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July 18th, 2010
11:03 AM ET

Letter to the President #545: “BUILDING UP THE BLUES”

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

If I were President, I’d start a national Blues Festival on the mall every year; because it would celebrate a unique cultural contribution of our fellow countrymen, because it would be a lot of fun, and because it might get me out of reading these silly letters for a day or two.

Dear Mr. President,

I hope your vacation is going well, because mine is over. Had to head out of Alabama this morning and over to Mississippi to work on a story for our Building Up America series. But I must say, as work goes, this has been pretty sweet. (Well, minus the seven hours of driving to get here.) The story is about Blues tourism, as in: folks coming from all over the world to see the sights, and hear the sounds of the place where the Blues was born. In this case I’m talking about Clarksdale, Mississippi, home of the famous crossroads we’ve all heard so much about.

As the story goes, in the early 1900’s Robert Johnson went to a crossroads to meet the devil who gave him the gift of brilliant music in return for his soul. Considering that we have people who are seemingly making the same deal these days for a lousy seat in Congress, I’m not sure whether to doubt the veracity of the tale or to wonder how he scored such a bargain.

In any event, in his short life (he died in his twenties) he turned out some bone rattling blues that endure to this day as standards of the genre. And he wasn’t the only one. Here in the Delta, dozens of gifted musicians emerged from the fields, woods, and creek bottoms to create the thumping, grinding, growling sounds that would become the fuel for so much of what would become rock, pop, rap, and even country music.

It’s hard not to admire what those men (and they were largely men…a few women, but not a lot) contributed to this country. At the excellent Delta Blues Museum here I walked around and looked at their pictures, their guitars, and more. Then I sat down and chatted with a regular player on the Blues club scene, Terry “Big T” Williams, and we even played a song together. He loaned me one of his guitars which was nice, so I didn’t bring up the fact that he has kind of made off with my nickname. Oh well. Then we wrapped up the evening with an excellent dinner and some rocking good music at a club called Ground Zero, by Tri-State Coalition. And yes, I know; it’s not exactly a headline grabbing name for a band, but they could certainly lay down the chops.

All in all, not a bad way to come off of vacation. You might want to consider it when you wrap things up there in Maine. After all, better to come down here and listen to folks sing the blues, than to go back to DC where all they do is whine. Ha!

I have to make it down to the Gulf shore tomorrow afternoon, so that would be a good time for you to call and say hi. Hope to hear from you.

Regards,

Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.