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TRAIN HOOTER BLARES
This is the great state of Mississippi,
the most fertile place in America but conversely one of the poorest, too.
I'm here because I love the blues
but as someone who's interested in food, I've been fascinated by
the much-loved southern dishes ingrained in those lyrics -
cornbread and butter beans, black eyed peas, fried chicken and turnip greens.
They call it "soul food" here, and it's one of those
vital things people miss when they escape the Delta.
This is a journey into the land of the Delta Blues, guided by the tunes
and the words I've enjoyed for the best part of 50 years.
It's also about the myths surrounding this powerful music.
A journey to find out what's real and what ain't.
# I'm a blues man
# I'm a blues man
# All over Mississippi... #
This is Terry Harmonica Bean, famous on the Delta Blues circuit.
A real blues man.
# I was raised up
# On guinea weed
# Collared greens
# Black-eyed beans
# Turnips in my mouth
# And Muddy Waters
# All you people
# Better get ready for the blues
# I'm a blues man
# I'm a blues man
# Yes, I am
# Whoa. #
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Blues in the house! Terry "Harmonica" Bean.
You know the blues, I mean, it means a lot to you,
but does it mean a lot to black, young black people any more?
The young whites! The young whites is into the blues.
-The young blacks think it's depressing - they don't understand it.
You got to study it.
And they'll say, "Well if you're a black person you can play the blues."
Just cos you're black don't mean you can play the blues.
There's a lot of peoples don't like the blues. Black peoples.
-Don't like it.
-Don't like it!
If it ain't nothing there, you can't get nothing out!
What did the blues do to me when I first heard it?
It grabbed me.
I can actually recall the precise time when I got turned on to the blues.
It must have been about 1962, 1963 and I was at boarding school.
This friend of mine said, "Come and listen to this."
I went into his... We had studies then
and he had a Danset player, but an automatic Danset and I can remember the label -
it was blue and cream, Chess Records.
And it was Howlin' Wolf, Smoke Stack Lightning.
A-WOO-OOH! Like that and to me,
it went straight through me because I'd never heard anything like it, I'd never heard anything
with such sort of balls, I suppose. Such a sort of howl, such a sort of naked human howl and I was hooked.
# Oh, oh
# Smoke stack lightning
# Just like gold
# Don't you hear me crying?
# Ooh, ooh... #
I was brought up with people like Cliff Richard and other rather sort of wimpish English groups.
I was into Elvis but by then Elvis was
doing things like GI Blues and had gone a bit sort wimpish himself.
So this was just, like, I HAD to know more about it.
And of course at the same time there were lots of young, urban English boys who had turned on to it too.
I mean, the Rolling Stones, of course, Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds.
I think, for all of us - I'm obviously not a rock band,
a rock musician - it was just that sort of earthiness, that extreme
sort of power that came through and we had to have more of it!
Just driving along, I can't help thinking this whole landscape is so familiar.
It's all those album covers from the '60s and '70s.
# I am the little red rooster... #
Blues lovers who've been here before told me to stay at the Shack Up Inn.
It was an old cotton gin where they used to clean and chop up the cotton
and pack it into huge bales. And it's set on a plantation just outside of Clarksdale,
the epicentre of the Delta Blues.
What better place to put you in the mood.
I really like the fact that nobody's heard of me here!
I'm just another blues fan from England struggling
with the 102 degrees, but what a lovely place to start a journey.
No fancy reception and lifts, just lots of rusty corrugated iron and lots of old, carefully chosen junk.
I mean, I had thought it was going to be rickety
but I didn't really have any idea it was going to be like this!
Look at the ceiling, rusty old corrugated iron on the ceiling
and old planks, look like old floorboards or something there.
It's fabulous! I can think of a lot of people that would really, really not like this, but I love it.
Look at that. "Listed on the national register of rickety old places." Ah!
The Fullilove Shack.
"Bring your wife or your girlfriend. Heck! Bring both of them."
I don't think so.
Farming cotton was done by sharecroppers, families who were responsible for a parcel
of land on which they had to grow a yield of cotton, and then share it with the landowner.
Slavery, according to the history books, had finished in 1865 at the end of the Civil War.
Share-cropping was a way to put the emancipated black people
and poor whites back to work on the land.
Slavery was dead,
but many thought at the time it was in name only.
If there was no Mississippi, there'd be no blues.
The mighty Mississippi, nearly 2,500 miles long, flowing from Minnesota in the north
of the country and then meandering south, draining the water from the Rockies, Appalachian Mountains
and half the states in America, and then fanning out into the Delta, so rich and fertile -
a vast area where anything can grow.
