“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
NAVASOTA, Texas — 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 arrived in Navasota, in southeast Texas, on Tuesday after a ride of just over 66 miles from La Grange, where we cut short Monday’s ride because the rain that began during the night showed no sign of stopping. That meant we had to ride a bit further on Tuesday, but nobody’s singing the blues here Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s ride was under sunny skies in cool temperatures through rolling dairy farms stocked with contented cows that apparently produce the milk for “the little creamery in Brenham” that makes Bluebell Ice Cream.
We got to our campsite early enough to allow the afternoon sun to dry out our tents, sleeping pads and other gear that had to be packed wet on Monday morning during a steady rain. So Tuesday night we’ll be sleeping in dry tents with no prospect of rain until Thursday.
The only bit of blues singing on Tuesday night was prompted by the sogginess of our campground, an RV park owned by the city of Navasota adjacent to a small airport, and the spartan nature of the toilet and shower facilities. The single men’s shower produced only a trickle of water, but it was warm.
In any case, people riding high-end touring bikes probably don’t qualify 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.”