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Mountain guitarist Leslie West said of this song: "When Corky (Laing, drummer) brought me the idea, it was a one-chord dance song. We got real high, took out a napkin, and I came up with the main riff and the chords. Then we fit the words over the sound." Laing says of the song: "I was madly in love with The Band, and I decided to put a 'Cripple Creek
' feel behind it. Later on, I told Levon Helm that I felt bad about ripping him off, but he said that he didn't hear any similarity between the 2 songs, and that we didn't owe them any money!"
Corky Laing started working on this song with David Rea, who was a friend of the band and frequent collaborator - he and Mountain bass player Felix Pappalardi were in Ian & Sylvia's band. The only Mississippi city mentioned in the song is Vicksburg, which according to Rea is because that's what he came up with when Laing asked him if he knew any towns in the state. Vicksburg is a small city on the Mississippi River known as the site of a famous Civil War battle in 1863.
The song is about a seductive woman who teaches the singer a thing or two about the ways of love, but with the success of "Proud Mary
" a year earlier, it almost sounds like this could be another song about a riverboat. In 1976, the "Mississippi Queen" riverboat was put into service by the Delta Queen company, taking its last cruise in 2008.
This is one of the most famous cowbell songs of all time, but the band didn't envision the instrument in the song. In our interview with Leslie West
, he explained: "The cowbell in the beginning was just in there because Felix wanted Corky to count the song off. So we used the cowbell to count it off - it wasn't put in there on purpose. And it became the quintessential cowbell song."
Mississippi is a special place for Leslie West not only because of this song, but because it's where he had part of his leg amputated. On June 18, 2011, the day after playing a show at the Hard Rock Cafe in Biloxi, West's right leg began to swell and he was taken to the emergency room in a Biloxi hospital, where it was amputated below the knee to save his life (West is diabetic). West told us: "When I play 'Mississippi Queen' now, I think about Jesus Christ. Of all places to lose my leg, it was Mississippi."
TV, movie and video game uses of this song include:
The title of a episode of the anime series Cowboy Bebop.
The Simpsons in the 1996 Homerpalooza episode.
The Dukes of Hazzard movie in 2005.
The Expendables movie in 2010.
Guitar Hero III in 2007.
Rock Band in 2007.
This was used in a popular commercial for Miller Genuine Draft beer where some guys traveling in a jungle open a bottle of the beer to magically freeze the body of water separating them from some lovely ladies who beckon.
Into the vaults for this talk with Bolton from the '80s when he was a focused on writing songs for other artists.
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