Missouri Music Journey – a road trip

If you’ve grown up with American music, particularly jazz and blues, and are familiar with the lyrics, then St. Louis and Kansas City will be drilled into your DNA. A chance to explore these cities, and also drive a section of the iconic Route 66, is a dream trip for any music fan.

Start in St. Louis, famous for the blues song of the same name, get your kicks on Route, listen to country music greats in Branson, and end in Kansas City where jazz came of age.

St. Louis

I start in St. Louis in the far east of Missouri on its border with Illinois. WC Handy published his song St. Louis Blues, the first blues sheet music, inspired by a woman he heard singing here in the street way back. The National Blues Museum, in the heart of downtown explores and impact of the music. It does this through a remarkable collection of photographs and videos and is well worth a visit.

The famous rock and roller, Chuck Berry was born here and, until used to play every month at the Blueberry Hill club in the Delmar Loop. There are still a cluster of blues and soul places downtown on Broadway where they have live music most nights.

The city was known as the “Gateway to the West” in the era when pioneers were setting out to populate the rest of the US. It was the last outpost of civilisation before people ventured out into the unknown and the iconic Gateway Arch celebrates the early 19th-century explorations of Lewis and Clark and America’s westward expansion in general.

It was completed in 1967 and sits on the banks of the Mississippi, rising to nearly 200m, so can be seen from everywhere downtown. The structure is actually a doughnut sandwich made from stainless steel on the outside, carbon steel on the inside and concrete in the middle.

You can actually take a train round the arch, crammed into an eight seater pod which takes four minutes to climb slowly upwards. At the top you get out and view the city through 32 slit windows.

Route 66 to Springfield

From St. Louis, I set out west on Route 66 to Springfield, where the plan for “the shortest, best and most scenic route from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles” originated in 1926. Main transcontinental routes were meant to be multiples of ten, so it was originally designated as Route 60. However Kentucky claimed that number, so it became U.S. 66, and spawned the famous song.

The Interstate Highway System, the brainchild of President Eisenhower in 1950’s, replaced most of it and I-44, through Missouri, largely follows the original route. It takes me past the Route 66 Red Rocker, one of the world’s rocking chairs and a Vacuum Cleaner Museum before arriving in downtown Springfield.

The big attraction in town is the Wonders of Wildlife which includes a whole range of stuffed animals prowling western dioramas. It’s the creation of local boy made good, Johnny Morris, who started with a bait shop but now has a multi-million dollar business selling and shooting equipment. Most impressive is the 1.5 million gallon aquarium, home to 800 species of sharks, rays, jellyfish and eels.