The Crossroads to Hell


ROBERT JOHNSON

Robert Johnson was a blues musician from the 1930s who they said made a deal with the devil to enhance his musical talent.

As the story goes, he played blues guitar around the clubs and bars of the Mississippi Delta area where he lived as a young boy. In the early part of his career, he was often laughed at and frowned upon because of his guitar playing. Some described it as cats wailing and worse. A prominent blues musician once told Johnson to put his guitar away because he was driving people nuts.

Johnson tried to learn and play guitar but could never seem to get anywhere. So, one night he did something about it. He took himself and his guitar to the crossroads of two highways in the Mississippi Delta and waited until midnight, where it is said a man in black turned up. Some say it was the devil. At that point Johnson made a deal; the devil promised him he would be a great blues guitar player in return for his soul. His guitar playing would be magical and impressive and the music world would be at his feet, the devil told him. That was it, for the young would be musician. He had just fulfilled his burning to become a brilliant musician. Fate had paved the way for him. They struck the deal. All He had to do now was practice and the notes would flow from his fingertips through the guitar.

He disappeared from the music scene for about a year, no-one heard from him in all that time. When he emerged again, he played his guitar like a wizard. Some musicians, on hearing him, thought there were two people playing at the same time. Some believed that the devil was playing with him. He had a technique that no-one else mastered. The devil had provided Johnson with a tremendous talent for playing blues guitar, writing songs, and singing. The devil now owned his soul.

That’s how the legend goes.

One thing we know is that he became a great blues musician, and he disappeared from the music scene for a while only to come back oozing talent. It’s hard to grasp that an untalented lousy guitar player can come back as a talented musician. To go from bad to good is understandable, and from bad to great even, but from terrible to genius, well, don’t you have to have some talent to start with to be that good. Many people that heard him play beforehand always said how bad he was and would rather not have to listen to him, so there was no spark of genius, no talent there. So where did it come from?

In one of his famous songs: ‘The Cross Road Blues’ the lyrics say that he prayed to God for mercy, to save his sole:

“I went down to the crossroads

Fell down on my knees

Ask the Lord above for mercy

Save me if you please.”

         Lyrics by Robert Johnson

Why would he want saving? Could it just mean that he was repenting for his sins?

 Did he go back there at a later date to undo the deal, to pray to God to save him from the devil?

The last two lines of the song go:

“And I’m standing at the crossroads

I believe I’m sinking down”

           Lyrics by Robert Johnson

It sounds like he is imagining himself to be heading down into hell. Of course, it could have other meanings, maybe it’s a metaphor for the way he feels. After all, that’s why it’s called blues music, to express how you feel sadness and despair inside.

Whether he agreed with the devil, or some demonic spirit, we’ll never know. One thing’s for sure, he was a talented musician. He had a significant influence on the music world and inspired many of the blues artists around today.

Cross Road Blues

I went down to the crossroads

Tried to flag a ride

I went down to the crossroads

Tried to flag a ride

Nobody seemed to know me

Everybody passed me by

I went down to the crossroads

Fell down on my knees

I went down to the crossroads

Fell down on my knees

Ask the Lord above for mercy

Save me if you please

I am going down to Rosedale

Taking my rider by my side

I am going down to Rosedale

Take my rider by my side

You can still barrelhouse, baby

They call us on the riverside

You can run, you can run

Go and tell my friend-boy Willie Brown

You can run, you can run

Go and tell my friend-boy Willie Brown

And I’m standing at the crossroads

I believe I’m sinking down.

Lyrics by Robert Johnson

D. Marsden © 2020

Published by Dave's Poetry & Mystery...

Hi. I am a retired builder. Born in 1954. My interests are: motorcycling, cycling, woodworking, wood carving, visiting countryside, reading, writing poetry, short stories, writing mystery and of course my new interest is blogging.

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