11 SEP 2019: From the moment I picked up a guitar at age 14 it was clear to me that the Blues were running through my veins. And as soon I could pluck a few notes and strum a few chords on the six-string, I began learning the licks of Buddy Guy, BB King, Muddy Waters and a bunch of other blues greats.

Along the way I listened to all the blues music I could find, devoured books about Buddy Guy and BB King (my biggest inspirations), and even shelled out for the same type of guitar played by the amazing Riley B. King (BB).

As my knowledge of the Blues grew, I found inspiration not only in the melodic solos of King and his famous guitar Lucille, but in the deep rhythmic grooves of John Lee Hooker and the soft syncopated fingerpicking of delta blues guitarist Mississippi John Hurt.

But, for all the Blues I heard and for all the improvement I saw in my own playing, I felt that something was still missing. I had the passion and I had the skill, but I was missing the soul.

And so, this summer, after having finally turned 21 earlier in the year, my father (also a blues fan) and I decided to visit the place it was born – Mississippi.

The first stop on our Blues pilgrimage was Memphis, Tennessee, and its legendary Beale Street – known as the “Home of the Blues.” And while I was disappointed to find the spiritual home of the Blues was a little more touristy than I would’ve liked, and that Blues was not bleeding out of every bar on Beale as it would have in its heyday, I eventually found an authentic Blues band that caught my attention and, more importantly, made my night.

I do acknowledge, however, that the Home of the Blues moniker is not entirely inaccurate as there is still plenty for a Blues fan to enjoy, including visiting the house of WC Handy (considered the father of the Blues), BB King’s Blues club, and, if one looks hard enough (or is there at the right time) there is still Blues to be heard on Beale.

Also found in Memphis, aside from Beale, is the Blues Hall of Fame, a place that we only discovered by chance, fittingly in the shadow of the more prominent National Civil Rights Museum. And imagine my surprise to immediately discover in the venue two guitars, signed and displayed on the back wall, from both of my Blues heroes, Buddy and BB. Naturally I had to have my picture taken with them before I could explore the rest of the hall.

Leaving Memphis, we headed out on Hwy. 61 (known as “The Blues Highway”) for Clarksdale, Mississippi, which I would argue is the true home of the Blues, not least because it is the site of the famous Crossroads where, legend has it, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to play the Blues. It’s a tale that’s well known to any Blues fan and one that has become part of the very fabric of the genre, also crossing over into the mainstream in various stories and films.

Though the marker for the Crossroads is ironically in the middle of a roundabout in Clarksdale today, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like almost a hundred years ago when Johnson supposedly made his deal. I could picture him alone in the night with only the moon to illuminate the dirt roads and surrounding farmland as the devil appeared to him. Though the surroundings have since changed, the spirit of the Blues remains, and it wasn’t hard to imagine myself in Johnson’s shoes. This is was what I came for: to stand at the Crossroads and feel the heartbeat of the Blues.

The Crossroads, however, was only the start in Clarksdale – we also visited the Delta Blues Museum on Blues Alley Lane. The museum was truly phenomenal, and I was lucky enough to arrive during a month devoted to another of my favourites, John Lee Hooker, with a display boasting eight of the Hook’s guitars (surely they could have spared one for me!)

Meanwhile, at the back of the museum was the Muddy Waters room, which included the actual cabin he grew up in on the nearby Stovall Plantation, set up so that one could walk inside. On this trip I wanted to learn about my favourite Blues artists, see where they grew up, where they really came from, and here I was standing in the childhood home of the great Muddy Waters! I didn’t think it could get any better than this…

Except it did: Soon I was standing in the rain before the grave of “The King of the Blues” at the BB King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi, the town he considered home. I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to see him play live and to hear what he often described as his “two voices,” his own and Lucille’s. I thought about all that he must have lived through and all that had changed during his lifetime: from a young boy who picked cotton on a plantation and played and sang at church to the world’s most famous bluesman, who is remembered at a hometown museum that attracts thousands of visitors every year.

That BB would one day have his own museum would probably have seemed impossible to him in his early years as would the fact that he and his peers would one day be honoured in places like the Blues Hall of Fame, The Delta Blues Museum, and even the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame (in Cleveland, Ohio).

But, thankfully, the world continues to recognize the influence and importance of the Blues both as it is today, kept alive by living legends like Buddy Guy or in in the music of new artists like Clarksdale’s own Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and even Canadian blues icon Colin James, and as the foundation of western popular music – to quote Muddy Waters: “The Blues had a baby, and they named the baby rock n roll.”

As I stood at BB’s grave – the sky crying and rain running down my nose – I silently told the King of the Blues that I was grateful for all the music that he made and the legacy that he left.

For me, the thrill is not gone.

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