, not as soft and smothered with fine white powdered sugar.  The floor under the hundreds of tables was dusted white with it,  coming off the thousands of beignets they serve here daily. SouthernFoodJune2019-9NewOrleansBeignetsBLOGLeaving the cafe, my shirt covered in sugar powder, we watched a brass band playing on the street. NewOrleansStreetsJune2019-17(2)BLOGThe Natchez Steamboat was docked on the Mississippi River close by to the market…a long fog horn blast and it pulled out to cruise tourists down the river.  We sat on the steps with an older American couple, watching it go as they asked us questions about England and whether I liked Downtown Abbey.  I swear that show has become more influential than the British royal family. NewOrleansNatchezRiverBoat2019-1BLOGTried to get in to another very small Mardi Gras museum but sadly it closed at 3pm. Opening/closing hours for some of the smaller places are erratic.  Some by appointment only.  Walking along the street we met the lovely Marion sitting outside her house enjoying the sun.  She told us that her 91st birthday is on the 7th July.  She said “Make a note of my door number and send me a card.”  I sent a card back in New York and got a few of my friends to send cards from around the world…wonder what she made of it.  NewOrleanMarionColbertJune2019We met up for an early dinner at The Franklin on 2600 Dauphine Street with Taylor from the gallery and his friends Stephen, Rebecca and Scott.  Situated in the arty neighbourhood known as Bywater not far from the 9th Ward, this area has loads of colourful street art murals, dive bars with live music and some great restaurants.  Historically it’s the area that Homer Plessy was ordered to get off a railroad carriage for defiantly ignoring the segregation laws of the separate car act. The Plessy v Ferguson case in 1896 resulted in the ‘separate but equal’ legal doctrine which ruled in favour of upholding the segragated facilities as long as they were of equal quality. You can read more about the case here:  There is an historical landmark where Press Street and Royal Street cross.GulfCoastOceanSpringsMSJune2019-5BLOGEarly start to cover the miles to Selma in Alabama, Dave had planned a route that would take us through part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast which runs along the Mississippi Sound along the Gulf of Mexico.  Driving on highway 90 out of New Orleans to Ocean Springs, we stopped en route for breakfast in Long Beach at The Rusty Pelican.  Coming straight from New Orleans it’s quite a surprise to be confronted with miles of white sand beaches, palm trees, wild grasses on small dunes and houses built high on stilts.  We parked for a while to look at the scenery and the boats in the marina at Ocean Springs.GulfCoastOceanSpringsMSJune2019-3BLOGWe turned back on to the main highway and crossed the state line for Alabama blaring out Lynyrd Skynyrd as we headed for Selma. AlabamaRoadSignJune2019BLOGEntered the town of Selma over the Edmund Pettus Bridge which spans the Alabama River.  SelmaALEdmundPettusBridgeJune2019-3BLOGBuilt in 1940 and named after Klu Klux Klan grand wizard Edmund Winston Pettus, the bridge serves as a poignant civil rights landmark.  It was on this bridge on 7th March 1965 that police brutally attacked approximately 400 unarmed civil rights demonstrators who were attempting to march to the state capitol, Montgomery.  They were beaten, pushed to the ground, trampled by police horses.  Amelia Boynton, one of the march organisers, was left beaten unconscious by the police, a photograph of her lying on the bridge made worldwide news and the march came to be named ‘Bloody Sunday’. SelmaALEdmundPettusBridgeJune2019-4BLOGSelmaALEdmundPettusBridgeJune2019-2BLOG In 1965 Selma’s voting rolls were 99% White and 1% African American whereas 60% of the population of Alabama was 30% non-white.  Among the people on the march was John Lewis, civil rights activist, now a congressman.

