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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.


October 10, 2018

The Beatles were such a huge part of my childhood that they filter through almost every aspect of my life— even as a 57-year old. One walk through my office and it’s clear that I am much more than an “average fan” of the four lads from Liverpool who turned the pop music and rock-and-roll world on its tail, as the walls, shelves and surfaces are filled with Beatles memorabilia.

The Beatles hit the charts for the first time in 1963, and by 1970 John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr had changed the popular music world forever.

I don’t have many memories of my early years, but I do think I can remember the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Though it must have been their final performance in February of 1964. It’s crazy, my father died in 1968— when I was six-years-old— and I don’t really remember anything about him. But I swear I think I remember that Beatles performance when I was three.

For my friends and me, the Beatles were “it.” They were the gold standard. The first record I ever owned was The Beatles 45 rpm, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Truthfully, the first record was “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits, but my babysitter gave me that one, the first record I ever picked out in a record shop was the Beatles 45. Any time a new Beatles record was released, my friends and I were at the record store to buy a copy fresh off of the presses.

It is hard to describe by today’s standards, but The Beatles were “everything.” Seriously, for a brief period in history, everything began and ended with the Beatles. There has been nothing like that since.

As a kid, I had a Beatles wig, a Beatles lunchbox, and every album they ever released. By the time I turned 10-years old, they had called it quits as a band and moved on to successful solo careers.

One day in 1999, I walked into a gallery in Clinton, Mississippi, introduced myself to an artist named, Wyatt Waters, and told him about a book I was thinking about writing that would combine recipes I had created up to that time, stories I had written about the South and growing up in the South, and his beautiful watercolors. We hit it off instantly. Not because of the book idea (though we both “got it” as far as that concept went), but because the conversation shifted to The Beatles. We were both, and still are, fanatics.

The Beatles were the common ground that brought a couple of guys together who have moved on to do some fun— and productive— stuff. Waters and I gift each other Beatles books for Christmas and birthdays, listen to Beatles podcasts when on the road, adorn our spaces (my office, his entire house) with Beatles memorabilia, and listen to all of the music all of the time.

It was no surprise when— halfway across the world in Italy this past spring while leading tour groups through Tuscany— we both had the same Beatles-oriented idea.

We were on our way from Dario Cecchini’s butcher shop, Antico Maccelleria Checcini, in Panzano, to the architecturally stunning Antinori Winery. I was with a group of 10-15 in a small minibus and Waters had 10-12 in his bus. It was our third tour group in as many weeks, and I was a little tired and staring out the window to the rolling hills of the poppy-lined Tuscan countryside. I was feeling grateful for the ability to travel with my best friend and collaborator and indebted to our guests who were making that possible.

Many times, my mind wanders down a rabbit hole that can often end with thoughts of the Beatles. On this particular day, I was thinking about the Beatles album “Magical Mystery Tour” (my favorite Beatles album), and the movie by the same name that spawned the album. It’s not a good film at all. The Beatles had just lost their longtime manager Brian Epstein and were feeling a certain creative freedom when they came up with the idea of loading a bunch of people on a bus and traveling all across the English countryside.

Despite the subpar film, the songs are excellent and represent the height of their creative period. The thought hit me that it might be a fun idea to load up a bunch of people back home and take them on a tour through Mississippi sharing all of the people, places, art, and culture we admire in our home state. Both busses dropped us off at the winery, and Waters and I sent our guests along on their wine tour and tasting. He and I were walking through the rows of grapevines, so he could set up and do a painting while the guests were tasting Antinori’s wines. Walking along the rows of grapes I told him, “You know what would be really cool and really fun?

“What?” Waters replied.

“What if we loaded up a few dozen people onto a bus back home, and…”

“Drove them all around Mississippi like the Beatles did in Magical Mystery Tour!” he interrupted.

“Exactly!” I said. “That is exactly what I was thinking about.” It’s amazing how two guys can— almost always— be on the same page.

That was some time in late April. Today— six months later— as I write this column, 40 people are about to hop on a bus with Waters and me to journey around our home state on our Magical Mississippi Tour. We will take our guests to many of our favorite places in Mississippi beginning in Jackson and heading through the Delta, the Hill Country, the Piney Woods, and the Coast. There is a bar and bartender on the bus. Every day starts with a Bloody Mary and Mimosa and every night ends with world-class live music. In between, we’ll eat with world class chefs and in small diners and cafes, visit museums, and dive deep into Mississippi food, art, and culture. He’ll paint, I’ll cook, and we’ll have many surprises along the way.

Next week’s column will be a journal from the road detailing the tour.

Roll up, roll up for the Mississippi Tour
Roll up, roll up for the Mississippi Tour
Roll up
They’ve got everything you need
Roll up for the Mississippi Tour
Roll up
Satisfaction guaranteed
Roll up for the Mississippi Tour
The Magical Mississippi Tour is hoping to take you away
Hoping to take you away

The Magical Mississippi Tour
Is coming to take you away
Coming to take you away
The Magical Mississippi Tour
Is dying to take you away
Dying to take you away
Take you TODAY!

It begins!


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