And what grew best was cotton.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I wanted to see the river close up shortly after the massive floods
and I went with John Ruskey, a consummate river man straight out of Daniel Boone.
This is so peaceful. I was just thinking it was like going through a cathedral, in a funny sort of way.
The canopy spreads makes such big open spaces that you can't help but
feeling lifted upwards into Heaven or into a higher place.
It opens your imagination.
You know we're doing this programme about the blues - how do you see the river fitting into all that?
The river created this very fertile, rich landscape the blues was born in.
The first plantation owners knew they could make gold out of the mud. And that was through cotton, you know.
It used to be a jungle, you know, this was the Amazon of North America.
And the top soils
that averaged 32 and sometimes as deep as 350 feet.
Wow, that is enormously deep.
And you can feel that, that fertility and power in blues music.
The river created the landscape that created the blues.
Can we get out on the main channel?
It's not dangerous today, is it?
It's always dangerous but we'll go in a safe place.
OK. Let's go.
-There we are. Now we have our work cut out for us.
If we gotta turn over this would be a good place to do it!
I've never seen such massive barges!
When I think of the Mississippi, I think of those beautiful
paddle steamers, mint juleps and Mark Twain.
This is river boating on quite a different scale.
We're paddling against the current,
which John was saying is about five miles an hour, so it's hard.
-Now look at that beautiful beach awaiting us right there.
-That's great. With a log to sit on.
-Rick, cup of coffee?
-Don't think I've seen a pot like that since Blazing Saddles.
We're going to cook some lamb chops over a wood fire and smoke them
with these green willow branches. I'm really looking forward to that.
-Tamari soy sauce.
-I'm sort of like thinking of Tom Sawyer here.
Tom Sawyer in Huckleberry Finn, they'd always be - certainly in Tom Sawyer - sitting down
cooking some fish like this saying, "Hey, that's the greatest thing I've ever tasted!"
It's something quite special.
-Yeah. That look OK?
-Yeah. Looks really good.
That looks really good, too.
Oh, I love that smoky taste. It's actually...
Smoky meat is the taste of the Delta to me, really.
Thank you very much, it's been a wonderful experience for me.
-I hope we see you again. You've made the river happy today.
And now, after a smoked meal on the base of the Mississippi River,
Rick Stein meets the blues, in the muddy waters of the Mississippi River.
I'm really looking forward to a swim in this river.
Of course, I didn't come here empty handed.
I've had plenty of tips of where to eat the authentic soul food of the Delta.
This is called the Senator's Place because it's run by a Mississippi politician, Senator Simmons.
Rick, we fry chicken every day.
Is there any bit of it which is secret,
-that you don't want people to know?
Fair enough. So it's basically flour...
-But the rest of it is a secret.
-Is a secret.
And you gonna say when you taste it,
"Where have I been? Why haven't I had this chicken?"
Why is it so popular locally?
-It's a staple.
-Fried chicken is something that's been around for a long time.
As a matter of fact when my older brothers, um...
moved into Chicago and Detroit,
when they were getting ready to leave home, driving back or on a bus or getting on a train,
my mother would prepare pound cake and some fried chicken
and put it in a shoebox. And that's the kind of way a lot of individuals
travelled because they couldn't go to public restaurants and eat, so they had to have the food in their cars.
Why couldn't they go to public restaurants, then?
Discrimination. Blacks were not allowed to go to
public restaurants, so even when they could go, they weren't allowed to come in.
They were just being served outside of a window, and a lot of time they were being harassed.
So, as a result of that, to keep from having those types of situations occur,
you get everything and put it in the trunk of your car and five or six of you get in the car and head north.
When you get hungry, pop out the shoe box - there's the chicken and there's the pound cake.
When we look at the blues and the food, and we
refer to it as Southern soul food and the blues is a perfect match.
That is it! That's why the blues is so powerful, and the food, cos the songs
are filled with that sort of pent-up emotion for the hard times
and the love of the food and all that - we can get it.
That's why we want to come to Mississippi.
That's why you should stop here. The food is like you can see.
So the food, like rice and gravy and black-eyed peas, have a real part in this story.
Corn on the cob and ice tea, okra and tomatoes with turnip greens...
This is stuff worth coming home to.
And let's not forget the chicken-fried steak,
which isn't chicken but is a taste of home
and a taste of the blues.
the blues and food always go together. Yeah. Definitely.
Good food, good blues. There's a definite match.
What are you looking for to eat today? I love the look of those turnip greens.
I'm going to eat turnip greens, French fries and I'm going to eat some catfish.
I'm having some baked and fried catfish.
