AARP Eye Center
Be prepared for high notes as you make your way south on Highway 61 from Memphis, Tennessee, to Vicksburg, Mississippi, on this four-day journey. You’re traveling on the Blues Highway through the rural South region that birthed both the blues and jazz and did its part for soul and rock ’n’ roll, as well. You’ll sometimes detour off the highway, but you’ll never be far from the Mississippi River or the sound of guitars and saxophones in super-cool blues clubs and rural juke joints. The drive isn’t all about music; you’ll gamble a bit, do a little shopping and even take in a presidential tale and a Civil War lesson. All that, plus the best fried dill pickles on the planet.
Day 1: Memphis
Begin your journey in this Tennessee city with strong ties not just to the blues but also soul and rock ’n’ roll. Start your morning at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, southeast of downtown, which honors the soul label founded in 1957 by sibling team Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. Its all-star lineup of artists included Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. Dance to the best tunes from the Stax heyday on the Express Yourself dance floor and see flashy costumes worn by its famed musicians.
The nearby Sun Studio made a local named Elvis Presley into a household name, performing alongside fellow Million Dollar Quartet members Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Step inside the studio where the memorable recording sessions took place as you hear clips of the famous songs.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
Come afternoon, drive about 7 miles south from downtown to Graceland, Presley’s grand mansion. Once a suburban farm, it’s now part of a larger complex with a museum featuring his private plane, the Lisa Marie. Elvis superfan and actor John Stamos narrates an audio tour of the home, including the garden with Presley’s grave.
Shift your attention to the blues after dark on electric Beale Street, the downtown neighborhood that’s home to the city’s blues venues. At the B.B. King’s Blues Club, you’ll get more than moody music; the club doubles as a restaurant serving Southern dishes such as Memphis-style dry-rubbed pulled pork. Or dine upstairs in Itta Bena, the club’s more upscale Southern eatery. Music lovers should also head to the Crosstown Concourse — a renovated Sears warehouse-turned-eclectic-creative-collaboration of working studios, restaurants, bars and event space. Obsessed with records? The Memphis Listening Lab is a cool music library for rare vinyl and live performances. For a nightcap, head to the funky, intimate Art Bar in the same complex (look for the bright-red staircase).
Where to stay: Sleep like a king at the moderately priced Peabody Memphis, where Elvis signed his first recording contract. Of its 464 rooms, 10 are accessible with roll-in or transfer showers, accessible door handles and Braille door signs.
Day 2: Memphis to Clarksdale (76 miles)
Heading south on Highway 61, make your first stop 27 miles down the road at the Gateway to the Blues Museum in a rustic 1895 train depot near Tunica, Mississippi. Learn how the blues was born and the role the city played in the genre’s development. Feast your eyes on more than 20 guitars strummed by music greats such as John Lee Hooker, and if you’ve got good chops (or even if you don’t), record your own blues demo in its recording studio.
Although it’s unlikely your song will ever top the charts, maybe you’ll get lucky 13 miles down the road in Tunica at one of its six casinos. The gaming industry came to town in the 1990s, giving the economy a much-needed boost. The Gold Strike, an MGM-owned property, delivers a level of luxury you’d expect in Las Vegas, including a comedy club and a performance theater to see the latest headlining live acts.
For lunch, try the signature fried dill pickles at the Hollywood Café, famously mentioned in “Walking in Memphis,” the hit single from Marc Cohn’s debut album in 1991.