Dylan and Highway 61

In his memoir Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan described the kinship he felt with the route that supplied the title of his sixth album:

“Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was the same road, full of the same contradictions, the same one-horse towns, the same spiritual ancestors … It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.”

When he was growing up in the 1950s, Highway 61 stretched from the Canada–US border through Duluth, where Dylan was born, and St. Paul all the way down to New Orleans. Along the way, the route passed near the birthplaces and homes of influential musicians such as Muddy Waters, Son House, Elvis Presley and Charley Patton. The “empress of the blues”, Bessie Smith, died after sustaining serious injuries in an automobile accident on Highway 61. Critic Mark Polizzotti points out that blues legend Robert Johnson is alleged to have sold his soul to the devil at the highway’s crossroads with Route 49. The highway had also been the subject of several blues recordings, notably Roosevelt Sykes’ “Highway 61 Blues” (1932) and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway” (1964).

 

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