Three on the Road takes us to a place where landscapes, lore and lyrics are all mixed into a hit song.
It all ties in with Sunday’s date, the 3rd of June, “another sleepy dusty Delta day,” from the song, Ode to Billy Joe, which told the legend of Billy Joe McAllister and featured a bunch of Mississippi real estate at the same time.
The simple repeated two chord strummed guitar intro to the song is one of those musical signatures that instantly translates anyone familiar with it to dusty cotton fields and a place where rivers have intriguing names, and to small towns that still had picture shows and places with roots honoring ancient times like “Choctaw Ridge” and sinister bridges that hold dark secrets.
Choctaw Ridge is a real area in Webster County. And the sleepy, dusty Delta is real. Not all that dusty this 3rd of June with all the rain lately, and not a lot of cotton to chop anymore, as in the song. It’s more corn and soybeans now.
Sleepy? The Delta is at least that. Look off at the far end of the field where the heat waves meet the sky and it gets downright dreamy, or a little haunted where you see things that maybe aren’t really there.
The Tallahatchie River is a real place. And it has a bunch of bridges over it. My favorite was the old steel turnstile bridge at Shell Mound. It fell in the river decades ago. Nothing left there today but the endless fields and old houses and the tree line along the Tallahatchie that no longer even hints where the bridge was.
Others of the old bridges have been replaced with utilitarian concrete slabs. Gone is what may have been an old wood and steel structure with all sorts of character.
My friend Nathan Culpepper from Meridian got this shot of the Lamb-Fish Bridge over the Tallahatchie west of Charleston. I suppose it’s the oldest bridge left still standing over the river.
This one on Highway 32 east of Webb is the old style steel and concrete bridge that used to be over every creek and river in the state on the major highways. Most of them have been replaced now.
But where is THE Tallahatchie Bridge? Well, is there one? Had Billy Joe been a real person and really jumped off of it like in the song it would be a more important question. Bobby Gentry may have thought of this bridge in Greenwood where she grew up when she wrote her song.
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