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Delta Ecology Research Conservancy

The Delta Ecology Research Conservancy Center (DERCC) provides members with special privileges, information and Archives related to the People, Ecology, Agriculture, Music, and Literary History of the Mississippi Delta.

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Where Is The Real Robert Johnson Blues Crossroads?

  • Public
By Delta Ecology Research Conservancy 149 days ago

Categories: Education Research & Innovation, Social & Religious Empowerment


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Where Is The Real Robert Johnson Blues Crossroads?

Where Is The Real Robert Johnson Blues Crossroads?
Helen Bartlett-Hanna
Harlington L. Hanna Jr.

Research Supported By:
Delta Ecology Research Conservancy
Hannaian Research Institute

Crossroad Blues
Robert Johnson

Lyrics Take 1

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above "Have mercy, now save poor Bob, if you please"

Yeoo, standin' at the crossroad, tried to flag a ride
Ooo eeee, I tried to flag a ride
Didn't nobody seem to know me, babe, everybody pass me by

Standin' at the crossroad, baby, risin' sun goin' down
Standin' at the crossroad, baby, 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
That I got the crossroad blues this mornin', Lord, babe, I'm sinkin' down

And I went to the crossroad, mama, 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

Listen to Robert Johnson's Crossroad Blues Take 1



Lyrics Take 2

Mmmmm, standin' at the crossroad,
I tried to flag a ride.
Standin' at the crossroad,
I tried to flag a ride.
Ain't nobody seem to know me,
Everybody pass me by

Mmmmm, the sun goin' down, boy
Dark gon' catch me here...
(Oooo ooee eeee...)
Boy, dark gon' catch me here...
I haven't got no lovin' sweet woman that
Love and feel my care.

You can run, you can run
Tell my friend, boy, Willie Brown...
You can run, you can run
Tell my friend, boy, Willie Brown...

Lord, that I'm standin' at the crossroad, baby
I believe I'm sinkin' down...

Listen to Robert Johnson's Crossroad Blue s Take 2


Listen to Eric Clapton's Version of Crossroads



Crossroads

The Crossroads Marker at the Crossroads in Clarksdale Mississippi.

Perhaps no other piece of American Music Mythology has attracted more attention and interest among Music Historians than the Blues Crossroads. The mystery and search for the actual location of Robert Johnson’s Blues Crossroads where he supposedly sold his Soul to the Devil at midnight to gain the ability to perfectly play the Guitar, is enduring. The most well known version of the story claims that he disappeared from the Robinsonville Blues scene in 1930 and resurfaced months later as one of the greatest guitar players of the time. His new found prowess was attributed by fellow musicians to the selling of his Soul at midnight to the Devil at one of the Crossroads in the Mississippi Delta, later evidenced by his song “Crossroad Blues”.

Since his resurgence as one of the most influential earlier Bluesmen, the search for the actual Crossroads has been a thing of immense speculation among the World's Music Historians and Fans. The Crossroads at the intersection of Highway 61 (The Blues Highway) and Highway 49 in Clarksdale Mississippi has been the most promoted and celebrated Site by most aficionados. A Site on Highways 1 and 8 in Rosedale a few miles south of Clarksdale has also gained some attention, and is claimed to be the real Crossroads by the City. Other Sites, even out of State in Memphis and Arkansas have been mentioned by some researchers. 


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It is noteworthy that Johnson never fully addressed the Myth during his lifetime. In addition, the lyrics of his Crossroad Blues, or any of his other songs do not address the Myth, or identify the location of the Crossroads. The lyrics seem to express his fears of being alone at the Crossroads without a Sweet Woman to ease his distressed situation. He was apparently fearful of arrest, or violence for being out in the boondocks where no one recognized him. Some commenters think the fear expressed was in reference to the "Sundown Laws" in the rural South at the time which placed a curfew on Blacks being out after Sundown, and commonly referenced by signs advising "N....ger, don't let the sun set on you here". 

He sings that being at the Crossroads gave him the Blues, and wanted to let his friend Willie Brown know that he was at the Crossroads and possibly in trouble. It implies that Willie Brown may be somewhere in the vicinity, familiar with the particular Crossroads, and able to provide some assistance. Willie Brown was a mentor of his, and lived in the Lake Cormorant, Robinsonville area in the Northwest corner of the Delta where Highway 3 merges with Highway 61 just south of Memphis.