Catfish is considered a scavenger.
It ate all of the nasty things in the water
so didn't nobody would eat it but black folk. And now it's a delicacy!
This is Maurice F Lucas. I got talking to him over lunch.
So you were mayor of like a small town?
A mile north of here, a local town called Renova.
What's special about Renova?
Aretha Franklin was born there.
I left in 1962.
I went in the Army
and I swore I wasn't never gonna come back.
But after Vietnam got hot,
I came home.
-So why wouldn't you have wanted to come back?
-I don't like being a farmer.
I got up at five o'clock in the morning,
fed the chickens,
slopped the hogs, milked the cow and went to the field.
So I read somewhere that's why all the blues musicians left. They wanted to get away from that.
That's what I got away from.
And I didn't want no part of that.
# Bright lights
# Big city... #
This is Leland, once an important cotton town, and this is one of
my favourite tracks - Bright Lights, Big City by Jimmy Reid,
one of Leland's greatest sons.
# Gone to my baby's head
# I tried to tell the woman... #
I met up with Billy Johnson, who set up a museum in the town
simply because so many bluesmen came from here.
People think that the Delta,
the Mississippi Delta, is a mystical place.
How could all these people - Muddy Water, Howling Wolf, BB King, Jimmy Reed...
How could all of these people...
..who sing the blues so many different ways come from just this small place?
The Delta wasn't really...
It was the last part of Mississippi to be settled.
Where's everybody gone?
Well, farming became less labour intensive and all the people left...
you know, in the '50s.
20,000 people lived on the plantations around here.
You know, 50 years ago. It's not 300 people out there now!
But I suppose, also, you get all these blues centres
like Chicago and they're singing songs about the life in the Delta
and the food they knew as well, really.
the blues had a smell to it, people would come
to town and the blues guys would be playing on the corners and these food vendors would be there.
They had these little two-wheel pushcarts and they were selling hot tamales and fish.
As a kid, I always associated the music
-with the smells of all this food.
Smells are my speciality - and it's the smell of barbecues
that dominate these blues towns.
Sweet, woody, smoky smells that go so well with the blues.
This is Mr Edwards' Rib Shack.
Fresh off the grill!
-So that's your ribs?
-That's my ribs and they're ready.
-They look great!
My seasoning is garlic salt, regular salt. I put a little black pepper in there...
I taste and season and I mix it all together and that's my rub.
So it's just a dry rub, then.
It's a dry rub.
But you gotta have a good cook.
I depend on my cookers.
Not the secret... but the cookers that I got.
All of my cookers are very good.
-Simple and easy.
-Did you know it was going to be a success?
No, but I didn't have anything else to do, I had to make some money.
I got a wife and four kids and we had to make it.
But that's really enterprising of you. Presumably, you had very little money to set that up.
I didn't have any money. I only had an idea.
So are you familiar with Mr Edwards' ribs, then?
-What's special about them, then?
-Good, man, they're good.
People come from everywhere to get them. You ever tasted them?
No, I haven't tasted them yet, I'm looking forward to it.
What am I tasting?
I'm tasting pecan wood, or as they say here "pe-carn" wood, I can taste that smoke.
I'm tasting pepper, I'm tasting garlic, I'm tasting onion. Good, good soul food.
So, what do you think about it?
Mr Edwards, you're a genius!
You are seriously a genius.
I love it! Absolutely.
What about the potato salad and baked beans?
Why can't they make baked beans like that at home?
-Not in England they don't!
Oh, no! That's Mississippi Delta.
Mmm. That's the way we do it down here!
If there was a gastronomic symbol that defined the Delta, a good choice would be the catfish.
This is Cadi Thompson, the daughter of the owner of Pluto Plantation, Louie Thompson.
His family bought the land here in the bad old days of the 1920s and they grew cotton. They still do.
But Louie says that catfish farming is good business and it's growing.
Catfish has been a staple for this part of the world since people lived here.
From the Indians on up through the 1850s,
when this area was settled, and on through the slavery period and civil war
up until now.
Catfish is near and dear to us. I'm glad it turned out that way.
What do you, as a plantation owner, think about the blues? As that's what we're here to...
I grew up listening to the tractor drivers play it on the place
and people would sit on the front porch on Sunday afternoon just strumming away.
It's great! I grew up with it. I don't know how to describe it,
I feel like it's in my blood a little bit.
Maybe I'm a little part of it.
We're making this programme, sort of trying to connect in some way the food of the Delta with the music,
with the blues.
Do you think there is any... Does one go with the other?
It seems to me that it does.
the blues originated here and so did catfish and it just seems to go together.
