Monday, May 17, 2010

Street Names: Highways 49 & 61


Howlin' Wolf: Highway 49


Johnny Winter: Highway 61 Revisited


Both of these US highways are odd numbered, which means that they run north-south. Don't say Star Maker Machine never taught you lot anything. If you've ever found yourself scratching your head at the junction of a odd-numbered US highway that you're damned sure you want to take west through town, but the choices offered are north or south, now you know why. We can't help you decide which ramp to pick, though. Crank up your music and maybe you won't care.

US Route 49 runs through Mississippi and eases on into northeastern Arkansas. Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil at the crossroad of Hwys 49 and 61, and I've been told by Mr. Geoviki that this spot is destined to be a future vacation destination. Will there be a Stuckeys there, I wonder? I could Google Earth it, but why spoil the adventure? More importantly, will I have to fall down on my knees? I'd better pack kneepads.

Highway 49, the song, was written by Delta blues artist Big Joe Williams. It's recorded here by electric blues artist Chester Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf, which ranks right up there as Best. Musical. Name. Ever. Maybe we'd never have heard of either of them if not for the enthusiastic acolytes made up of British Invasion musicians like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Cream, Fleetwood Mac, The Animals, and Ten Years After, who introduced American audiences in the 60's to their own heritage. This song is from the 1971 London session of Howlin' Wolf plus a few other guys: Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman. Wonder what happened to them? They showed such promise.

US Route 61, aka The Great River Road because it generally follows the Mississippi River, runs from New Orleans to Duluth, Minnesota, which happens to be the home of the next song's composer, Bob Dylan. I haven't heard whether or not I'll be dragged escorted to this highway in my future.

Probably the most well-known cover of this Dylan tune is by electric blues guitarist Johnny Winter. He released it twice: once on this 1970 studio recording and again on a 1976 live album. Johnny's still touring, and he was still featuring this song when I and Mr. Taking-You-To-The-Crossroads saw him last summer.

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