Our research reveals that the Story about the Robert Johnson Crossroads is probably more fable than fact. Johnson may have used a fictional place to describe the crossroads he sang about, imaging one from his frequent travels in the area. An actual Site would probably involve not only the heavily traveled highways, but those which were associated with Railroad facilities where itinerant travelers could ride the trains legally, or conveniently hop on an available passenger or freight train to facilitate their travels. Bluesman Johnny Shines who played many small towns and travelled with Johnson told stories of how he and Johnson frequently hopped freight trains, and rode on the back of trucks to get from place to place. Some commenters have also observed that the term "Crossroads" may technically refer to the crossing of a rural highway by railroad tracks.

Traveling musicians also used bridges and river banks as resting and fishing spots while moving from town to town. The association of Crossroads with Graveyards in Southern folklore may have also played some part with the notion and location where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at midnight.

It is widely reported by myth that Johnson met a large Black man at the Crossroads at midnight who helped him tune his Guitar and taught him to play it. Other versions of the story claimed he met the man at a graveyard, and not at a crossroad. 

There are credible reports that Johnson and a mentor named Isaiah (Ike) Zimmerman liked to practice their craft sitting on tombstones in graveyards at night because of the serenity, quietness, and lack of disturbance. He apparently met Zimmerman in Itta Bena, and studied his guitar techniques with him in Beauregard Mississippi.

If there is an actual Blues or Devil’s Crossroad related to Robert Johnson, such Sites in the Delta would probably include the noted Clarksdale Site, the Highway 49 and 3 intersections at Tutwiler, and the Highway 6 and 3 intersections at Marks. Interestingly, these three locations form a perfect triangle in the area of the Delta where many Musicians would have to travel.

The Tutwiler Train Depot was actually the location where W.C. Handy, “Father of the Blues” first heard what he described as the weird music played by a loose limbed unnamed bluesman in 1903. He later named and promoted this music as “The Blues”, which led to the notion that the Blues was first discovered at the Tutwiler Train Depot.

QuitmanMap


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MarksCrossroadsPic

The Crossroads at the City of Marks in Quitman County MS showing from left to right the graveyard to the west with the small stream running in front of it, the park and stream, and the Crossroads of Highways 6 (278) and 3, the railroad tracks just east of the Intersection, and the Bridge and historic Coldwater River to the east. 

The Crossroads at Marks perhaps best fits most of these credentials since it was a crossroad to many important Delta towns, located right next to the Delta’s historic Coldwater River, a prominent graveyard, a park, a large bridge running over the river, and train tracks connecting many Mississippi Delta towns, and Memphis Tennessee.

Based on our research, considering all of the circumstances of Robert Johnson's stories and travels, and all of these facilities conveniently located in one place at one of the most heavily travelled Intersections in the heart of the Delta, the Crossroads at Marks is one of the most likely locations of the Blues Crossroads.

Highway 3 was also a heavily traveled Highway since it cuts right through the center of the Delta, with a more direct North South route, linking many towns all the way from Jackson to Memphis. Hwy 3 is itself a crossroad, connecting with Hwy 51 at Jackson in the South, and Highway 61 in the Northern Delta at Robinsonville and Lake Cormorant, just South of Memphis. Willie Brown a musical mentor of Johnson, and who he mentions in his Crossroad Blues song lived in this area, as did Johnson in his early years. It is therefore likely that Johnson frequently travelled Highway 3 to go between Memphis, Robinsonville, the Greenwood area, Jackson, and the Hazelhurst area where he was born.

Highway 6 is perhaps the Delta’s most historic and heavily traveled East West highway. It connects Tupelo, Elvis Presley’s Hometown in the East, Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and Writer William Faulkner, Batesville, Marks, and Clarksdale in the West.

It is reported that Son House, an important Blues legend himself, claimed that Johnson returned to the Robinsonville scene with a Guitar Style that no one else could match. Son House apparently stated, “He must have sold his soul to the Devil to be able to play like that”. This statement is believed to have started the Myth of the Devil’s Crossroads and Robert Johnson.


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“The myth of the “crossroads” comes from Africa and some of its traditions brought to the U.S. and Mississippi with its slave population. The story goes that if you need something bad enough, you can make a deal with “Elegba”, or Satan. You go to a crossroads at midnight and wait until he shows up.” by kim October 28, 2014 - https://www.supertalk.fm/spooky-mississippi-story-crossroads-mythology-robert-johnson/

Delta Ecology Research Conservancy

Delta Ecology Research Conservancy

The Delta Ecology Research Conservancy Center (DERCC) provides members with special privileges, information and Archives related to the People, Ecology, Agriculture, Music, and Literary History of the Mississippi Delta.

Preserving Delta CHHAARM (Culture, History, Health, Agriculture, Arts, Rights, & Music)
The Delta Ecology Research Conservancy (DERC) is dedicated to the Study, Teaching, Stewardship and...

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