There must be a song. I've got to think of a song!
# Well, I wished I
# Was a catfish
# Swelling deep down deep blue sea... #
Louie's cousin is Martha Foose.
She's one of America's top food writers and writes with
great passion and humour about life and food in the Mississippi Delta.
Great, I think we've got enough lemon there!
She's cooking catfish with fennel, melted butter, orange and lemon,
baked in a paper bag.
We are so tied to the land here.
It's 17 miles to get a gallon of milk from here and so people
mostly eat things that are grown on their farm, at farm stands or little trucks on the side of the road.
We have a lot of time on our hands so we do a lot of slow cooking here.
We're a very nap-orientated culture.
So you have siestas like they do in Spain?
We do. Don't call, don't drive down the road between one and three,
and we'll remain friends.
I'm going to put these in a hot oven, for about 15 minutes,
and they'll steam inside their little sacks.
You have such good ovens in the States.
See how you like it?
That's a really good fish, it's really... Sorry, I sound surprised.
Well, I know where it came from. They've been swimming in the alluvial aquifers of the Delta.
I know where they have come from, how well they've been cared for, and you can tell in the taste.
You're a pretty accomplished cook, really. Did you just get this from the Delta?
Um, I got the better part of it from the Delta, but...
I did go to a school in France, mostly for baking and pastry.
I went to Ecole Lenotre. I had a big time while I was in Paris.
Big time meaning?
When I got home, my grandma asked me if I'd learned to do anything in France other than drink and smoke.
I told her I could have learnt that in the Delta. But I can make one heck of a pie crust now.
# So cloudy, so cloudy
# I believe it's gonna rain... #
This is one of the most famous voices of the Delta, Muddy Waters.
They say he was the father of the Chicago blues but he came from the Delta.
# I believe it's going to rain... #
I've come to the blues Museum in Clarksdale to get a feel for where he grew up.
# I don't believe my woman love me
# She in love with another man... #
I'm just thinking about that saying in the Bible, "A prophet is not without honour saving his own land".
I was reading somewhere that when The Beatles first arrived in the States,
a reporter asked Paul McCartney what would he most like to see?
He replied, "Well, I'd really like to see Muddy Waters."
And the reporter said, "What's that?"
And so Paul McCartney said, "Do you not even know who your own famous people are?"
# The snapping of her fingers would make a dog wag its tail
|# The whisper from her voice would make a train jump the rail
# You take her to the race track and show her a face
# A horse ain't win in years come in first place
# You know she's into something
# Yeah, she's into something
# You know she's... #
the blues began life in the cotton fields, mostly in wooden huts away from the towns.
The sharecroppers would come and drink and play their music when their back-breaking work was done.
These places were called juke joints.
Muddy Waters ran one of these in the 1940s.
They usually had gambling and sold moonshine whisky and people would dance the night away to the blues.
# Yeah, that little girl's into something... #
Years ago people referred to them as joog joints,
a Creole word for "rowdy"
or "a little bit abandoned".
But whatever the pronunciation,
joog or juke, they spawned the blues.
This is a juke joint. There used to be hundreds of them - sadly, there's only one or two left now.
Originally, they were built often by the plantation owners
as a way of somewhere for the black people to socialise - that was during segregation, of course.
But often they'd be just a sharecropper's house that
they'd clear all the furniture out on a Friday and Saturday night.
It's a bit like the food, you know when you look at it, it might not
look like haute cuisine but to me it really speaks of the soul.
That's why they call it soul food, I guess.
Originally, there was a bit of a circuit around all of these juke joints
and people like Robert Johnson Charlie Patton and Sunhouse used to do a circuit of the juke joints.
But gradually, as records came in, they were replaced with, you've got it, juke boxes from the juke joints.
MAN SINGS IN HOLLERIN' STYLE
This is a recording of a musical phenomenon called hollerin',
recorded by Alan Lomax, who went out into the cotton fields in the late 1930s to capture the songs
of the Deep South for the Library of Congress.
It's said that the blues came here from Africa wearing chains.
This sound was the birth of the blues.
MAN SINGS IN HOLLERIN' STYLE
METALLIC TWANG REVERBERATES
METALLIC TWANG REVERBERATES
METALLIC TWANGS INTENSIFY
I read about this before I came on this trip.
A way of making music using what was available because there was no money for instruments.
To me, this raw sound epitomises the essence of the Delta Blues.
Bill Abel, a bluesman, explains.
Amazing! I mean, that sounds like
the heart of the blues, really.
What exactly is this, then?
This is called a diddley bow.
The kids used to play them.
