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Robert Johnson - comments and biography


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Wako (inactive) 30 Jul 99 - 11:38 AM
Roger the zimmer 30 Jul 99 - 11:41 AM
Jasper 30 Jul 99 - 11:41 AM
Roger in Baltimore 30 Jul 99 - 12:56 PM
PJ Curtis. 30 Jul 99 - 03:17 PM
WyoWoman 31 Jul 99 - 01:14 AM
The Resonator 31 Jul 99 - 01:42 AM
Ebbie 13 Nov 09 - 11:52 AM
Dave MacKenzie 13 Nov 09 - 01:03 PM
bobad 13 Nov 09 - 07:29 PM
Roger the Skiffler 14 Nov 09 - 05:35 AM
meself 14 Nov 09 - 10:11 AM
Will Fly 14 Nov 09 - 10:21 AM
Bobert 14 Nov 09 - 07:44 PM
GUEST,FolkGiant 14 Nov 09 - 08:15 PM
Bobert 14 Nov 09 - 08:22 PM
Desert Dancer 07 May 11 - 05:43 PM
GUEST,Gerry 07 May 11 - 07:52 PM
Wesley S 07 May 11 - 08:46 PM
GUEST,Bluesman James 07 May 11 - 11:30 PM
Will Fly 08 May 11 - 08:21 AM
GUEST,Joachim Brouwer 27 Jun 14 - 12:15 PM
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Subject: Robert Johnson
From: Wako (inactive)
Date: 30 Jul 99 - 11:38 AM

Any fans of Robert Johnson out there?

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Roger the zimmer
Date: 30 Jul 99 - 11:41 AM

You jest, surely? The main man, wouldn't we all sell our soul...why do you think Max links to the Mississippi Crossroads...(Roger's rambling again folks, leap in and stop him)

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Jasper
Date: 30 Jul 99 - 11:41 AM

Robert Johnson the tuba player?

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 30 Jul 99 - 12:56 PM


Welcome to the Mudcat. There are quite a few Robert Johnson lovers on the Mudcat. I am just one of them.

If you go to the top of the Main Page of the forum you will see a slot labelled "Check out our artists bio's". Robert Johnson is included.

Roger in Baltimore

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: PJ Curtis.
Date: 30 Jul 99 - 03:17 PM

Crossroads Blues and hellhound On MY Trail gives me the chills. This is where blues and Rock REALLY begin. The most expressive folk/blues poet of his generation. I played Stones In My Passway last Ed. night in my world-music radio prog -Reels To Ragas-on LyricFm ...from Ireland. ( PJ Curtis.(Ireland)

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: WyoWoman
Date: 31 Jul 99 - 01:14 AM

I've sung "Kitchen Song" for years and I"ve always wondered if I was sinning because I changed his lyrics to "The MAN that I love,... skinny and kinda tall .... he moves his body ... jus' like a cannonball...."

works just as well as "...woman I love..." and I get to sing one of my favorite songs.


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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: The Resonator
Date: 31 Jul 99 - 01:42 AM

"I was up this morning, saw the blues walking like a man. Said the blues, 'Give me your right hand.'"

This is the Mudcat Cafe. Home of blues talk, guitar talk, et cetera. The place is crawling with Robert Johnson fans, Tommy Johnson fans, Blind Willie Johnson fans, fans of fans (which I have all around me this sticky, mid-atlantic night.) So, yes, there are some Robert Johnson fans here.

"Ain't gon' state no color. But her front teeth is crowned with gold. She got a mortgage on my body, lien on my soul." What a woman!


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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Ebbie
Date: 13 Nov 09 - 11:52 AM

Did you see that they are planning to restore his home? (I don't have an URL, just found it in on MSN in an AP story. Shelia Ward, wrtier.

"JACKSON, Miss. - The mystery surrounding bluesman Robert Johnson's life and death feeds the lingering fascination with his work.

