Tom Sorensen

On a road trip to New Orleans, I found Hazlehurst and was mesmerized

The hometown of Robert Johnson, blues pioneer, is Hazlehurst, Miss. That time Tom Sorensen went there sticks with him.
The hometown of Robert Johnson, blues pioneer, is Hazlehurst, Miss. That time Tom Sorensen went there sticks with him. AP

There are two TV shows on which I’m hung up. There’d be three if Netflix hadn’t jettisoned Lilyhammer. They are: Curb Your Enthusiasm and One Mississippi.

Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is mostly Larry David being intentionally hilarious and a combination of intentionally and unintentionally obnoxious, was off the air for six years. Season 9 is its first season back. I love Season 9. No show makes me laugh out loud as much as often one.

One Mississippi is based on the life of Tig Notaro, a comedian and storyteller who returns from Los Angeles to her native Mississippi. Man, can she tell a story.

I’m biased. There’s something about Mississippi I’ve always found mysterious and appealing. I remember walking the streets of Jackson on a sunny afternoon wondering how I, a guy from Minneapolis, ended up on a sidewalk in downtown Jackson.

I drove from Charlotte to New Orleans for a game between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, a game that didn’t offer nearly the import Sunday’s game will. I promised the Observer I would pick up a story in every state.

I drove from Jackson to Lafayette, La., and then into Breaux Bridge, which is the turf of former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. Jake told me I had to eat at two Breaux Bridge restaurants. If I lived in Breaux Bridge, I would weigh 350 pounds.

I was on I-55 heading south from Jackson when I saw a sign for Hazlehurst, Miss. I know you Hazlehurst, I thought. But I don’t know why.

I pulled off the freeway onto West Gallatin Street, checked my notes and drove to the middle of town. The great bluesman Robert Johnson, who never owned the Charlotte Bobcats, is from Hazlehurst. I drove around expecting some multi-story tribute to Johnson. I found nothing.

(I mention the basketball team’s Robert or Bob Johnson in case this segment requires a sports connection.)

The town felt empty. I saw no pedestrians, few cars and no sign that Johnson had lived there. This is a man who allegedly told the devil he could have his soul if he, Johnson, could play the guitar like nobody else. This is said to have happened in Rosedale, Miss., about 170 miles northwest of Hazlehurst. If so, the devil kept his end of the deal. ...

I stopped on the square and walked up the steps to city hall. Do you have anything that attests to Robert Johnson? Across the street, a woman said.

Across the street was a guitar mounted on a stand, metal and cool looking. I took several pictures and then heard a voice ask if I wanted my picture taken with the guitar. I jumped. I had not seen another person, except in cars or at city hall, since I arrived. Yes, I did.

The woman set her Wendy’s bag on a bench and took a few pictures with my camera. I looked at the metal guitar a final time, got in my convertible and drove down West Gallatin Street. Dust was in the air and the sky was impossibly low. I put “Hellhound on My Trail” into the tape player and cranked it up.

I was elevated. As I worked my way back to the freeway, I wondered if I could feel this way anywhere else.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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