They didn't have money to buy an instrument. So they made their own instrument at home.
They would take any kind of a wire they could get and put it to the side of the house.
This is an original sharecropper's shack.
It's 100 years old at least.
It's made out of cypress,
so it's got a nice resonation, so it's like a giant guitar.
The diddley bow helped give birth to the Delta Blues,
the sound, if you walk up to a wire and you play a riff...
You just do that, and that is an actual Delta Blues riff.
I can hear that sound right through the present day.
with something like Led Zeppelin When The Levee Breaks.
You can hear that sort of slightly doomy sort of like slide...
You can feel the sultry heat and maybe a storm coming in.
It's just straight there.
Just tell me about the early blues musicians then.
Uh, well, uh, the music, the Delta Blues
is based on poly rhythms instead of melody
and music that was called blues
that was played in the rest of this United States
was more influenced by European melody.
But the blues here, the slaves were brought here in the 1850s
to clear the land along the rivers for cotton
and right before the Civil War, you know.
So they brought the drums to the Delta in the 1850s
and that rhythm is what gave birth to the Delta Blues.
This is quite an important question for me.
OK, these, these, the young black people
are not interested in the blues any more,
and I can understand it,
it's about their grandparents and it's old stuff,
but why were those English boys in the '60s so taken with it?
Well, I think they were allowed to...
Here, the mainstream popular culture in the white community
was not embracing black music back in that time.
But I mean, it all boils down to when you are young
and you hear that sound of the Delta Blues,
it's so deep that it brings out...
say like the Daniel Boone in a kid, you know,
it's just like as tough as it gets, you know,
so that's what gave birth to a lot of rock and roll, was that toughness.
You got it, you've got it.
'Bill, who makes his guitars from
'driftwood washed up by the Mississippi and cigar boxes,
'is good friends with a legendary bluesman round here
'called Cadillac John. He's in his 80s
'and he never saw the bright lights like his contemporary BB King.'
Cadillac John, how did you come to start playing the blues?
Well, that's a, that's a good point.
My old lady left me,
she left me and that put it, I couldn't play it enough.
You know what I mean? Well, I will tell you.
When a, when a lady love you, you love it,
and she leave you, you gotta hurt.
You gon' do something, walk over in the river, you gotta hurt.
the blues come from...
When your friend leave you, your wife leave you,
that's where it all starts breakin' loose.
# My baby, my baby, my baby
# That little girl don't love me no more
# My baby, my baby, my baby
# That little girl don't love me no more
# My baby, my baby, my baby
# She way up yonder
# She ain't coming back down again
# No I'm not. #
'What a testimony to the power of the blues
'to keep past emotion alive.
'He told me his wife even took the curtains!'
'You know, they tell me the blues can never die out
'when there are still a few cheating women and a few lying men.
'Terry Bean explains.'
People say the blues make you sad, with depression. Uh-uh.
You got it all wrong.
It's an upper.
Make you feel good.
But you got to understand that.
-Don't let blues people fool you
when they go talk about baby this and baby that.
They ain't talking bout their women. They can be talking about money,
they can be talking about they ain't got no more whiskey to drink,
but they call it baby.
See what I'm saying? That's their baby.
The guitar may be a baby, see what I'm saying?
They ain't talking about a woman.
Most of the bluesmen can't stand one women anyway.
# Oh, some trouble in mind
# You know I'm blue
# But I won't be blue always
# Yeah, the sun gon' shine
# In my back door some day... #
They look really good.
They don't like you to grab them, really.
-I don't blame them.
-No, not at all.
Well, can we, can we cook some?
-Oh, yes, please.
# ..On some southern railroad line... #
'I've always associated crawfish,
'or craw daddies as they're known over in these parts,
'with Louisiana, along with Filet Gumbo.
'But they eat lots of these little critters all over the Delta.
'The cook here is Ryan Moore.'
So Rick, we're going to put a little more seasoning on these before we...
-Oh, so you put some in as well as in the boil.
so it's in your fingers, in your mouth when you're eating it
and then yellow mustard across the top.
That's just a little secret touch that we do, it's something about...
Oh, well, we won't, we won't tell anybody about that.
We'll mix them all up.
-Cheers to you, Rick.
-This looks really good.
-So everything's ready?
-So you've never eaten one of these before?
I have, but I want to see how you do it.
The first thing you do there is you squeeze in the head a little bit..
-and pinch in the tail.
-And pinch in the tail.
-Right here, yes. And then you just wriggle the tail, wriggle it out.
Head, you can either throw it away or you can suck the head out.
-No, I'd like to suck the head.
-Suck the head, is that all right?
