Two days of riding south from Music City gave us the chance to become acquainted with the motorcycles we would be paired with on this Shamrock Tour®—an Indian Chief Limited and Indian Challenger Dark Horse. I’m not sure there could’ve been a better choice of machines for exploring the highways of the Mississippi Delta. These mile-crushing cruisers were ready for whatever the Magnolia State had to throw at us, and we were itching to hit the open road. With a full tank of fuel and blues rock blasting from the stereo, we made our way to the charming Delta town of Cleveland, MS.
Cleveland is a quaint little place located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta—a far cry from the ever-expanding music metropolis from whence we came. The town has one of the richest histories as far as blues music is concerned and we were on a mission to locate the true birthplace of the blues. First on the list were a few of the Mississippi Blues Trail markers, which are in downtown Cleveland. Reading about W.C. Handy and Christman St set the tone for a historical journey through the blues genre.
A few hours of our morning were dedicated to exploring the Grammy Museum, which held lots of music industry artifacts and included several hands-on displays. Caleb recorded his very own blues vocals and learned to mix music on a recorder. I gave a feeble attempt at some of Michael Jackson’s dance moves and pretended to play a guitar like a rockstar.
Motorcycles and Gear
Medicine for the Soul
Music is ingrained in every culture. Humanity has historically used the art of musical expression to tell stories, to inspire, celebrate, mourn, and express themselves. What’s interesting is even for people who have little to no musical talent themselves, good music still hits the soul as hard as it does for those who write and perform it. It’s an emotive art form, and we’re poetic creatures clinging to the natural rhythms of life. It makes sense that music has been with us throughout this human experience, enhancing the tunes of our lives.
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” —Plato
Blues music originated in the U.S. Deep South after the Civil War. There were many influences to what is now known as the blues, including field hollers, work songs, gospel, and more. Traditionally, blues music was performed primarily by Southern African American men working in agriculture. Early blues music was often inspired by some sort of loose narrative—personal woes, working conditions, lost love, oppression, and hard times. It’s said that blues music “can’t be sung without a full heart and a troubled spirit.” Early blues artists, like W.C. Handy, “Blind Lemon” Jefferson, and Charley Patton, paved the way for what later artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Elvis Presley were able to bring to the scene. Blues eventually gave way to rock ‘n’ roll, country, and other genres as it worked its way up the Mississippi River.
We turned south on US 278, our Mississippi playlist blaring from the speakers on the Challenger. Thanks to our Bluetooth communicators, whichever one of us was riding the Chief at any given moment could still hear the music as we cruised. US 278 took us into Greenville, where we were on the hunt for hot tamales.
Recommended Lodging: The Cotton House
Located on the historic Cotton Row in downtown Cleveland, this hotel is a fixture on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Spacious and clean guest rooms with cold AC are welcomed after a long ride in the Mississippi heat. Bar Fontaine is located on the roof, and the Delta Meat Market is on the ground floor. You won't have to go far to find great food. The hotel is located in the downtown square of Cleveland with plenty of other restaurants and shops within walking distance.
The Delta tamale is usually made with beef or pork encased in cornmeal that is wrapped in corn husk or wax paper and either deep fried or steamed. Sometimes the tamales are covered in a red sauce or chili, other times the remnants of spicy frying oil fill the bottom of the plate. Greenville, MS, is a hotbed for tamales, and we heard through the grapevine that the best were prepared by the Signa family at Doe’s Eat Place.
When we pulled up to Doe’s, we thought we’d ended up in the wrong place. We were on the side of a residential street, surrounded by small homes that have been weathered by the relentless Mississippi sun. The faded sign confirmed we were in the right spot—an old building with worn siding and peeling white paint. We walked through the door with the open sign, and entered a kitchen filled with an aromatic medley of Cajun spices, hot oil, and hot sauce.