By Reed Johnson
6:00 AM PST, November 7, 2012
The blues are a foundational American art form that speak not only to the U.S. experience but to all of humanity's.
Need proof? Just ask a European -- especially a European who's making a sentimental journey to the sacred shrines of the blues, with obligatory sojourns in Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago and the Dockery Plantation in the Mississippi Delta.
That's the traveling itinerary followed by writer Manuel Recio in the Madrid newspaper El Pais titled "La ruta del 'blues,'" published Nov. 5 in the paper's travel section. In his article, Recio sets out on Highway 61, which he calls the "hermana pequeña" (little sister) of the venerable Route 66.
Starting out in New Orleans, Recio gradually wends his way to Chicago, with Willie Dixon and B.B. King tunes rumbling through his head and melancholy visions of "Treme" episodes dancing before his eyes. Following his own internal road map of the soul, he drops by the Spotted Cat in the Crescent City, pays homage to Charley Patton's grave in Holly Ridge, Miss., and drives hell-bent through the crossroads where Robert Johnson met and made a bet with Beelzebub.
He surveys the memorabilia at the Stax Records museum in Memphis, and passes through Beale Street, Sun Studios and (darkest shades of blues) the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
By the time he gets to Chicago, his engine is revving in fifth-gear blues poetry. "To arrive in Chicago is like arriving in the promised land," he writes, then heads off in search of such blues-mythological locales as Maxwell Street and the Chess Records building.
If you read Spanish, and maybe even if you only can make out the boldface names of places and artists, Recio's pilgrimage makes for a moving and enlightening read -- and a reminder of why the blues in the end need no translation.
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