"There's the myth he sold his soul to the devil to create his haunting guitar intonations. There's the dispute over where he died after his alleged poisoning by a jealous man in 1938. Three different markers claim to be the site of his demise.

"His birthplace, however, has been verified. The seminal bluesman came into the world in 1911 in a well-crafted home built by his stepfather in the Mississippi town of Hazlehurst.

"Now, 71 years after his death, local officials want to restore the home in hopes of drawing Johnson fans and their tourism dollars to Copiah County, about 100 miles from the Delta region that most bluesmen called home."


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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 13 Nov 09 - 01:03 PM

Is there anyone who isn't a fan?

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: bobad
Date: 13 Nov 09 - 07:29 PM

From the NY Times:

Robert Johnson's House to Rise Again

The fabled crossroads where Robert Johnson is supposed to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his guitar prowess has not been definitively located, but the musician's birthplace has been determined and plans are in the works to restore it as a tourist attraction, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Johnson, the blues guitarist of "Sweet Home Chicago" and "Love in Vain," who influenced artists from Muddy Waters to Eric Clapton, was born in 1911 in Hazlehurst, Miss., in a home built by his stepfather. The birthplace was verified in a letter from his half-sister, according to the cultural affairs office of Copiah County, which is seeking to raise $250,000 to restore the home as a destination for music fans and Johnson acolytes. "He was so good that he would literally turn his back when they were recording him," said the screenwriter Jimmy White ("Ray"), who is working on a script about Mr. Johnson's life. "He didn't want the other musicians to see his fingering technique."

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 14 Nov 09 - 05:35 AM

How these old threads come back to bite you in the bum! I gave up the "zimmer" handle as the reference to ageing lost on US 'Catters).

(formerly RtZ)

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: meself
Date: 14 Nov 09 - 10:11 AM

Or is it that you were so much older then; you're younger than that now?

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Will Fly
Date: 14 Nov 09 - 10:21 AM

The fabled crossroads where Robert Johnson is supposed to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his guitar prowess has not been definitively located

Well it wouldn't be, as that's all silly nonsense anyway. This myth came about, apparently, because Johnson - who wasn't very good at an early point in his career - is supposed to have disappeared for three months and then returned with a prodigious technique.

But it's perfectly possible for a musician to improve hugely in a very short time. Charlie Parker, as a novice sax player, only played in one key and was humiliated when he first sat in with a band in (I think) Kansas City. So humiliated was he that he determined to go away and practice until he could play freely in any key - which he did in a very short space of time. There's also the amazingly quick progress made by Robbie Robertson in his early days with Ronnie Hawkins/Levon & The Hawks - documented in "Across The Great Divide" and in Levon's own autobiography.

If Robert Johnson had sold his soul to the devil, he'd probably have got a banjo in exchange...

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Bobert
Date: 14 Nov 09 - 07:44 PM

Well, first of all, the deal with the Devil is more attributed to Tommy Johnson than to Robert Johnson... Second, yeah, Robert was one fine bluesman...

Personally, I'm more a Son House, who BTW was an early mentor to Robert, kinda bluesman but I like Robert okay, too...


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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: GUEST,FolkGiant
Date: 14 Nov 09 - 08:15 PM

My favorite story surrounding Robert Johnson is from an interview with the above-mentioned Son House. He described how Robert used to bother him and Willie Brown to borrow their guitars at gigs while House and Brown were on a break. Son said, "I used to tell him, 'go on, now, Robert; you just be noising the people'."

"NOISING the people"... noise as a verb. I love it.

It has, coincidentally, always been my belief that the most talented people in the world are those who DON'T sell their souls to devils or anyone else.

The ones who populate the shallow and mindless corporate music(sic) industry are the ones whose souls, if they have any, are in the iron grip of Satan himself.

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Bobert
Date: 14 Nov 09 - 08:22 PM

Yeah, I've heard tyhat story, too, FGiant... Seems that Robert grabbed Son's guitar and was dancin' around the stage with it during break... But Robert was payin' attention... Just hadn't figured the guitar out but you hear alot of Son in Robert's stuff...