Oh, that's really good, Ryan.
And then...you eat the tail.
So you pinch the tail. You suck the head and you pinch the tail.
Suck the head. They call it making love Louisiana-style.
I don't think we'd better go into that one.
Yeah, well, you know.
-I got it, I got it.
-Pinch the head, suck the tail. So there we are.
Everywhere I've been here it's been, people really want to welcome you.
Yeah, you don't have your own plate here.
You see all this food here and it's kind of a melting pot.
And the Delta itself is a melting pot of different races and cultures
and a lot of history with the blues music.
What else more could you ask for?
-Maybe it could be a little bit cooler.
It could be a little bit cooler for us English, I must say, yeah.
# Some people say a man is made outta mud
# A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
# Muscle and blood and skin and bones
# A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong
# You load sixteen tonnes What do you get?
# Another day older And deeper in debt
# St Peter don't you call me Cos I can't go
# I owe my soul to the company store... #
These places were called commissaries.
They were the financial heart of the plantations
and the bane of the sharecroppers' life.
Where they could buy now and pay later,
tying the farm workers to the land much in the same way feudalism did.
The sharecropper would come here to the commissary for his seeds,
his fertiliser, his tools, clothes. Everything.
It reminds me of that song Sixteen Tonnes,
"Sixteen tonnes and what do you get?
"Another day older and deeper in debt."
Cos whether the harvest was good or whether it was bad,
you owed your soul to the company store.
# ..To the company store. #
You know when you live in a city,
inadvertently you walk by and you hear people talking, you hear something on the radio,
you see a sign on a bus and all that influences you.
But with the blues,
people living on the plantations didn't have anything -
no communication, no transportation.
The biggest influence was theirselves
because other than their family, that's all they had.
You know when you go out there to work from daylight to dark
and you come in on Saturday and you open the door
and your wife's gone with your kids and ain't gonna be back no more,
you know, I mean, and you get your couple of drinks of moonshine,
pick your guitar up, there ain't no filter between what you're feeling
and what you're playing. And I mean, it's the real deal,
so that's what the blues is and that's how you get them.
MAN SINGS BLUES
Blues-wise, they say Dockery Farms
is the most potent place in the whole of the Delta.
BB King said, "It all started right here."
Thousands worked the cotton fields, including Charley Patton,
the father of the Delta Blues, and so did the famous Tommy Johnson.
Dockery was home to so many famous bluesmen
and inspired many others from around the Delta
to come and play with the likes of Robert Johnson,
Elmore James and of course, my favourite, Howlin' Wolf.
# It could fill spoon full of diamond
# Could fill spoon full of gold
# Just a little spoon of your precious love
# Satisfy my soul... #
'Just down the road is the resting place of the great Charley Patton.
'He wrote songs about the people and things around him.
'He's immortalised a couple of local sheriffs,
'a plantation boss,
'pimps and whores.
'They all became the subjects of his songs.'
This is it.
I can tell, there's all this money left on the top.
Yeah, Charley Patton, somebody's left a cigarette there,
a whole cigarette for him cos he loved his smoking,
he loved his booze, he loved his women.
"The voice of the Delta," yeah,
I think he was arguably the father of Delta Blues music,
influenced people like John Lee Hooker
and of course my own favourite Howlin' Wolf.
He had this really gravelly voice
and of course it was before amplification.
It could travel about 500 yards, people say.
CRACKLY RECORDING PLAYS
Apparently, it's a sort of tradition here
to leave a libation to the dead,
so I've actually bought a little libation for Charley.
If it's as hot down there as it is up here, in the grave,
I think he needs it.
Maybe a bit for me.
I think he'd approve.
CRACKLY RECORDING CONTINUES
The record companies and radio stations
wanted their music to be a bit zappy.
'All the Delta Blues musicians had really loud voices
'and a rural repertoire, but it was
'the legendary Robert Johnson who had a real gift for showmanship
'and an ear for the latest sounds.'
ROBERT JOHNSON SINGS
'He could hear a song just once on the radio
'and a few minutes later he'd be playing it on a street corner,
'receiving handsome tips. He was a man of his time.'
Eric Clapton called Robert Johnson
the greatest blues musician there ever was.
I think the image for most people of a blues musician
is somebody in blue overalls playing a guitar
sitting on a porch somewhere, but not for Robert Johnson.
He really liked sharp suits, good ties, tie pins, hats,
and he really loved women.
And a contemporary of his, Johnny Shines,
said, "Robert treated women like motel and hotel rooms,
"he used them and then he left them behind."
