July 18th, 2010
11:03 AM ET

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

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

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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.



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Ann Pace

    Great idea! We took our own Delta Blues Tour a few years ago. Coming from Kansas City, we headed SE for Helena and also, unexpectedly, were on Sonny Payne's King Biscuit Time. We crossed the river and stayed in Clarksdale a few days, visiting many places in the area, including Dockery Farms, Tutwiler, Ruleville, Cleveland, Greenville, and others. We also went to Ground Zero (though didn't play). We then moved on to Indianola and went to Club Ebony, a real juke joint and had a great time. The late David Duncan still had his band there, though the B.B. King Museum had not yet opened. We went over to Greenwood the next day and went to what may or may not be Robert Johnson's grave north of town. All in all, a fantastic trip for any blues fan. I highly recommend it.

    July 19, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  2. Steve Bryson

    As a member of the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation I am certain that BLues will live on. We need to address a standard pay scale so that these men and women don"t work a 6 hours set for $25 Dollars. The club owners will not kill the blues they'll end shuttering their businesses.

    July 19, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  3. Alex Valiao (DMLK, NJ)

    That's what I love in New York. You can stop from corner to corner and you'll hear various music just to unwind. One time, I just stood there relaxing while listening to a sax player doing jazz.. I think the Apple owes me a dance one of these days as well.

    July 19, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  4. Kim

    Bessie Smith= Gimme A Pigfoot and then Billy Holiday threw in the beer.What's up with the value added tax deal ? All these ideas sounded great but now they're hitting main street and we'll let ya know at the blues concert but the Mall says closed down ! Seriously and in some states and cities Malls are closing down . This idea that Tom has could increase business ! They're not all silly letters ! We hope the cap on the oil is successful and what a freaking mess ! Shake,Rattle and Roll....Big JoeTurner ! Gotta go paint a kitchen for a property to sell and that's really a blues song in America ! Take a licking but keep on ticking !

    July 18, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  5. kevmoore

    Tom, as a professional musician born in the UK and living in Spain, I was one of those 'blues tourists', visiting Clarksdale (I got up and played at Ground Zero) Nashville, Memphis, Helena (where I appeared on Sonny Payne's King Biscuit time) New Orleans, Austin – it was my dream to see these places, drink them in. What I didn't plan for is how the blues, and all the music of this region got under my skin. Those around the world who think think the U.S. doesn't have a rich history are well wide of the mark. Suffice to say, my new album, out in the fall, is called Blue Odyssey, and each song is a signpost along the way, chronicling my trip around an abundance of what I consider your national treasures. By that I mean the people, the places, and the music.

    Kev Moore

    July 18, 2010 at 11:47 am |

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