• Beale Street

    Beale Street

  • Elvis

    Elvis

  • Sun Studio

    Sun Studio

Feeling blue doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially when you are diving the Blues Highway. Route 61 is famous for its role in Southern US music history. Drive through Memphis, Mississippi and New Orleans and embrace the sounds of rhythm and blues.

Where is the Route 61?

The Route 61 is 1,406 miles long, stretching from New Orleans to Wyoming, following the route of the Mississippi River. It will take you over 15 hours to drive it in one go, but with so many places to stop off and stay, you should really take a week or more to make your way along it.

The Legend of Robert Johnson’s Deal with the Devil

The highway’s association with music is world famous, and there are plenty of places for blues fans to stop along the way. One of the most famous spots is the crossroad in Clarksdale, Mississippi where, rumour has it, blues legend Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil.

The legend states that he took his guitar to the crossroads at midnight, where he met with Lucifer himself. The devil played a few songs on his guitar and returned it to Robert, giving him the ability to become one of the greatest blues guitarists who ever lived, in exchange for his soul. You can visit the spot where the deal supposedly happened, marked by a sign post made of guitars.

Robert Johnson died at age 27, believed to have been poisoned by a jealous love rival. He may have died tragically young, but is still considered to be one of the greatest blues musicians of all time. Perhaps that deal was worth it after all.

The Musical History of Route 61

Other than deals with the devil, the main reason Route 61 is famous is its ties to blues and jazz music. The highway snakes through St. Louis, the Mississippi Delta, Memphis and New Orleans, where soul, blues, gospel, and rock & roll was born.

Driving the Blues Highway

The route linking Memphis, Tennessee to Leland, Mississippi is the richest in terms of musical history, but if you keep driving south from Leland, you will hit New Orleans, the home of jazz.

Musical Points in Memphis

Memphis is renowned for its legendary music scene, and its most famous resident, Elvis Presley. There are plenty of Elvis themed places to visit in Memphis, and a must-do for everyone visiting is to tour Sun Studio.

Sun Studio is where Elvis recorded his first tracks, and where many more musical legends were born. The studio is now a museum, with local musicians working there as tour guides. Take a tour to learn about this historical studio, and get your photo taken with the microphone that recorded so many of the world’s greatest songs.

In the evening, walk down Beale Street, the most iconic street in Memphis. The street is busy with music lovers, going in and out of the famous music bars that line the street. Make sure you stay a while at the world-famous Rum Boogie Café, where you can eat your way through the Cajun-BBQ menu, and dance until the small hours to the bands that light up the stage.

Clarksdale, Mississippi: Birthplace of the Blues

One hour from Memphis

Devil deals, and the blues. Clarksville was the home to ‘Father of the Blues’, W.C Handy (although many towns in America lay claim to him, including Chicago). Handy was director of a band in Clarksdale, living there for six years.

While Clarksdale is lucky enough to have a strong connection with Handy, they can also boast that Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Junior Parker and many more iconic blues legends who either lived there, or took to a Clarksville stage.

When in Clarksville, you need to visit the Delta Blues Museum, an Aladdin’s cave of historical blues memorabilia, including the shack where Muddy Waters spent his early life.

Leland, Mississippi: The Leland Blues Project

One hour from Clarksdale

Another important stop for blues lovers is Leland, home of the Leland Blues Project. The project keeps the blues spirit alive in Leland, and educates people on Leland’s important role in the blues genre. Leland has strong connections to blues musicians, it is the burial place of James Thomas, and the childhood home of Johnny Winter.

Every year, Leland hosts a blues and crawfish festival. To enter, you just need to bring two staple foods to donate to The Leland Food Pantry, then feast on some delicious crawfish and dance the night away.

New Orleans, Louisiana,The Party City

Four hours, 30-mintues from Leland

The last stop on Route 61 is New Orleans, where jazz, partying and witchcraft all merge into one. At night, the streets are overtaken by crowds looking for jazz, dancing and drinking. There are plenty of legendary jazz clubs in New Orleans that you need to tick off your list.

The Spotted Cat is a place to hear real jazz, in a small club where only the essentials are needed. The bar is cash-only, so make sure you stock up on your dollars before going in, and don’t expect to sit down; the dancefloor will take over the whole club before too long.

Frenchman Street is the place to be, and so it will get pretty crowded as the night goes on. If you get tired of the crowds, then head to Buffa’s, on the edge of the French Quarter. It’s a fun, neon-lit dive bar that is a perfect place to go to see the ‘real’ part of New Orleans.

Want to know the real meaning of feeling blue? Jump in the car, and drive Route 61, and dive into the world of rhythm and blues.