Makes You Wanna Stop and Write a Book
For the Delta blues section of the trip, the flat-out best guide we had was Jim O'Neal's excellent Delta Blues Map Kit, available at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale or from Rooster Blues Records, formerly of Clarksdale, now of Kansas City, MO. Jim has closed the Stackhouse Delta Record Mart, but he does keep the Blues Map Kit updated (most recent version at this writing: 1998, a real deal at $7.50), and it gave us all kinds of valuable, detailed information from Friar's Point to Moorhead. (It has more than that--that's just the portion we used.) The kit opens with several maps at various levels of detail, annotated and numbered, and continues with a lovingly curated collection of notes on specific locations up and down the Delta, coordinated with the numbers on the maps, about 20 photocopied pages total.
Another valuable source for travel from Memphis to Greenville, along the Great River Road, was Jamie Jensen's delightful Road Trip USA, available online at Amazon.com or directly from the publisher, Moon Travel Handbooks. The 750+ page book itself is posted online, but unless you can memorize all that information before you go, you're better off bringing the book with you. The book is chock-full of tasty nuggets you might otherwise miss. It was where we learned about Hubcap City and about four different names for the Civil War, and we only used the slightest part of the book: It includes extensive notes on 11 different routes across the U.S. (It was also where we learned that the road we were on was called the Great River Road.) A new edition is due in April 1999.
We also spent a considerable time reviewing Fodor's Rock & Roll Traveler USA, by Tim Perry and Ed Glinert. Broken down into regions, then states, then cities, this 1996 book cites sites from the history of rock, from its roots in the blues all the way up to U2 and Courtney Love. The chapters on Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana were all worth passing around (the Mississippi section included the only warning we had that Muddy Waters' old shack was no longer to be found at Stovall, though by now the Delta Blues Map Kit also includes that information). The blurbs do a good job of linking local points of interest into the interlocking chain of rock's history. Fodor's doesn't sell books online, but you can pick this up from Amazon.com (or at a local bookstore).
We got good information on lodging and attractions for our first two stops in Frommer's Nashville & Memphis (3rd edition, by Karl Samson and Jane Aukshunas). The book offers lots of detail and background on both cities, though frankly we weren't in Nashville long enough to take advantage of much of what it had to say (it let us know we should look for Music Row, but it didn't mention the Museum of Beverage Containers and Advertising), and in Memphis the thing we needed most was a map--we already knew what we wanted to see, and why, partly from other sources but mostly from many years of living in American culture. Having said that, for anyone visiting the cities who doesn't know them already, this looks like a good guide. And the information on hotels, both descriptions and maps to show exactly where they were, was directly of great use.
Two fun books on Mississippi that we didn't get to use enough: Mississippi off the Beaten Path: A Guide to Unique Places by Marlo Sibley; and Only in Mississippi: A Guide for the Adventurous Traveler by Lorraine Redd and Jack E. Davis. Both of these are chockablock full of intriguing tidbits that made us wish we had longer to stay in the Hospitality State. Off the Beaten Path included a vivid tour through "Blues Alley," and Only in Mississippi tantalized us with an entry on Warren Fuller's Beer Container Collection in D'Iberville. Both books could only have been written by loving natives.
The Lonely Planet guide to the Deep South: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama was pretty much our only guide to New Orleans (aside from Rock & Roll Traveler). We didn't use it much, but it was also good on sites in the Delta country, and it helped us on lodgings in both places.
The AAA guides to the area don't seem to recognize that the blues are one of America's biggest contributions to Western culture; they focus much more on Civil War details, which frankly were of peripheral interest to us when we cared at all. AAA guides do, however, provide fair information on lodging.
The Official Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau asked for a link to their site, where you can find out more about Memphis. Click here to have a look.
More bibliographic notes as time permits.
Marc Cohn may have been following us. He saw many of the same things: Check out his song Walking in Memphis.