CROSS ROAD Blues – some stories


Robert Johnson -Cross road blues

According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was “instructed” to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The “Devil” played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This was in effect, a deal with the Devil mirroring the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous

crossroad

Cross Road Blues” is a song by Delta Blues singer Robert Johnson; released on a 78 rpm record in 1936 by Vocalion Records, catalogue 3519. The original version remained out of print after its initial release until the appearance of The Complete Recordings in 1990. In 1961, producer Frank Driggs substituted the previously unreleased alternative take on the first reissue of Johnson’s work, the long-playing album King of the Delta Blues Singers. Because of the historical significance of “Cross Road Blues”, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.

robert_johnson1

The story (Wikipedia)

The lyrics tell of the narrator’s failed attempts to hitch a ride from an intersection as night approaches. The song had frequently been linked to stories of Johnson selling his soul to the devil for the ability to play music, although nothing in the actual lyrics speaks of these events. Historian Leon Litwack and others state that the song refers to the common fear felt by blacks who were discovered out alone after dark; that Johnson was likely singing about the desperation of finding his way home from an unfamiliar place as quickly as possible because of a fear of lynching. In addition, the lyrics could be allusion to the curfews that were then imposed on blacks in the South. The imagery of the singer falling to his knees and the mention of his failure to find a “sweet woman” suggests that the song is also about a deeper and more personal loneliness

Lyrics (Robert Johnson)

I went down to the crossroad

fell down on my knees

I went down to the crossroad

fell down on my knees

Asked the lord above

“Have mercy now
save poor Bob if you please”

Yeeooo, standin at the crossroad

tried to flag a ride
ooo ooo eee

I tried to flag a ride

Didn’t nobody seem to know me babe

everybody pass me by

Standin at the crossroad babe
risin sun goin down

Standin at the crossroad babe
eee eee eee, risin sun goin down

I believe to my soul now,

Poor Bob is sinkin down

You can run, you can run 
tell my friend Willie Brown

You can run, you can run
tell my friend Willie Brown

(th)’at I got the croosroad blues this mornin Lord

babe, I’m sinkin down

And I went to the crossraod momma

I looked east and west

I went to the crossroad baby

I looked east and west
Lord,

I didn’t have no sweet woman

ooh-well babe, in my distress

**

The legend of Robert Johnson -by his grandson

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Some more on the legend of RJ (part 1) :

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Here Eric Clapton talks about the music of Robert Johnson:

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A couple of versions by Clapton – the first from Royal Albert Hall in 1968 (I was there in ’68,while in the sixth form)

:

Cream’s cover of the song was placed at #409 on the 2004 List of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and #3 on the 2008 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. The song also ranks #10 on Guitar Worlds 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.

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Clapton again with an almost reggae beat:

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and a great ‘harp’ version by Adam Gussow – nice video too!

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and there is even a play by David Walter Hall:

The play recounts one of the foundation myths of the blues: a tale of Johnson’s alleged pact with the devil, the coming of age of blues music and the sacrifices made by a single man for his art. It takes place over the course of a single act, a discussion between Johnson and a stranger who happens upon him sleeping rough at a crossroads between towns in the American South. Magic and fear compel the young singer, and he is drawn to make a sacrifice he had never foreseen. By turns tentative, witty and unsettling, their conversation covers blues, love, slavery and religion, and ends in a dark, raucous incantatory battle for life, soul and music.

Originally written and performed as a sparse two-hander, the play has evolved into an expansive spoken-word blues opera, featuring a choir and six-piece Afro-blues ensemble, and music intimately and ingeniously synchronised with the dialogue. The music, written by classical musician Michael McHale, employs a blend of jazz, blues, African rhythms and classical harmony.

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Where was the Cross Roads? some other possible  locations…

The 1986 film “Crossroads” touches on the legend, featuring a fictional Delta bluesman who knew Robert Johnson, and who has some unfinished business of his own with the Devil back in Mississippi.

If the meeting did occur, three possible locations have been identified.

One is the intersection of Mississippi state routes 1 and 8 in Rosedale, a town mentioned in the lyrics of his “Traveling Riverside Blues:” “Lord, I’m goin’ down to Rosedale, gon’ take my rider by my side . . . ”

Others are the two junctions of US routes 49 and 61, roads found in countless blues and rock songs, still the main highways linking Clarksdale, Helena, and Memphis.

Route 49 starts in Gulfport and works its way north through the Mississippi cotton fields and pine forests towards Arkansas. US 61 begins at Tulane and Broad streets in New Orleans and ends at the Minnesota-Ontario border. On the road atlas, from Natchez to Memphis, as it parallels the river, it’s labeled a scenic highway. The Delta is flat, in early June already hot, and life off the main roads seems to have the same leisurely pace it had when Robert Johnson lived there.

There’s fast food at one meeting place of the blues mother roads, in Clarksdale. It was no doubt less urban in Johnson’s day, but there’s no room for quarter pounders in blues stories.

The highway north from Clarksdale is both US 49 and 61 for sixteen miles, until the 49 turnoff to Helena. This is the spot photographed for album covers and magazine articles. Purists could argue that, since the roads don’t cross, it’s not really a crossroads. They were, though, the two most traveled roads in that part of the Delta. A landmark intersection in the middle of nowhere. A perfect place to talk business with the Devil.

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From one of the films entitled Crossroads:

Crossroads is a 1986 cult film starring Ralph Macchio, Joe Seneca and Jami Gertz, inspired by the legend of blues musician Robert Johnson.

The film was directed by Walter Hill and featured an original score featuring Ry Cooder and Steve Vai. Vai also appears in the film as the devil’s guitar player in the climactic guitar duel

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A short film by John DOE called Crossroads

“CROSSROADS” is a musical movie based on the legends of the black guitarist Robert Johnson, died mysteriously in 1938. It’s a PACT WITH THE DEVIL there. One night, at the crossroads, a man forces the fate and sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for glory. The fame arrives fast, but it contains a curse. Robert Johnson dies after the recording of 29 songs. The legend says that there would be a thirtieth piece. Whoever will find it will become immensely rich and will release Johnson of his pact.

Robert ” Bud ” Johnson is a homonym of famous Bluesman. He is white, lives in Missouri and follows a strange dream : be the one who will find the thirtieth track. Shot in the Delta of the Blues, between Memphis and Greenwood in Mississipi, CROSSROADS tells Robert’s trip ” Bud ” Johnson on the old abandoned roads and the cotton fields.

Twenty five musical clips filmed with two cameras to understand the Blues of the origins. The legend of “Crossroads” where Robert Johnson would have sold his soul to the Devil is handled within sequences of reconstruction where ” Bud ” Johnson meets the Devil who try repeatedly to prevent him from continuing his quest.
Robert Johnson is not only a mythical blues guitarist with his 29 pieces recorded in two days. The legends on his life and its disappearance are known from every guitarists. So much that there would be three graves known for the Bluesman. No blackman, died in the 30s, had such a fame and such a fate.

John Doe

CROSSROADS, the Road of BLUES – 1 h 30 min. English original version with french subtitles. (Produced by VERSION INTÉGRALE, a french documentary companie).

VISIT JOHN DOE WEBSITE for other films : http://filmsjohndoe.wordpress.com/

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and Johnson’s  link with Dylan:

There is a passage in Bob Dylan’s 2004 autobiography in which he describes an epiphany on hearing Johnson’s music for the first time: it was hearing Robert Johnson that inspired Dylan to become a songwriter. His influence on modern music cannot be overestimated.

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~ by Ray Harris on December 19, 2012.

One Response to “CROSS ROAD Blues – some stories”

  1. Thanks for this post! Really interesting

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