MUSIC: "Crossroads" by Robert Johnson
# I went down to the crossroads Fell down on my knees... #
This song, Crossroads,
was Robert's most famous,
and it helped to make him a legend because the crossroads
was the place he was supposed to have made a deal with the devil.
# I went down to the crossroads Fell down on my knees... #
Nobody really knows where the crossroads are,
but this would have a serious claim to be it.
It's where Highway 49 crosses Highway 61.
Robert Johnson, when he was young couldn't play very well -
he kept getting thrown out of juke joints
because he was making such a racket, and he disappeared for a while.
Well, some say he went across to Arkansas,
but others said he came here to the crossroads
and he sold his soul to the devil.
He met a black man just before midnight, a big, black man
who took his guitar and re-tuned it and handed it back to him,
and after that he played like drops of mercury.
JOHNSON PLAYS GUITAR
This is Baptist Town in Greenwood. It's pretty run down
and probably hasn't changed too much
since Robert Johnson lived here and died here
at the age of 27. Rumour has it that he drank
poisoned moonshine whiskey -
poisoned, it's said, by a jealous husband.
Sylvester Hoover runs a grocery store here.
He's a mine of information,
especially about those troubled times of the 1930s
when black men couldn't walk freely on the streets.
Why was it that black people
couldn't come out on the street during the day?
I mean, that was the Jim Crow law.
That was a white law that the farmers made in this area
and a general Crow law is, blacks don't have any rights.
They couldn't buy a bus ticket, they couldn't buy a train ticket,
couldn't spend a five-dollar bill. You had just ones, you know.
And it was real hard time and that's what made those guys sing the blues.
Though at that time, a white lady, if she walked down the street
and Robert Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards were walking down that street
on a weekend when they all worked,
they had to cross and go to the other side of the street.
And if you meet a white man down the street,
you would have to take your hat off and kneel to him.
But you couldn't pass a white lady down the street,
and the train track separate the peoples.
If you was black you wasn't allowed to cross this track here
because they couldn't go over where white peoples live.
The Jim Crow law and blacks didn't have any rights whatsoever,
that's part of what made the blues.
They could leave the Jim Crow law behind when they go Chicago,
they didn't have the same laws they got here.
That's why everyone wanted to go to Chicago.
And that train, when they hear that horn,
it helped them, they know that "I can go north,
"I can get out of this Mississippi Delta."
# Ever since Miss Susie Johnson Lost her jockey Lee
# There has been much excitement And more to be
# You can hear her moanin' Moanin' night and morn... #
The more I understand about the blues, the more I listen to people,
I realise that a lot of it was about getting away from the Delta
because everybody was so poor.
Really, it's a bit like Wordsworth saying about poetry,
it's emotion recollected in tranquillity.
It's getting away and thinking about those times,
thinking about the levees,
thinking about losing your girl and all that.
And this is an important place to me
because it's another crossroads.
A crossroads is a really common image in blues music
and it sort of gets to us all.
And WC Handy, who was a very famous early blues musician,
heard this guy singing about where the Southern crosses the Yellow Dog,
and it's this intersection.
You can just imagine loads of people here, suitcases, everybody leaving,
and then the wail as the train arrived, and maybe it's getting dusk
and then you see the taillights disappearing in the distance
taking my baby away from me!
# He's gone where the Southern cross the Yellow Dog... #
People left the Delta in their droves during the '20s and '30s,
and there were a number of reasons.
Mechanisation started to come to the fields, the price of cotton fell,
the floods of 1927 forced thousands off the land
and the pull of jobs in northern cities like Chicago and Detroit
was so powerful.
MAN SINGS BLUES
But for those that chose to stay behind,
an Italian honky tonk joint in Greenville
offered tasty food exclusively to the black community.
It was more like an in-town juke joint,
but it became a place selling down-home cooking for over 60 years.
-How you doing?
-Wow, I'm very well.
-Is that for one or for a...?
-Ah, usually two people split them.
Ah, thank goodness for that!
Sometimes one person can take it down.
This is what you call a broiler, isn't it?
Yes, sir. It's been in here since the '40s! Yes, sir.
So, it's much loved.
'In the early days, if white folks wanted a part of it,
'they had to use the back door - a sort of segregation in reverse.'
Excuse me, sorry, sorry.
It's like walking back in time,
this is definitely not your typical fast food joint and neither is it
themed or skilfully recreated - it's just a family-run joint, it's the real deal.
And even Miss Florence has been making the same salads with the same dressing for over 40 years!
You know, in this restaurant there's no menu -
I mean there's just tamales, shrimp, salad and steak, lots of steak!
I'm sorry but I just love places like this. This is heaven to me.
