U.S. Highways 51* and 61 were inaugurated in 1926 along with the rest of the U.S. Highway system. Along with Route 66, they both inspired artists to compose songs about them. Both are North-South routes and both are considered major highways, i.e. they are very long. At one time they both terminated in New Orleans but 51 has since been shortened and now terminates in La Place. La. Given that they both wind their way through blues country in Louisiana and Mississippi, it isn’t surprising that they each became the subject of blues songs.
“Highway 51” (the song) was written by Casey Jones and debuted on Bob Dylan’s 1962 album “Bob Dylan”. Like “Highway 61”, the lyrics to this song take some license with geography (“. . . it runs from Bangor, Maine straight down to Mexico”). You can find numerous videos of the song but I think this is one of the best: Taj Mahal and Los Lobos at a 2008 fundraiser for Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center in San Pablo, Calif.
[*U.S. Highway 51 is near and dear to my heart. I’ve done considerable research mapping its historic alignments through Wisconsin and am organizing a tour of the Badger State on (mostly) those older alignments the weekend of June 22.]