Car Drivin' Blues: Musicians in their Rides
Memphis Minnie was one of the most influential and pioneering blues singers and guitarists of all time. A tough and independent woman who favored elegant jewelry and dresses, she always stood up for herself and did not hesitate to go fist to cuffs in bars, even pulling a knife from her ballgown. A runaway from her family home in Walls, Miss, she got her start on Beale Street at the age of 13 and enjoyed a long and successful career in both Memphis and Chicago. Her many original and traditional songs are being covered by musicians and bands to this day. She was inducted into the newly founded Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012. In this piece she is driving a 1950's Chevy truck with one of her quotes, "I drink anywhere I please."
25" x 10"
Furry Lewis is seen by some as the personification of the Memphis blues. He got his start on Beale Street in 1907 at age 14, and lived through several downturns and revivals of the acoustic blues. For steady income, he had taken a job as a street sweeper for the City of Memphis in the 1930s. On a peg leg (the result of a train jumping mishap) he swept the streets around Beale until his retirement decades later. In this piece he is driving a 1950s Chevy pickup.
19" x 9.5"
Known as the "Rock'n'Roll Granny" in her later years, Cordell Jackson played a red electric Hagstrom guitar. Because it proved difficult for her to break into the male dominated Sun Studio scene in the 1950's, she founded her own label, and recorded, produced, and promoted her and others' music out of her home. Her biggest hit was "Dateless Night," which was covered years later by Alex Chilton. She is driving a 1970 Camaro.
28" x 10.5"
Jessie Mae Hemphill
Born in Senatobia, Miss to a musical family, Jessie Mae Hemphill began playing guitar at age seven and drummed in her grandfather's fife and drum band. Jessie shot her first gun at age 9. In 1981 she released her first album, She-Wolf. She is driving a 1968 Plymouth Fury 3.
26" x 7"
Muddy and Buddy
Muddy Waters mastered the bottleneck style and the jagged, pulsating rhythms of Delta guitar. He had learned to sing powerfully and expressively in the tightly constricted, pain-filled manner that characterized the best Delta singers.
Buddy Guy has influenced countless guitarists including Hendrix, Clapton, Beck and Vaughan. When Buddy first went to Chicago he was starving and talking about going back home. Muddy picked him up in a red Chevy Station Wagon, threw a Bologna sandwich in his lap and said, "You ain't going no damn where." This piece depicts that story with a 1948 Red Chevy Station Wagon with a modern Chicago skyline. “Can't be Satisfied” was a big hit for Muddy in 1948.
27" x 9"
A Memphis legend and the world's oldest teenager. Rufus first began performing in the mid-1930's dancing, singing and doing comedy in the traveling vaudeville show "The Rabbit Foot Minstrels." Rufus was one of the nation's most popular disc jockeys at WDIA. Among the songs that would reach prominence were favorites such as "Walking The Dog" (1964) and "Do The Funky Chicken" (1969). Here he is driving a yellow Cadillac.
22.5" x 7.5"
The King of Rock'n'Roll cruises in a pink 1950s Cadillac.
22.5" x 7.5"
R. L. Burnside
R.L. Burnside was a North Mississippi Hill Cuntry blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist who lived in and around Holly Springs, Mississippi. He played music for most of his life, but did not receive much attention until the early 1990s. In the latter half of the 1990s, Burnside repeatedly recorded with Jon Spencer, garnering crossover appeal and introducing his music to a new fanbase within the underground punk blues music scene.
Martin Luther King
Although he wasn't a musician or singer his death took the momentum out of the music industry. Stax closed shortly after his assassination and many artists left Memphis. He is riding in a 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. This car is parked outside the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
24" x 9"
He was the first blues singer to sign with Stax in 1966. Albert King released a song on his 1967 album Born Under a Bad Sign titled "Crosscut Saw." He is driving a 1967 Dodge Dart.
23" x 8.5"
Eddie James "Son" House, Jr was a blues singer and guitarist, noted for his highly emotional style of singing and slide guitar playing. He was determined to become a Baptist preacher, and at age fifteen began his preaching career. Ironically he spent time on Parchman Farm in 1928 and 1929 for killing a man in self defense. He developed a powerful and innovative style featuring very strong, repetitive rhythms, often played with the aid of a bottleneck, coupled with singing that resembled the hollers of the chain gangs. In this piece he is driving and smoking in a 1967 Chevy Impala.
22.5" x 8.5"
Isaac Hayes helped transform popular music through the Memphis Sound at Stax. He co-wrote some 200 compositions with David Porter, many became hits. Here he drives a 1969 Pontiac GTO, the same year of his big hit “Hot Buttered Soul.”
22" x 9.5"
Precious Bryant was one of Georgia's great blueswomen. Born into a musical family, she sang country blues, gospel, and played the guitar from an early age. I imagine she might have enjoyed driving this gold 1978 Cadillac Seville.
North Mississippi Allstars
Formed in Hernando, MS in 1996, and thoroughly steeped in the North Mississippi Hill Country blues, the Allstars play traditional and original music, often collaborating with a host of other amazing area musicians. They know that Memphis is the capital of Mississippi. Make sure you catch them (and their other solo and side projects, such as The Wandering and the Hill Country Revue) whenever they play! They always rock.
Here, the original members are riding in a 1976 Lincoln Continental Coupe. Luther Dickinson is driving, with Chris Chew and Cody Dickinson in the far back, and their instruments everywhere.
OK. Not blues. Really good psychedelic rock. One of their two founders is from Memphis, so that's how they got to be included here. Andrew VanWyngarden and a cat driving a 1970 Gremlin, with Ben Goldwasser crammed in the back with the instruments.
Homemade Jamz Blues Band
Based in Tupelo, Mississippi, this trio of siblings started performing in their own band when the youngest was just 7 years old (actually, when she was 5, but her brothers didn't let her join until she was 7.) Their sound blends Mississippi, Chicago, and contemporary juke joint blues. They are amazing. Check them out.
James "Super Chikan" Johnson is a blues guitarist and singer based in Clarksdale, MS. He performs regularly at Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero blues club and is said to be Freeman's favorite blues performer. He also makes guitars, diddly bos, and other instruments out of oil cans, cigar boxes, and even ceiling fan motor housings, which he paints with Delta imagery. He's a really nice guy, and puts on a fun live show.
1956 Chevrolet Bel Air
Ray Charles could sing country to blues to jazz to R&B to gospel and even funk. His genius was to combine some or all of them. His ascent took off in 1955, when he released "I Got a Woman." According to Billy Joel, "this may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley". He remains an American cultural icon. Here, he is riding in a 1958 Ford Galaxy along with his famous back up singers, the Raelettes. (Not sure who's driving. Maybe they're parked.)
27" x 8"
Hurt and James
Mississippi John Hurt
Hurt was isolated from other Delta Blues artists, and therefore, cultivated his own style without being influenced by popular trends. He recorded “Avalon Blues” in 1928.
His trademark sound came from his E minor tuning and falsetto singing voice. He recorded “20-20 Blues” in 1931. He was influenced by Robert Johnson. Hurt and James were rediscovered at the Newport Blues Festival in 1963. These two share the ride in a 1964 Ford F100.
20.5" x 8"
Gus Cannon played on Beale Street in the 1930's. His band the Cannon Jug Stompers influenced bands like the Grateful Dead and the Rooftop Singers made his song “Walk Right In” a #1 hit in 1963. Gus is driving a 1959 Chevy Half Ton.
25" x 10"