The Crossroads to Hell


ROBERT JOHNSON


Robert Johnson was a blues musician from the 1930s who it was 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 were he lived as a young boy. In the early part of his career he was often laughed at and frowned upon due to his guitar playing, some described it as cats wailing and some described it as 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 decided to do 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 that 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, his burning desire to become a great musician had just been fulfilled, or at least the way had been laid out for him. The deal was struck. All He had to do now was practice and the notes would flow from his fingertips through the guitar.


He disappeared of 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 accompanying 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 and he now owned his soul.


That’s how the legend goes.

One thing we do know is that he did become a great blues musician and he did disappear from the music scene for a while only to come back whoozing talent. It’s hard to grasp that an untalented lousy guitar player can come back all of a sudden as a great musician. To go from bad to good is understandable, and from bad to great even but from really bad 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 generally?
Did he go back there at a later date to try to undo the deal, to pray to God to save him from the devil?
The last two lines of the song goes:
“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 by way of sadness and despair felt inside.

Whether or not he made a pact with the devil, or some demonic spirit, we’ll never know. One thing’s for sure, he was a greatly talented musician, eventually. He had a great influence on the music world and inspired many of the blues artists around today.

I don’t really think he made a pact with the devil but it certainly remains a mystery where his talent did come from. Sadly he died at the age of 27. Some say he was poisoned by a jealous husband. That too remains a mystery, as does where he was buried. One thing can be sure though, he won’t be burning in Hell, as it shows in his lyrics he repented by asking God to forgive him.

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

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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