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The “Delta” has little to do with the real delta of the Mississippi river that lies a few hundred miles further south. It’s a flat and fertile region that spreads for a length of 200 miles south of Memphis, down to the city of Vicksburg, and 90 miles maximum in width between the big river to the west and the “central hills” and the Yazoo river to the east.

Once past the last Tennessee hill, on Highway 61, you will enter the large plain at the north west corner of the state of Mississippi known as “The Delta.” On this early fall day, the cotton fields are white, the sky is white. It’s 2 P.M. and close to 100°. The fields, the farms, the gas stations on the road side are deserted. Everyone has taken refuge in some air conditioned place. To the right, by Robinsonville, you can see a long strand of these freight cars rotting away by the hundreds, in the middle of nowhere, on the legendary and wasted southern railroad tracks.

In the town of Lula you will find again the railroad track heading north along Old Highway 61, the real one, the one in the songs. Tourists travel on main thoroughfares but on these small backward roads no one is trying to make a good impression. Everywhere in the small towns and in the countryside the houses are to some extent in disrepair. In some cases vegetation has reconquered its natural rights and one could assume that those shacks are inhabited, even though …

Elsewhere a one-eyed dog or an old discolored Dodge reveals human life. By the Chinese General Store with its rusted Coca Cola signs, a few men, sitting on wooden crates in the shade, let the time flow by. Interrupted by the passing stranger, they slowly raise a suspicious eye and then return their all attention to their beer. A few skinny children play with a tin can, but all children and adults look dignified in a way long forgotten in the northern metropolis. Their clothing is perfectly clean and later on, when the heat subsides somewhat, they will rise slowly and return to their crumbling homes, straight and proud as ancient African warriors.

As for the isolated crossroads, they are innumerable in the area and the devil must still be signing deals there at nightfall for the music of Robert Johnson’s successors is still as intense as it ever was. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Delta. Fifty years have gone by, the guitars are electric now and the blues has been codified. It went up to Chicago, travelled around the world and it has come home to reunite with its own tradition. Here, more than anywhere else, the music is a social phenomenon, the expression of a reality that has changed very little since the turn of the 20th century. Of course, the music played in the big festivals here is the same as that played in Chicago or even in Montreux. What one should look for is the small local festivals. There are more than 20 between April and October. In the clubs, in the juke joints, the audience contributes directly to the music, occasionally shouting new lyrics to the singers. On a good evening an authentic dialogue unites all the participants. The African heritage is really present here. The sound of the music reminds us of the northern cities but the fire fuelling it goes back to the origins. No technology can faithfully reproduce such an event..

from an article written by Jacques Moury Beauchamp for the French magazine JAZZHOT
intro "BLUESCAPES" main summary