This is from the funny-named but highly respected country-blues website weeniecampbell.com, written by the great guitarist and teacher John Miller:
“Blues Traveling–The Holy Sites of Delta Blues”–Steve Cheseborough, University Press of Mississippi
Author Steve Cheseborough must be very happy at the reception his Delta Blues guidebook, “Blues Traveling”, has received, for it is now in its updated and expanded third edition. The book deserves the acclaim it has received, too, for it is hard to imagine how it could be improved upon in the way that it fulfills its primary function: to guide travellers interested in the Delta Blues to the major points of interest from Memphis in the north, to Helena, Arkansas in the west, to Natchez, in the south and to Meridian in the east, in a circular route of the blues country there that can be traversed in whole or in part in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. “Blues Traveling” goes much farther than simply reciting the names of places of interest and telling how to get to them, though. It also provides guidance for negotiating the culture that travelers will encounter in the course of such a trip, what can be expected in the way of food and accomodations, and how to comport yourself while on the trip so that Mississipians will be glad to see you again should you ever decided to re-visit the area.
In some respects, “Blues Traveling” bears more than a passing resemblance to guidebooks to the areas of Classic Antiquity, Egypt, Greece, Turkey and Italy, in that a large number of the most interesting sites commemorate buildings that were once important landmarks, but which are no longer there. So it is that travelers hoping to see where the Colossus of Rhodes or Library at Alexandria were may find an analogous experience seeing where Junior Kimbrough’s juke was, prior to its burning down. The ephemeral nature of the physical relics of Blues musicians’ lives is not surprising, though, for the blues musicians came from an underclass population, and didn’t leave much in the way of estates upon their passing; author Cheseborough makes this point, as well.
A high percentage of the places to be seen noted in the book are graves and museums. Even very small towns often have a musem and “Blues Traveling” is really good about letting you know what you can expect to see at any one of the many museums discussed in the book. The directions supplied in the book merit special praise, and should be particularly helpful in locating some of the graves mentioned in the book, which are often in very rural, out-of-the-way locations. Author Cheseborough offers not only directions to the cemeteries, but also directions on foot once you get there.
“Blues Traveling” does a really fine job, as well, of noting the dates and locations of the various blues festivals in the area throughout the year (many of which are free to attend) and clubs and jukes that host live performances of blues. Steve Chesborough is well qualified to speak to the types of blues one is likely to encounter in Mississippi today, for his tastes in blues embrace present-day electric blues as well as the acoustic masters of the past. Historical context around the various locations and the musicians who frequent them (or frequented them in the past) is delivered in an easy-going informal fashion.
Some of my favorite portions of “Blues Traveling” relate more peripherally to the blues, and more explicitly to the culture in the larger sense, how to get along with people, and what are realistic expectations with regard to food and accomodations. The book is protective of the year-long residents of the area and makes a special point of mentioning when a point of interest is currently private property. To the extent that “Blues Traveling” both encourages tourism in the area by blues aficionados and works to avert cross-cultural mix-ups or tensions between the aficionados and the local populace, it is much to be commended. That’s a fine line to walk.
“Blues Traveling” concludes with a list of recommended reading and another of recommended listening. The listening list could use some updating: the Gus Cannon reliease it cites has been out of print for many years, and there are currently other re-issues of Gus’s recordings that are easier to find. Taken in sum, though, “Blues Traveling” does an admirable job at what it sets out to do, and is a fascinating read both for blues fans planning to make a trip to the Delta and to those who probably will never make the trip. The best travel literature works equally well for travelers and homebodies, and by that standard, “Blues Traveling” succeeds in spades.
John M. Miller