“White folks hear the blues come out, but they don’t know how it got there.”
— Ma Rainey, called the “mother of the blues,” 1886-1939
Several Texas towns could make a credible claim for recognition as the state’s “blues capital.”
Perhaps Wortham, in Freestone County, near where Blind Lemon Jefferson was born around 1893. Or maybe Centerville, in Leon County, the birthplace of Samuel “Lightnin'” Hopkins in 1912. Or Linden, in Cass County, where Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker came into the world in 1910.
We’ll be passing through Navasota, in southeast Texas, nearly 1,900 miles into our bicycle journey from California to Florida.
Some of us may be singing the blues by the time we get to Navasota. But high-end touring bikes probably don’t qualify as conveyances for people allowed to sing the blues, according to a clever, anonymous spoof on the blues that has been rattling around on the Internet in various permutations for several years.
More suitable means of transport for blues singers are southbound trains, Greyhound buses, Chevys and broken-down trucks. You don’t see many blues singers riding Trek Madones or driving BMWs or Suburbans.
It’s OK to have the blues in places like Navasota, New Orleans or LA, says the spoof. But locales like Palm Beach, Disney World or Vermont don’t qualify.
“Walkin’ (but not bike riding) plays a major part in the blues lifestyle,” says one version, “A Primer for Beginners” on how to sing the blues. “So does ‘fixin’ to die’ and ‘findin’ a good woman.'”
Some good blues names for men are Joe, Willie and Hank, and for women: Sadie, Bessie or Baby. Mance Lipscomb’s nickname comes from “Emancipation,” indicating the hard times his forebears had under slavery.
Hardship and toil are prerequisites to singing the blues, as suggested by Ma Rainey’s quote cited above. People who pick cotton on a tenant farm, survive on the mean streets of Chicago or do jail time for shooting a man in Memphis would qualify. But “persons with names like Sierra or Sequoia,” said the primer, “will not be permitted to sing the blues, no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.”