The soundtrack of music that would accompany me down the river became a crucial component of my planning for this trip. In fact, I probably spent more time compiling the perfect selection of albums which would complement the regions through which I traveled than I did on the other various planning areas.
The Blues could rightfully be considered America’s greatest contribution to the world; and the Blues were born in the Mississippi Delta. Obviously, my iPod would be chock full of bottleneck-slide guitar and harmonica. But the River witnessed the incubation of many other laudable styles—soul, country, bluegrass, folk. Just think of how many classic songs mention the Mississippi River, or the numerous towns along its banks that grace the lyrics of great songs: New Orleans, Memphis, St Louis, Rosedale, Natchez…
If you endeavor to attempt a trip down the river, I highly recommend that you too put some thought into the music that will journey with you. I found it to greatly enrich the experience.
Here is a list of what I would consider essential artists or albums for a trip down the Mississippi:
- Bob Dylan–“Blood on the Tracks” recorded in Minneapolis, possibly his best album.
- Al Green; anything off the HI Label, which was recorded in Memphis. Bring “Lay it Down” for bonus points, his latest album which is very solid.
- Elvis Presley–“Elvis at Sun” the very first recordings that started it all, in Memphis, TN.
- Howlin’ Wolf–“Moanin’ in the Moonlight,” and “Howlin’ Wolf;” Sam Phillips of Sun Records called his voice “the best I ever recorded,” which is saying something!
- Johnny Cash; another Sun Records alum, too many great albums to list.
- Isaac Hayes–“Hot Buttered Soul” and “To Be Continued…” recorded at the legendary Stax Studios in Memphis, by their equally legendary house writer.
- Booker T and the MGs; the house band at Stax, take your pick of albums! These guys set the standard for a soul GROOVE.
- Otis Redding–“Greatest Hits” put out by Atlantic covers all your bases, but you really can’t go wrong with any album by Stax’s biggest star.
- Charley Patton; Influenced everyone from Son House to Howlin’ Wolf. The original Delta Bluesman
- Big Bill Broonzy; Left the Delta in the 20’s to pioneer the Chicago Blues style.
- Son House; from Clarksdale, MS, the man plays guitar like a blacksmith pounding steel!
- Robert Johnson–“The complete Recordings.” Spawned a legend with just 29 songs to his name.
- Muddy Waters–“The Complete Plantation Recordings”
- Sonny Boy Williamson II; had his own show on King Biscuit Radio out of Helena, AK, inspiring countless Delta bluesmen to follow.
- Roosevelt Sykes; Born in Helena, AK, died in New Orleans, LA
- John Lee Hooker; also from Clarksdale, he sort of developed his own unique style of Delta Blues.
- Sam Cooke; a soul legend, Clarksdale again.
- Willie Dixon; his classic have been covered by everyone from Zeppelin, The Doors, and the Stones. You’d probably recognize more of his work than any other bluesman on this list.
- R.L. Burnside–“Mississippi Hill Country Blues,” a little different from the Delta style, his guitar really grooves.
- Leadbelly; first recorded in Angola Prison on the banks of the Mississippi River.
- Levon Helm–folk and country from Arkansas. “Dirt Farmer,” his most recent album, is quite good
- The Balfa Brothers–“Play Traditional Cajun Music vol I and II”
- The Meters; of New Orleans, one of the first funk bands.
- Professor Longhair; early New Orleans piano at its finest
- The Wild Magnolias–“They Call Us Wild;” one of a kind New Orleans funk.
- Tony Joe White–“Black and White” and “Tony Joe;” from Louisiana, this guy takes it all–country, soul, funk–and churns out his own inimitable sound.
- Louis Armstrong; naturally.
While not technically a product of the Mississippi River, these albums definitely evoked the country through which I traveled and made my experience all the richer!
- “The Complete Blind Willie Johnson”
- Ma Rainey–“Big Black Bottom”
- Ernest Tubb–“The Definitive Collection”
- Tony Furtado–“Roll My Blues Away”
- Gillian Welch–“Revival”
- The Be Good Tanyas–“Blue Horse”
- John Fahey–“The Yellow Princess”
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated!