Motorcycling Down The Blues Highway In Tunica, Mississppi

 Motorcycling Down The Blues Highway In Tunica, Mississppi

When my husband, Frankie, and I heard that there was a new Grammy Museum just two hours south of our home in Memphis, it was the perfect reminder of a trip we had been wanting to take for so long—a cruise down the Blues Highway on our motorcycles, but first we had to make a stop at the Gateway to the Blues Museum and Visitors Center in Tunica.

We fell in love with the blues more than two decades ago when we moved to Memphis. But until our son left for college, we’d never had the time to make the journey.

Hit the road, Frank

It was surprising how quickly the land opened up along the famous Highway 61, how big the sky was and how green the fields were. And it was warm. But the famous Mississippi heat was no match for the wind in our faces. It wasn’t long before we found the gateway—The Gateway to the Blues Museum that is.

Tunica Gateway to the Blues MuseumBuilt into an old train depot and topped with a red and blue neon sign, this visitor center and museum was beyond worth the pause in our trip. There’s actually a recording booth inside! First there’s a little lesson in blues writing (AAB style). After pouring our souls into verse, we picked a track and laid it down! I felt like Etta James, but my voice wasn’t quite up to hers. Fortunately, there’s even a bit of vocal tuning assistance, so Frankie and I came out sounding better than we are. The tune was emailed to us and I think it was the best souvenir I’ve ever gotten from a trip. We carried on, charged with the electricity of history and art.

A little back-roads luck

We thought that we were just cruising back roads toward nothing, so I grinned when I saw the billboards for the Gold Strike Casino Resort, the Horseshoe and the Tunica Roadhouse. Then, further down, another batch of billboards: Bally’s Casino and Fitz Casino. Even standing there alongside a cotton field, another batch of signs beckoned: Hollywood Casino, Resorts Casino and Sam’s Town.

I smiled at old Frankie. I may be retired, but I’m not an old bridge lady. My gals and I play poker. I’m known for my poker face—and my good luck. Time to try a hand!

We hopped off our bikes and strode inside. I was confident. And you know what? I may not have won huge (partly because I don’t bet huge), but I walked away with enough cash to buy my hubby lunch, and stay the night at the resort. We revved over to the Hollywood Café.

It’s a great old building, and you can still see so clearly how it was once a commissary for the plantation here. From the MS Blues Trail Marker outside, we learned the café itself has hosted music, too: Muriel Wilkins, a schoolteacher from Arkansas, would play to entertain diners both here and at the café’s original location.

What interested me most was Marc Cohn. He joined Ms. Wilkins singing “Amazing Grace” one night, an experience that inspired his song “Walking in Memphis.” That song came out the same year we moved to Memphis, so it sort of became our song. Plus, some people say this is where fried pickles were invented. Fried pickles and frog legs—what a great back-roads lunch!

The pickles were crisp and salty with that familiar addictive dill, coated in an additional tasty layer of fried crunch. I was told frog legs taste like chicken. I can see why people say that because of the mild, easy-to-eat flavor, but the texture was a little more tender—closer to fish. It’s really its own thing (and worth trying!)

After a refreshing night’s stay at the casino resort, we were back on the road.

Down at the crossroads

Loving those empty fields and stretching skies, we stayed on that road down to a patch of farmland that was once known as Abbay & Leatherman. We knew we had arrived by the royal blue sign up ahead. Abbay & Leatherman was one of the biggest cotton plantations around, though it mattered to us mostly because it was the boyhood home of Robert Johnson, Frankie’s favorite old-time bluesman. Standing out there, I could envision the field hands working, and imagine the sweet relief that it would be to dance and sing The Blues.

We got back on the highway and zoomed down to Clarksdale. Some say Clarksdale is the home of the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul—apparently there’s debate about just where it happened.

We pondered several possible spots before parking at the Delta Blues Museum—blues marker outside, of course. The exhibit on Muddy Waters, complete with a part of the plantation house where Muddy Waters once lived, was fascinating. Inside there’s a lifelike model of the legend—maybe too lifelike! Lots of great guitars, too. What a reminder of how many important artists came out of the Mississippi Delta.

As we walked out of the museum, we marveled at how much we had seen so far. The Mississippi Grammy Museum was our destination, but the journey to it had been a highlight on its own. I was already looking forward to coming back to spend a weekend of fun at a Tunica resort and casino.

We were still excited about our continued venture south to the only Grammy Museum outside of Los Angeles (in Cleveland, MS). There would be attention-grabbing displays, interactive elements and did-you-know history lessons. But, we still had about 40 minutes of highway before that.

I loved knowing that further treasures would be revealed to us along the way.

Get in touch with The Blues in Tunica, MS!

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