We’ve spent more time than I want to admit putting together this list of songs about, pertaining to, or by people heavily associated with the river or river towns. As the regions the river runs through include the birthplaces of the blues, country, jazz, rock and roll and soul there’s a lot to cover. Listen to the playlist on Spotify and let us know what we’re missing.
- Highway ’61 Revisited – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan was born and raised in northern Minnesota and is our #1 or #2 musical export, depending on who you ask. Highway 61 more or less follows the Mississippi for nearly its entire length. Dylan had interesting things to say about it, too.
- Minneapolis Polka – Dick Rodgers
Look, a song about our hometown!
- Uptown – Prince
Prince is our #1 or #2 musical export, depending on who you ask. Uptown is Uptown Minneapolis, where you can “set your mind free.”
- Purple Rain – Prince
Purple Rain (the film) was shot and took place in Minneapolis and this jam was mostly recorded live at Minneapolis venue First Avenue.
- Say Shh – Atmosphere (at the end of Always Coming Back Home to You)
- Big River – Johnny Cash
- Way Down the River Road – John Hartford
- Riverboat Shuffle – Bix Beiderbecke
Bix was born in Davenport, IA and spent much of his teen years and adult life in various Mississippi River towns. He was among the most famous jazz trumpet players of the ’20s.
- The Glendy Burk – Lee Murdock (by Stephen Foster)
We wondered if the father of American music, who wrote Old Folks At Home (Swanee River) and My Old Kentucky Home without ever having lived in the South would have written about the Mississippi. The answer was yes.
- Boplicity – Miles Davis
Davis was born in river town Alton, IL and grew up in East St. Louis, also on the Mississippi, where he played with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker when they came through. He then went on to help pioneer bebop.
- Country Grammar (Hot..) – Nelly
- St. Louis Breakdown – Oliver Sain St. Louis Breakdown
- Meet me in St. Louis – Judy Garland
Judy Garland is also frequently rated Minnesota’s #1 musical export.
- Black Water – Doobie Brothers
- Graceland – Paul Simon
- The Memphis Train – Rufus Thomas
- Walking in Memphis – Marc Cohn
- Blue Yodel No. 9 – Jimmy Rodgers
What we have here is one of the fathers of country music, accompanied on trumpet by one of the earliest and most innovative popular jazz musicians, Louis Armstrong, singing a song about being a hustler and getting accosted by the Memphis PD for no reason.
- Memphis Tennessee – Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry also grew up in St. Louis.
- Beale Street Blues – Ella Fitzgerald (written by W.C. Handy)
W.C. Handy was one of the earliest publishers of blues music, which helped popularize the genre nationally. He was also a songwriter. Interesting tangent: when jazz bandleader Chick Webb first met Ella Fitzgerald he was reluctant to sign her because she was gawky and unkempt, a “diamond in the rough.” She must have been a late bloomer, because when I think of Ella Fitzgerald I think “immaculate in every way.”
- Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
- Take Me to the River – Al Green
- Goin’ Down to the River – Mississippi Fred McDowell
Here is an example of hill country blues, which generally has more percussion, not to be confused with the less-percussive delta blues.
- Hear the Hills – North Mississippi Allstars
A blues rock band with strong influences from the hill country, they were formed by the sons of Memphis producer and musician Jim Dickinson, Luther and Cody. Jim backed many of the soul, country, blues and rock and roll greats, and notably played piano on the Rolling Stone’s Wild Horses. The North Mississippi Allstars are more than worthy of carrying his torch.
- Mississippi River Blues – Leon Redbone (originally performed and written by Jimmie Rodgers)
Another song by the father of country music, this one performed by the snowman from Elf.
- Proud Mary – Ike & Tine Turner (because this version is better than CCR’s)
- Traveling Riverside Blues – Robert Johnson
The name of our blog is a play on this song title. Now you know. More people probably know the Led Zeppelin version than Johnson’s original.
- Mississippi Saturday Night – Old Crow Medicine Show
- Evangeline – The Band with Emmylou Harris
- Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog
Actor, singer, banjo player and all-around performer Kermit the Frog is said to be from Leland, MS, a small town just 5 miles east of Greenville, MS, which is both on the river and the hometown of Jim Henson. Leland has a Kermit the Frog museum in his honor.
- Jambalaya (On the Bayou) – Hank Williams
Hank is another father of country music. Country music has two daddies.
- Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin (by Kris Kristofferson)
- I’m a Ramblin’ Man – Waylon Jennings
- Louisiana 1927 – Aaron Neville (by Randy Newman, whose version is also great)
- Iko Iko – Dr. John (classic Mardis Gras song by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford)
- The Battle of New Orleans – Andrew Joyer and Eric Blomquist (though Johnny Horton’s version will also do)
- When the Saint Go Marching In – Louis Armstrong
Obviously you end with this song. Louis Armstrong was not only born and raised in New Orleans, he spent his early career playing in a band that toured on a steamboat going up an down the Mississippi and then helped invent jazz.