Traveling Down the Mississippi
At the end of last year, I came across a fascinating piece in a copy of Lonely Planet dated “Winter 2018” (this was a magazine – I didn’t even know that such a thing existed). At any rate, it had an article in it with the title “Born by the River” by Kevin Perry. He recounts the road trip he took – on land – that FOLLOWED the Mississippi River.
DRIVING FROM MISSOURI TO NOLA
Starting in the town of Hannibal, Missouri and heading south for New Orleans, 800 miles away promised a great adventure and Perry did not disappoint.
He begins with an interview with Captain Clarke “Doc” Hawley, an 82-year-old riverboat pilot (now retired) who told him that “in order to be granted a license, I was required to draw the entire distance (from Cincinnati, Ohio to New Orleans) BY HAND, FROM MEMORY, five miles per page. And, not only did you have to know the shape of the river (the sandbars and the bridges) you had to draw what was UNDER the river as well. You had to know where NOT to drop an anchor because you could hook into an oil line.” Hawley spent 60 years on the mighty Mississippi. I am absolutely flabbergasted by this interview.
VISITING MARK TWAIN AND JOHNNY CASH
Hannibal is where Mark Twain, born Sam Clemens grew up and, nearly a century later, the river and the land around it inspired country music star Johnny Cash. Taking roads south from Hannibal, the author doesn’t stop until he reaches Dyess, Arkansas. It’s here that Johnny Cash grew up, picking cotton from the age of five.
CASH’S YOUNGEST SISTER, JOANNE EXPLAINS
Cash’s sibling remembers that “singing was always part of family life and the music came from the way we lived – lots of hard work, love and singing together every day. Johnny was always writing songs and singing the truth.”
In 1954, when Cash was ready to record his songs, he went to Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, an hour’s drive downriver from Dyess. By then, the studio was already drawing in the greatest musical talent of the Mississippi Delta.
MEMPHIS STILL MOVES TO A BEAT
On Beale Street, the sounds of competing bands echo out of every bar. In the Blues City Café, the author listens to a performance by a musician named “Blind Mississippi Morris” who tells him that, “Poverty is what made the blues. It all started in the cotton fields. Before they were playing music they were singing it a cappella (with no instruments). You tell a story in your music and say what it feels like to wake up every day not knowing what you were going to eat.”
HEADING SOUTH THROUGH THE DELTA
Perry arrives in New Orleans and learns more about the legendary jazz funerals that the city made famous. They were so much fun people stopped waiting until someone died. The brass band parades known as the Second Line became a weekly tradition – and now they flow through the streets, as powerful and irresistible as the Mississippi itself.
WHEN YOU VISIT NEW ORLEANS BE SURE AND STAY AT THE RATHBONE MANSIONS FOR THE EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME