This past summer, Susanne and I spent a week of vacation in Memphis enjoying the sights, sounds, and barbecue. We left with many great memories: Beale St., Stax Records, Sun Studios, Ground Zero Blues Club, the Delta Blues Museum, Muddy Waters house, the plantation where Pinetop Perkins drove a tractor. We ate barbecue five of the eight days we spent there, and soul food on one of the other days. Our lovely dancer friends, Michael Quisao and Annabel Truesdell, took us to a couple of great little local joints, including Di Anne Price’s “court” and a gods-honest Memphis juke-joint. We are both so thankful to them for the time and treasures of Memphis they shared with us.
For me, visiting Memphis was transformative. I feel as though I have a much more visceral understanding of the blues and of rock and roll. I know more deeply the roots of decades of our musical heritage. Living in Baltimore, I am no stranger to poverty. I’m not blindly walled off into little white-picket fenced plots of suburbia. I see it around me, and I see it often. But the poverty I see and experience here is nothing compared to the swaths of empty store fronts nestled in between vast fields along the Mississippi delta. I’ve often heard the blues talked about as a catharsis of the soul, a release of the worries of the day. There on the banks of the Mississippi, I felt but a drop of the depths of oppression, poverty, and struggle that the blues emerged from. Blues isn’t just a catharsis. It is a triumph of the human spirit; to be lifted so high from such lows.