We sadly only had time for one night in Selma where we checked in to David and Bill’s absolutely incredible Harmony building.  We thought the AirB&B in New Orleans was pretty mind blowing but this place was to a different level.  When we arrived David greeted us by leaning out of second storey space above draped with flags and no discernible glass in the windows.  He bounded down to greet us, joined by his friend Bill and they proceed to push open the huge heavy doors at street level and show us where we’d be sleeping that night.  A vast cavernous space with flagstone floors, original wood ceiling, ornate additions like ornamental wooden carved pillars, antique beds, gargoyles used to plug the gaps in the interior brickwork…a huge bar in the centre of the space, a table set up to play chess, an industrial kitchen (the space has previously operated as a restaurant)…the details were endless and fabulous and all their own ideas and design.

Bill and David recommended a place for us to eat,  we ordered grilled Catfish at The Sandbar overlooking a small bayou where local guys were fishing.  The young waitress was amazed that we were English, an apparent novelty to the area.SelmaALDinnerJune2019-1BLOGWe ducked in to a supermarket on the way back for wine and ice-cream and spent the night sitting outside The Harmony Club at a table on the pavement with David and Bill, who after a few drinks proved themselves to be fabulously eccentric company and great fun.  Waving down passing locals, almost every car honked or waved as they drove by, some coming to join us at our impromptu street table including Matthew and Portia.  Then loud sirens, several cop vehicles go screaming down the road and across the Edmund Pettus bridge…a minute or so later loads of what sounds like gun shots going off.  Everyone kind of acknowledges it and then keeps on chatting…us included. Totally mad night. Selma was an eye opener. There was a golf club inside the door of that massive space we slept in that David told us to use if anyone tried to get in….but he’d be down faster with his 9mm anyway.  An uproarious night talking about civil rights, snakes on fleas and a quick tour of their own living space above which includes a full size ballroom!  Just spectacular.

People I Met Today: Portia in Selma, Alabama. Looking like a fabulous Goddess in her amazing winged earrings. Matthew, saw her across the road and called out to her “Hey! My best friend!” Sharing drinks under the street lights a 5 minute walk away from the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge. Selma is a city of surprises…so glad we came here.PortiaSelmaAlabamaJune2019After chatting with David in his Restoronica workshop filled with amazing objects I could have happily spent a day exploring including stacks of antique ceramic fireplaces, we said our goodbyes to him and Bill and hit the road again.   We drove a few hours to the small city of Muscle Shoals, Alabama to visit the famous recording studios.  First stop Muscle Shoals Sound Studios which is actually in Sheffield at 3614 Jackson Highway.  The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and so many other huge stars recorded here.  Set up in 1969 by 4 musicians known as The Swampers who’d previously been the session musicians for Fame Recording Studios a short drive away, the small concrete block building was built in the 1940s and used to be a coffin showroom!  The building has a long history as the studios actually moved out and relocated, which was then sold.  Although the original studio saw different uses after it closed in 1979 it was finally bought by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation in 2013, restored, started doing tours and has been used again for recordings by musicians such as The Black Keys, Jarvis Cocker and George Michael.   AlabamaMuscleShoalsrecordingstudioJune2019-1BLOGOur studio tour was with one of the engineers; tons of history, great stories and playbacks of old recordings.  As you can see from the photos it’s a small studio, much smaller than we expected… but it’s incredibly atmospheric and features original instruments and furniture.  We loved the place and the engineer who talked to our small group about its history was obviously really in to the music and the sound this studio produced.   A tour is the only way you can see the studio and they are done on timed entry so call ahead to check the timings for the day.  If you haven’t seen it already the documentary called Muscle Shoals is really worth watching.

Next on to FAME Recording Studios; ‘Florence Alabama Music Enterprises’ started in the 1950s.  Another timed entry tour with one of the studio engineers.  This is where Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records brought Aretha Franklin and Wilson Picket to record….the small piano Aretha played on is shown below.  Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section started here before setting up their own studio.  A bigger studio than Muscle Shoals and still very much in operation today with huge stars like Steve Tyler of Aerosmith recording albums here, it was an interesting tour but not as atmospheric as Muscle Shoals and it didn’t share the same level of romance.  Still definitely worth your time if like us you’re a big music fan.

At the end of a very long day, driving from Alabama, 2 studio tours and feeling hungry… on a tip from a friend we headed to Florence where we ate a great meal at a restaurant called ‘Odette’.   We wandered through the small town listening to the cicadas in the trees which were so loud you could hear them a block away, then back for an early night in an Airb&b above a family garage.   Woken up very early by the owner’s mum dropping by to use the toilet in the garage below our room!  It gave us an early start and we had one more US State to visit.  We’d originally planned to go to Mammoth Caves but we’d run out of steam and didn’t fancy another long drive so we drove just across the Tennessee state line in to Bowling Green, Kentucky to the Corvette Museum.  We’re not car enthusiasts particularly but it’s fun to see classic cars and there are around 80 Corvettes displayed in period settings.

The most fascinating feature is the infamous sinkhole which opened up under the museum’s Skydome destroying millions of dollars worth of cars in February 2014 when it swallowed 8 Corvettes.  Fortunately no-one was hurt as it happened very early in the morning when the museum was closed…and also fortunately for everyone else was the CCTV camera footage of the 30 foot sinkhole actually happening.  If you want to watch $5million of classic car drop like a stone in under a minute click here for images and a video: to Nashville where we ate again at Mas Tacos then to the Regal cinema for a movie night to see ‘Rocketman’, the story of Elton John.  Left us wanting to be honest.  I didn’t feel like I learned that much about him. The English kitchen sink drama stuff was over-milked and very corny.  The 2 leads were good but it didn’t work for us.  But the Regal looked beautiful in the evening light when we left.  Nashville TennesseeJune2019-21BLOGWe checked in to a Nashville AirB&b in a quiet tree lined suburban area, walked the neighbourhood and saw a deer in the street.  We got talking to some neighbours in their front garden, Nate, Bethany and their toddler little Roy.   We talked so long that they wound up inviting us to sit around their garden fire… drinking mead and talking music.   The last day of our road trip and one day left for hanging out back in Nashville.   We’d seen most of the big hitters on our way in at the start of our trip so we looked online for some lesser known things to do and found the Dukes of Hazzard museum (Cooters).  General Lee! One of the Dodge Chargers (below) used in the TV show, owned by the actor Ben Lewis Jones who played Cooter the car mechanic on the show.   Reliving our youth; like a lot of kids in the 70’s we were fans of the show so it was pretty funny seeing all this stuff and loads of memorabilia, photos and newspaper articles, more cars, themed toys and board games.  It’s free to visit but you enter through the gift shop…nostalgia drives a hard bargain; we left with a bright orange General Lee 01 baseball cap and a ceramic ‘fake enamel’ mug.  What the hell…no point in going on holiday if you can’t buy some tat.NashvilleDukesHazzardMuseumJune2019-3BLOGRight next door is the Willie Nelson Museum.  Again you wade through a huge space crammed with country music memorabilia, thousands of t-shirts and baseball caps to the small ramshackle museum space at the back dedicated to Mr. Nelson.  They charge an entry fee and it’s low enough not to feel too fleeced when you come out the other side feeling a little disappointed. There’s quite a lot of stuff in here but not much atmosphere to connect with it.  A receipt for Willie’s first gig and poignantly an unused Elvis Presley ticket for a concert date the day after Presley died.

Bad boy of country music Waylon Jennings had a pretty cool guitar with a personalised leather guitar strap on show.Nashville TennesseeWillieNelsonMuseumWaylonsguitarJune2019-1BLOGWound up on our last evening eating pizza slices in the window of a pizza shop in east Nashville.  And to round off my People I Met Today on this Southern music road trip we meet one last guitarman.   Dave from David Peterson & 1946 Peterson’s Old Time Revue. Asked us where we’re from, then playing us ‘Streets of London’.  He said the English have great murder ballads; poisoners, stranglers, wild people out on wild moors. I said we don’t have guns so we have to be more inventive.  Hah!DavePeterson1946OldTimeRevueNashvilleJune2019It hurt a little bit giving back the Dodge Challenger.  Back to shoe leather in New York City.

