Recently, I was privileged to take a journey through a region of the US I had never thought of visiting before now - The Deep South. Travelling from Sydney, there are a variety of airlines offering connections to The Deep South but with Qantas' new A380 straight into Dallas, I then took a quick connection flying along the Mississippi into New Orleans, Louisiana.
Full of vibrant culture, New Orleans is a city that never sleeps. Steeped in history influenced by the French, Spanish, African and Caribbean who have called it home, this filters through into the architecture, cuisine and music.
At night, I headed to the French Quarter for live music clubs, shopping and gourmet restaurants. During the day I took a tour through the mystical Voodoo Cemetery, visited the Garden District, and sailed aboard a paddle steamer along the meandering Mississippi. A local culinary favourite is the shrimp po-boy, and I indulged in a beignet for breakfast at Cafe du Monde.
After a few days of great music, food and southern hospitality, I set upon my journey further into the Deep South. Heading north from New Orleans, I stopped off at the quaint town of Natchez for lunch at The Carriage House Restaurant. Famous for Southern cuisine such as deep-fried chicken, Cajun catfish and pecan pie, Stanton Hall was originally built in 1857 by Irish immigrant, Frederick Stanton.
It is evident just how the Deep South's unique music evolved from this region. From the harsh labour in the cotton fields grew the heart and soul of gospel music. Continuing north for a further 3 hours and crossing in to Arkansas, I visited Lakeport Plantation, the last remaining antebellum house on the Mississippi River. The house has been restored as a museum and helps to illustrate how the cotton industry played its role in the civil rights of the American people.
Further north, the capital of Arkansas - Little Rock, was once home to Native Americans before European settlers arrived. Here I met some of the friendliest people on my journey. For places of interest, visit President Clinton's Library, learn about the sustainable aid work of Heifer International and visit the Old Mill filmed in the 1939 movie 'Gone with the Wind'.
One more stop heading to the north of the State was to Walnut Ridge. This little town prides itself on the Rock 'n' Roll musicians such as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Burguss, Billy Lee Riley, Conway Twitty and Cash himself, having played their way along Highway 67.
The Beatles also took an overnight stop here in 1964 (referred to by the locals as the British Invasion) and the town now has a dedicated Beatles sculpture, original photo gallery and even an 'Imagine' gift shop. It is at towns like Walnut Ridge where you will experience the true Southern hospitality amongst the local people!
A trip to the boyhood home of Johnny Cash in Dyess took me to a colony originally funded by Roosevelt in the Great Depression of the 1930s. As an experiment in American Socialism, families, often with 5 or more children, were given the opportunity to move from the city and start a new life in the country. They were provided with a brand new home plus 20 acres of land which they had to clear and plant themselves. The land was hard to work as the 'gumbo soil' would break up in the harsh draughts of the summer months; and severely flood in the winter.
Many families found it too hard survive and moved away. The Cash Family was one of original Dyess settlers and you can now go and visit the restored house where Johnny himself grew up. This house has been filmed in the opening scenes of the movie 'Walk the Line'. There is no doubt that this harsh environment influenced Cash, and contributed to the birth of Rock n' Roll.
Heading over the border to Tennessee, the city of Memphis is alive with music! There are some fascinating museums here: Sun Studios where the big boom of Rock 'n' Roll started with Sam Phillips signing Elvis Presley; the Stax Museum of American Soul paying tribute to the Mississippi delta gospel church and the root of soul music; and Smithsionian Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum depicts the overcoming of racial and socio-economic barriers to shape the music world.
Memphis is home to the American blues music and buzzes with live entertainment every night of the week, accompanied by Southern comfort food - the famous 'barbecue'. For a great night out, head to BB Kings Restaurant on Beale Street in the heart of the city.
My visit to the Deep South wasn't complete without a trip to Graceland where I walked in the footsteps of the king of Rock 'n' Roll - Elvis Presley. From his humble beginnings to his rise in stardom, Elvis produced over 70 albums and stared in 31 movies before his tragic death at the age of just 42. His music combined pop, gospel and blues - a great mix of the heart of the Deep South. 2015 marks the anniversary of Elvis' 80th birthday.
To plan your own itinerary around the USA's Deep South, visit the Deep South USA Visitors Bureau website. Auto Europe will help you find the perfect vehicle to get around, from campervans to sports cars. For more information book online or speak to one of our friendly reservations staff on 1300 656 601 today!