In New Orleans, Louisiana, not far from Bourbon Street, where Tulane Avenue crosses S. Carrollton Avenue is the beginning of the Blues Highway, U.S. 61. If you know anything about our highway system, then you know, with few exceptions, even number roads travel East & West, while odd numbered roads connect North and South. To retrace the paths of the old Delta Blues artists, that journey begins where Tulane crosses South Carrolton, in downtown New Orleans. The famous road moves north past businesses, ball parks and golf courses. Past neighborhoods and eating establishments. When Huey Long was the Governor of Louisiana, it is said that he had the highway built so that it provided a quick connection between the downtown New Orleans bars and brothels and the capital, Baton Rouge. It is also know as Airline Drive, because it connected the airports between the Big Easy and the state capital. The highway is four lanes North of Natchez, Mississippi until you get just South of Port Gibson. After that the Highway weaves between being 2 lanes and four as it winds North toward Memphis, Tennessee, through small towns, medium size towns and major metropolis’. On the journey North Highway 61 shares other highway numbers, particularly in the larger towns. After passing through the heart of Memphis, the Blues Highway meanders on up, along the Mississippi River to St. Louis and the Gateway to the West. Chuck Berry was a native of St. Louis, Missouri and so is modern day Blues/Rocker Jeremiah Johnson. Let’s keep going North on Old 61. Next stop is Dubuque, Iowa. This may not be the first place you would think of when it comes to Blues music or any music scene for that matter. You would be doing yourself a grave disservice to succumb to that. There is a thriving music scene along Highway 61 in Iowa, it’s not the Delta of course. But a good scene no less. There is music everywhere along Highway 61. Just North of here was, where many a Blues artist found ready and willing businessmen who would make records of their music. Many recording studios in the South were not available to blacks. The trek North was their best option to record. Studios from the Chicago, Wisconsin, Minneapolis areas would dispatch talent scouts to the South in an effort to lure black folk-blues artists to their make shift recording studios. It was a new technology, spurred on by a new piece of furniture (the Victrola). It was proving popular and 78 rpm records were in demand. Even further North, near Hibbing, Minnesota, a young folkie was about to stake out on his own… and he would change modern music forever. His most fundamental inspiration was… the Blues, and Woody Guthrie.
I have never traveled the Blues Highway, it’s my dream to do so. How wonderful would it be to write first hand about this legendary journey. Maybe some day, who knows. Maybe dreams are best to hold on to, who knows.