Nashville TennesseeJune2019-6BLOG

Southern USA Road trip playlists – curated by Dave on Spotify

Louisiana Funk:

PLACES WE STAYED (…the ones we liked)

Nashville, Tennessee Eclectic East Nashville spacious studio AirB&B

Memphis, Tennessee The Captain Harris House AirB&B

Clarksdale, Mississippi The Shack Up Inn

Vicksburg, Mississippi The Corners Mansion Inn

Sunset, Louisiana Bon Temps Tree House AirB&B

New Orleans, Louisiana Marais Street AirB&B

Selma, Alabama Restotonica The Harmony Club AirB&B


Nashville Mas Tacos Por Favor

Memphis Soul Fish Cafe

Memphis BBQ The Rendezvous.

Clarksdale Ground Zero For food and live music.

Greenwood The Crystal Grill

Vicksburg 10 South (rooftop bar)

Vicksburg The Biscuit Company (ok for lunch)

Lafayette near Sunset Prejean’s.

New Iberia Victor’s Cafeteria

New Orleans The Franklin

New Orleans 9 Roses Cafe Vietnamese

New Orleans Cafe du Monde (for traditional beignets)

Mississippi Gulf Coast (breakfast spot)  The Rusty Pelican

Selma Alabama The Sandbar

Florence Alabama Odette


Nashville Country Music Hall of Fame

Nashville Johnny Cash Museum

Nashville Ryman Auditorium

Nashville The Station Inn (Sunday Gospel country style)

Nashville Third and Lindsley (great place to eat and see the Time Jumpers musicians

Nashville Bellemede Plantation Houses

Nashville Ernest Tubbs Record Store

Nashville Third Man Records

Nashville Grimey’s Record Store

Nashville Cooters Museum Dukes of Hazard

Nashville Willie Nelson Museum

Lynchfield Jack Daniel’s Distillery

Memphis National Civil Rights Museum and The Lorraine Motel

Memphis Withers Collection Civil Rights photography gallery

Memphis Graceland

Memphis Stax Museum

Memphis Sun Studios

Arkansas Bubba’s Blues Corner music store

Clarksdale Deak’s Harps

Clarksdale Delta Blues Museum

Glendora  Emmett Till Museum

Leland Kermit The Frog museum

Natchez Trace Parkway

Natchez Longwood Plantation House

Vidalia River Control Structure/Levee

New Iberia Books Along the Teche bookshop

New Orleans House of Dance and Feathers Museum

New Orleans Preservation Hall

New Orleans Self Guided Garden District Tour by Free Tours By Foot:

New Orleans Garden District mansions,_New_Orleans

New Orleans Lafayette Cemetery

New Orleans St Louis Cemetery No.1

New Orleans Graphite Galleries

Alabama Muscles Shoals Sound Studios

Alabama Fame Recording Studios

Kentucky National Corvette Museum


    1. Apologies Steve, I only just saw your comment. It’s difficult to give a price because it depends on where you want to stay and what vehicle you hire, vehicle insurance etc. Hotels you choose and prices at the time of travel, flights… but we spent around $4,000 between 2 of us flying from New York where we’re based. We had to hire the car with full insurance and although petrol is cheaper in the UK than Europe…car hire is quite expensive these days.


  1. I stumbled upon your site and this write up while searching for ideas for a Southern Blues and Southeast road trip. Thanks for this excellent write up and all the inspiration! I’m now headed over to read your Southeast road diary.


  2. One other thing – great read about this area are two of Richard Grant’s books, Dispatches from Pluto and The Deepest South of All.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s