The Mississippi Delta


Map showing highways 61 and 49 across Mississippi. The Delta lies between Memphis and Vicksburg.

“Tryin’ to Make Heaven My Home”     Viola James & Congregation. African American spiritual. Recorded by Alan Lomax in 1959 in Tyro, Mississippi. Source: Southern Journey: 61 Highway Mississippi, vol. 3 (Rounder Records, 1997).

“Stewball”   Unidentified Prisoners at Oakley, Mississippi. Recorded by John Lomax in 1939. The original version of this leader-response work song was an Irish ballad about a legendary race horse named Skewball. This song took several forms in America — one, the Kentucky racing horse ballad “Molly and Tenbroek,” and the other this work song known in various parts of the South. Source: Jail House Bound (Orchard Enterprises, 2014).

“Field Holler”   by Thomas J. Marshall. Recorded by Alan Lomax at Edwards, Mississippi, 1939. Source: Negro Works Songs and Calls (Library of Congress, Archive of Folk Culture. Rounder Records, 1999).

Read about Charley Patton.

“Spoonful”   Charley Patton, 1929. LYRICS. Source: The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead (Shanachie 6014: 1995)

“Mississippi Boll Weavil Blues”  Charley Patton, (1929). LYRICS.   What is the boll weevil?

“Pony Blues”  Charley Patton (1929).  LYRICS.  In the AAB, approximate twelve-bar structure that becomes the “standard” blues form.

“Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues,”   Skip James   (1931). LYRICS.

Lucinda WilliamsHard Time Killin’ Floor Blues



Read about Robert Johnson.

“Hell Hound on My Trail”   Robert Johnson, 1937. LYRICS   Source: Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers (Columbia, 1998)

“Cross Road Blues”   Robert Johnson, vocal and guitar. 1936. Source: Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers (Columbia, 1998). LYRICS.
“Crossroads”    Cream featuring Eric Clapton. 1968.

“Parchman Farm Blues,”    Bukka White, vocal and guitar. Washboard Sam, washboard.   LYRICS  Recorded in 1940 in Chicago. This songs tells of experiences widely shared by African American men of White’s generation on Mississippi’s oppressive prison farm. Source: News & the Blues (CBS Records, 1990).

“Aberdeen Mississippi Blues” Bukka White, 1967.

“Walkin’ Blues,”   Son House. Recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress at Klack’s Store, Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, August 1941.

“61 Highway Blues,” Fred McDowell vocal and guitar; blues from the hill country of Mississippi (not the Delta) w/bottleneck slide. Recorded by Alan Lomax in Como, Mississippi, 1959. LYRICS.

This song, one of the first that McDowell recorded for Lomax, concerns the north-south highway that runs from Chicago to Memphis to the Gulf of Mexico, a road of adventure and escape for the blacks of the mid-South. Fred McDowell of Como, Mississippi treats it in the free style of the old-time country bluesmen, sliding the bottleneck with his left hand to double the melodic part, and playing a complex African-like polyrhythm with his right hand. Source: Southern Journey: 61 Highway Mississippi, vol. 3 (Rounder Records, 1997)

“Highway 61 Revisited”   Written and performed by Bob Dylan.   (1965)  LYRICS

“Third Degree”   Joe Savage (1978).  From “The Land Where the Blues Began.”  Joe Savage, former muleskinner and Parchman Farm inmate, on the levee in Greenville, Mississippi. Recorded by Alan Lomax, Worth Long, and John Bishop, on September 2, 1978.

“Third Degree,”  Eric Clapton, guitar, vocal; Dave Bronze, bass guitar; Jim Keltner, drums; Andy Fairweather Low, guitar; Chris Stainton, keyboards. Live recording, 1994. Source: From the Cradle (Reprise/Time Warner, 1994)  LYRICS
Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson   “Death Letter” New Moon Daughter (Blue Note Records, 1995). LYRICS.

Son House,   “Death Letter” (1967).

White Stripes“Death Letter” (2000).

“Get Behind the Mule,” Tom Waits, vocals; Stephen Hodges, percussion; Larry Taylor, bass; Smokey Hormel, guitar; Charlie Musselwhite, harp.
Source: Mule Variations (Anti/Epitaph 86547-2, 1999).

Visit the Mississippi Blues Trail