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PAUL CRUTCHER


"The music echoes in the emptiness. It reminds us where we came from and where we're bound." -- David Clark

Our bags were packed, we said goodbye to our wives and now it was time to go.

My buddy, Zig, and I had been planning this musical road trip for several months. The idea was to travel southwest -- working our way through the Mississippi Delta heading north on Highway 61 arriving in Memphis. We would tour significant musical and cultural landmarks along the way.

This was to be a blues pilgrimage.

And, yes, we had the essential blues soundtrack to carry us on our way. Legends such as Robert Johnson, R.L. Burnside, Muddy Waters and Mississippi John Hurt filled our speakers as we moved westward.

We spent our first night in Starkville, Mississippi and it was noteworthy. We had dinner with Bert Montgomery, "Minister of Mojo." at Dave's Dark Horse Tavern. Bert is a professor at Mississippi State University and served as our guide for the evening. We even got a custom tour of the hotel room Johnny Cash booked on a night in 1965 when he was arrested for picking flowers. The song on the "San Quentin" album, "Starkville City Jail," is Johnny's side of the story.

We hit the road early the next morning, arriving in Clarksdale, site of the legendary crossroads (where legend says Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for untouchable guitar skills). Clarksdale would become our home for the next two days. We ate delicious local food and heard fine blues at the throwback, "Red's Juke Joint" and Morgan Freeman's "Ground Zero Blues Club."

We lodged at the rustic Shack-up Inn.

Make note travelers, this place was rusty gold -- old sharecropper cabins on the Hopson plantation -- listed on the "National Register of Rickety Old Places." Here, we gathered with fellow blues travelers sharing cold drinks, cigars and stories from the road. Later, Zig and I sat on the porch of our cabin near the rusty old tractor and wine-bottle tree as the sun went down. We talked about our families, spirituality, music and life itself -- blues contemplation at its best.

A short drive the next morning had us in downtown Tutwiler, where legend says W.C. Handy was waiting on a train in 1903. Here he heard a man playing the blues on the slide guitar singing "goin' where the Southern cross the dog." Light glistened off broken glass as Zig walked the abandoned tracks in the distance. The blues was born here.

Our next stop was Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church on the outskirts of Greenwood, Mississippi where we found the tombstone for Robert Johnson decorated in donated guitar picks and other trinkets left by fellow travelers. There was peaceful solace under the shadows of the old pecan tree along that dusty road.

Neither of us said much that afternoon. It was one of those times where you just draw in a deep breath and let the moment unfold before you.

Eventually we headed north on Highway 61 with the "Mississippi Delta shining like a National guitar" as we made the trek to Memphis. The next two days featured stops at Sun Studios, Stax Records, Graceland, and the Lorraine Motel.

History comes alive in Memphis.

We posed with Elvis' microphone at Sun.

We sat where Booker T & the MGs recorded "Green Onions" at Stax.

We stared for a long time at the balcony of the Lorraine -- echoes in the emptiness.

This was the culmination of our musical journey.

It was time to head home, back to our own Greenwood, a place that, thankfully, still celebrates the blues.

 

Crutcher is the broadcast specialist and XLR Radio general manager at Lander University. He serves on the national governing board for College Broadcasters Inc., the largest representation of college radio and television stations in the country. He can be reached at paulcrutcher68@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulCrutcher.