Our first port on this 640 mile journey along the Lower Mississippi was Helena, Arkansas, a small town that exists only because of the river itself. In the 1800’s, the river was the nation’s superhighway, long before railroads and trucks, and carried most of the nation’s goods and people through the heartland.
Although the town was prosperous then, the Civil War put an end to Helena’s prosperity when the Union Army occupied Helena.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, a vibrant blues community developed in the city. The area has produced blues greats Robert Lee McCollum, Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Robert Lockwood Jr.
Today, Helena shows evidence of being hard hit by the recession. The only bright ray of sunshine for this town, economically, is the population explosion from 12,000 to 85,000 during its annual King Biscuit Blues Festival.
I always wondered how San Diego’s King Biscuit Blues Band got its name. And, when I arrived in Helena, the origins of the bands’ name finally dawned on me. A King Biscuit Blues Festival poster hung in a storefront window and the connection was made.