A few weeks ago I rented the 1986 movie “Crossroads” to watch with my daughter. The movie is based off of the legend of Robert Johnson the great blues musician. I have been working on a novel for about a year about the crossroads and tent revivals in Mississippi where Robert Johnson had sold his soul.
Much of the research I have come across confirms that he did make a pact with the devil . Many musicians have followed after him doing the same thing. They have had tragic short-lived lives. Mysterious isn’t it?
The legend has it that around 1930, Robert Johnson left the small town of Robersonville and came back a few months later able to play very well. In African folklore the crossroads are a place of evil and decision. In many of his songs he makes reference to his experience at the crossroads in Mississippi, where he sold his soul. The mystery behind his ability to play and his short-lived life has been a landmark in blues and rock and roll music legends . Johnson’s greatest influence was Son House.
I have been researching many aspects of this legend over the past year. The coincidences of events with others that have followed him are worth noting. Many of the guitar greats who have recorded his songs or attempted to follow suit in making a deal for their souls have been met with trouble, hardship, and death.
Robert Johnson died on August 16, 1938. He may have been poisoned by a jealous husband. He had a reputation as a womanizer picking up lonely women. He loved and used many women. There are many different accounts about how he died. He died at the age of 27. There are two different graves that mark his burial. His life and death were full of much controversies. Some musicians who have used his lyrics have been met with tragedy and death. Eric Clapton’s son fell out of a window. Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers who loved using Johnson’s lyrics, died in a accident. One of his band members also died in a similar way. It is said that using the lyrics or making the pact has caused tragic deaths for musicians who follow after him.
In writing my book I have stayed away from using any reference to him or the lyrics. I don’t believe in taking things too far . The actual location of the crossroads has been a mystery also. There are different accounts of the location. Many have traveled trying to find out. Some have found it at a great cost. The blues has birthed many great musicians, however Robert Johnson’s legacy is a rare one, filled with evil, mystery, darkness , and destruction.
The blues itself sprang out of the need to express the anguish of life being Black on the delta. Some how that struggle was turned into the selling of the soul to make it as a musician. Johnson’s life and music expressed the blues and evil of decision. He is a mystery and a legend yet still to be defined. I would suggest if you play guitar… don’t take a trip to the crossroads.