This is a very special day in Indianola. I love the sound of these
Mississippi towns. Indianola - it sounds like a '50s radiogram
but why today is so special is because this is the homecoming
of its most famous son, the most important and influential living Blues artist, BB King.
# Yes, she's 36 in the bust
# 28 in the waist
# 44 in the hip She got a real crazy leg
# You upsets me baby
# Yes, you upsets me baby... #
At the age of 86, he still tours the world over but today he's coming home
and the area's full of expectation
and the sweet smell of barbecue.
Apparently BB's still asleep in his bedroom at the back of the bus.
We could be here a couple of hours.
I was trying to find out what that all was.
It's where they had the big barbecue cook-off yesterday.
You all get some of it?
We didn't get none.
Damn, you should have got some of it, you know I like barbecue!
Gentlemen, how are you?
-Good, very good.
Mr King, are you looking forward to coming home to some good local food?
I like that too but I look forward to coming home every year,
I wish I could come every five to six weeks.
This is where...
This is where I grew up. My roots is right here.
-I used to work right there.
-And you love the cooking of this area, you love the Delta food?
Of course! You can see that, you don't have to ask.
I love it too.
I, well this is... You know, it's home.
Like, if I was in London or someplace... I like London because I have a lot of friends there,
I know a lot of people and this is home,
I don't know as many people these days but I know the roots of the families.
Most of them have died out or moved away.
But I think a lot of us try to get home every summer if we can.
Alan is begging for me to come in so I have to go.
-Very nice to meet you. Thank you very much.
-Mr King, we love you!
I was gobsmacked at meeting BB - really nervous.
It was like shaking hands with Elvis!
He may be 86 but he still cuts the mustard at Glastonbury.
# Everybody wanna know
# Walk and singin' the blues
# Everybody wanna know
# Walk and sing the blues
# Been around a long time
# Really paid my dues. #
This is the Blue Biscuit in Indianola, run by Trish Berry and Harlan Malone.
And this is the most famous barbecue dish in these parts.
It's a sandwich made with marinated and barbecued pork
cooked so long in the smoker you don't need to cut it, just pull it.
It starts life as a big rump of hog.
This is called a Boston Butt.
Trish smothers it in garlic oil and then it's stuffed with
jalapeno chillies and spices and smothered with a secret marinade.
Then it's put into a barbecue smoker for about 20 hours. The smell is superb.
You see, Harlan, I'd love this job because I think it's a job for real men.
Not for TV cooks, you know what I mean?!
So what does barbecuing mean to you, then, Harlan? You must be...
-Well, it just means who's got the best butt!
-And do you think yours is the best?
-I think so.
Because it's as tender as my heart, y'know.
That's why love it, it's as tender as my heart.
People are very passionate about their barbecuing.
And they're very passionate about their music.
And this is something everybody in the Delta does, everybody barbecues.
And it's like the music, it's very simple music but it's good
and it's really passionate and heartfelt.
-Is that for me?
Seems... That's... Seems very..
I feel very, very privileged.
To be the first of the TV crew to find it because they'll all be salivating at this stage!
That's so good, the smoke, it tastes really clean.
Well, I must say it seems quite a big portion, is that normal?
Oh, absolutely, that's about a normal sandwich, normal.
Nobody's going hungry on my watch!
BB King said scholars love to praise the pure Blues artists or the ones
like Robert Johnson who died young and who represent tragedy.
He said it angered him how the folklorists associate
the blues with tragedy.
BLUES MUSIC PLAYS
Everywhere I went in Mississippi
I was welcomed with open arms.
I don't think I've been to a more hospitable place
and before I came on this trip,
if someone had asked me to describe the blues
I would have said a form of music born out of despair.
But having spoken to a number of bluesmen here, I'm not so sure.
I think it's that indefinable feeling that comes right from the soul.
Terry Bean has the last word.
My grandfather played gospel on Sunday mornings,
with acoustic guitar but it were nothing but the blues,
they just change the levers around
and boy they get to clap and stomp and hallelujah.
Man, I tell ya,
every... All music has got the blues in it,
if you ain't got no blues in it, man, you ain't got no music!
I don't think I want to... That is perfect, that is...
That is the way we finish the whole film, for God's sake!
BLUES MUSIC PLAYS
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Ever since the early 1960s, Rick Stein has been in love with the blues and years later he is fascinated by the dishes ingrained in its lyrics - fried chicken and turnip greens, catfish and black-eyed peas, and the rest. In this film, Rick pays homage to the musicians who created this music and to the great dishes of the Mississippi Delta that go hand in hand with the blues.