For those of y’all who don’t know, which should be just about everyone, I’m on vacation in New Orleans this week. I was down here for an event anyway and thought this would be a great time to catch up on all the voodoo and vampires. It’s been goin’ great but that’s not what today’s story is about.
300 miles away from New Orleans is a peculiar crossroads. Seeing as how I rarely get down south anymore, I knew this was the closest I was going to get for a long time. If I wanted to make the drive, it would have to be on this trip. So yesterday morning, I picked up my rental car at the convention center and started a trek deep into the Mississippi Delta.
At the other end was the Devil’s Crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul. Believe it or not, you can find it on Google Maps, so it’s not like the location is a big secret. It’s an hour and a half from Memphis airport but that’s about the only thing it’s close to. It’s just a little spot in the middle of a poor farming region, but it’s a spot that changed the world.
I’m no music history major but even I know that blues had a huge influence on music today. People like to say rock comes from jazz but the guitar is a bluesman’s instrument. If you go back far enough, you can trace all of the music you hear on the radio today back to Robert Johnson.
Now Robert was a black farmer on a plantation in Mississippi in the 1920s who wanted to be a bluesman. He was a good harmonica player but a terrible guitarist. So the story goes that late one night, he went out to play his guitar at the crossroads in the middle of nowhere and there met the devil. The devil taught him to play guitar and made him one of the founders of the blues in exchange for his soul and he became the godfather of every song since Elvis Presley. He died at 27, like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain, but the legend lives on.
Being out there in the deep south, it’s pretty clear why a soul sounded like a good deal to ol’ Robert. Faced with a life of backbreaking labor to remain in poverty, any way out must’ve seemed like a good one. What is a soul, after all, but those heartbeats slipping away from you every second? What is selling it but mustering the courage to break with the old and throw your whole heart and all your effort into making the new? I gotta respect that and if I was gonna be within 300 miles of the southern devil, I felt like I had to make the trip to pay my respects.
So here ya go, folks, some pictures of The Devil Of Sin City at the Devil’s Crossroads. I was real surprised to find it wasn’t a tourist trap. Just a sign, some great Bar-B-Q at Abe’s and a couple of businesses with the Crossroads name in the middle of small-town farmland. It’s not much of a show compared to my usual but it meant a lot to me. It was worth the 10-hour round trip to be at the birthplace of a legend. Maybe I’ll tell ya more about it at next month’s show.