Eight years ago, on the old MySpace social site, the pre-pre “Facebook” site that mostly featured music, I met a singer named Raj Siva-Rajah who turned out to be the lead singer of one of Australia’s most prominent rock bands, The Sunpilots. Raj and I have talked a couple of times each year ever since.
“Hey mate, the band is going to be playing close to Mississippi and we have always wanted to see the Mississippi Delta,” Raj told me over the phone a few weeks ago.
My response, “How fast can you get here?”
I’m always delighted to show our unique region to anyone who is interested and I can thank Luther Brown, former director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University for taking me on countless tours of the Delta over the many years he was here. “Paying it forward” so to speak, has allowed me to take visitors on tours of the Delta and we visit the places we all know about and especially the off-the-beaten path places that most do not know about.
Two weeks after my conversation with Raj, he and his band were sitting in my living room late one night talking about music and prepping for our tour of the Delta the next day.
The Sunpilots have an interesting story. Hailing from Sydney, the band exploded to stardom over a short period in Australia. However, they wanted more. So, in 2010, they embarked on their “Gypsy Tour” of the world. They sold most of their belongings, closed down their apartments, and for the past four years they have been living on the road traveling from one city to the next in England, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They play over 200 nights per year. Normally, a booking agent will call ahead finding the band places to play for a small fee. However, The Sunpilots may have a four day period open in which they are not performing and if so, it is not unheard of for the band to pick out a town along their route, travel there, and walk up and down a street going from music venue to music venue asking, “Do you need a band tonight?” They always find a place to play. On the way to Mississippi, they wanted to see Austin, Texas.
That afternoon they visited several music venues until they stumbled upon one that did not have a band playing that night.
“What a minute, you are telling me you all will play for free tonight,” a bar owner replied. “Sure, I can’t lose with that deal!”
An hour after the band started performing, that particular Austin music venue became packed as social media heated up with people talking about the band performing and a long line could be found outside of those waiting to get inside to see The Sunpilots. They are one incredible rock band.
When they stopped in the Delta, the band was in the middle of their first tour of America and were traveling from California to the east coast.
Every musician on the planet knows about the Mississippi Delta … that it all started here. Meaning that blues music created here in the Delta gave birth to something called rock and roll music. And, as I have written many times if it wasn’t for blues music, the world would have never known someone named Elvis or a band called The Beatles. Blues is the root form of rock and in fact, many other musical genres.
Our tour started off at Dockery Plantation outside of Cleveland, then we visited the B.B. King Museum in Indianola. We headed north from there and stopped by blues great Robert Johnson’s grave near Greenwood, the Emmett Till store in Money, then ended our day in Clarksdale where we visited the Delta Blues Museum, Ground Zero Blues Club, and several other places. By that point, it had been a full eight hour day. However, on our way back to Cleveland, we had to stop by Po Monkeys juke joint outside of Merigold which is one of the true last original juke joints in America.
“Visiting the Mississippi Delta has been the highlight of our American tour,” Raj of The Sunpilots wrote on the band’s Facebook page.
I’ll never grow tired of bragging about the Mississippi Delta or showing it off to those who crave to see it.
Scott Coopwood, a seventh generation Deltan, lives in Cleveland, Mississippi, with his wife Cindy and their three children. Scott is the publisher and owner of Delta Magazine, one of the South’s leading lifestyle publications, the Delta Business Journal, the first business publication in the Mississippi Delta; and Cleveland’s weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Current.