Couldn't agree with you more about the corporate slobs who dictate what and who we are going to listen to... I'd love to see ClearChannel nuked from the face of the Earth fir starters...


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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 07 May 11 - 05:43 PM

Hard to decide which Robert Johnson thread to add this to...

Robert Johnson's 100th birthday is tomorrow.

Robert Johnson At 100, Still Dispelling Myths

by Joel Rose
National Public Radio, Weekend Edition
May 7, 2011

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Johnson. Although he recorded just 29 songs, the bluesman had a huge influence on guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Johnson is one of the most studied of all country blues musicians, and he's been the subject of many books, films and essays. But the mythology surrounding his life just won't go away.

If you know anything about Johnson, chances are it's the story that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his musical talent. That legend reached a mainstream audience with the 1986 movie Crossroads, starring Joe Seneca and Ralph Macchio.

But according to folklorist Barry Lee Pearson, it didn't happen.

"The popular mythology has him as a total loner," Pearson says, "and kind of lived this life in regret as a repayment for his alleged sin of making a contract with Old Scratch."

Pearson, a professor at the University of Maryland and the co-author of the book Robert Johnson: Lost and Found, says none of it is true. In the absence of any real biographical information, Pearson says early blues writers got a little carried away.

"Everybody was so anxious to make this devil story true that they've been working on finding little details that can corroborate it," he says.

Here is what we do know about Robert Johnson. He said he was born in Mississippi on May 8, 1911, and grew up on a plantation in the Delta. As a young man, he was more interested in music than farming: He'd hound the older blues musicians for a chance to play. In an interview included in the 1997 documentary Can't You Hear the Wind Howl, Son House recalls that the young Johnson would annoy audiences with his lousy guitar playing.

"Folks they come and say, 'Why don't you go out and make that boy put that thing down? He running us crazy,' " House said. "Finally he left. He run off from his mother and father, and went over in Arkansas some place or other."

When Johnson came back from Arkansas six months later, he'd mastered the guitar. That's where the rumors about his deal with the devil came from, but Johnson acknowledged studying with a human teacher while he was gone. After that, Johnson worked as a traveling musician, playing on street corners and in juke joints, mostly in Mississippi. And in 1936, he got a chance to record in Texas.

"Terraplane Blues" was a minor hit, and he was invited back for a second recording session. Johnson died a year later at age 27, under mysterious circumstances. Some think he was poisoned, although a note on the back of his death certificate says the cause was syphilis.

In any case, the timing was tragic. Legendary Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond wanted to book Johnson at Carnegie Hall for the landmark "Spirituals to Swing" concert in 1938. Hammond was also the driving force behind the first LP reissue of Johnson's music in 1961. At the time, Johnson was so obscure that Columbia didn't even have a picture of him to put on the cover. The LP was produced by Frank Driggs, who also wrote the liner notes.

"If you read the liner notes," Driggs says, "you see next to nothing. 'Cause I just created a thing out of whole cloth when I wrote the notes. Because there really was very little known about the guy."

Up Against The Wall

That LP, King of the Delta Blues Singers, introduced Johnson's music to a new generation of young, mainly white blues fans, including Eric Clapton, as the rock legend told NPR in 2004.

"It was on Columbia and it had, like, some pretty interesting sleeve notes on it about the fact that these were the only sides he had cut, and that they'd done it in a hotel room, and when he was auditioning for the sessions that he was so shy, he had to play facing into the corner of the room," Clapton says. "I mean, I immediately identified with that, because I was paralyzed with shyness as a kid."

But there may be another reason why Johnson recorded facing the wall. Elijah Wald is a musician and the author of the book Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. He says there were pre-war blues musicians who played guitar better than Johnson, as well as musicians who sang better. But Wald says that, unlike most of them, Johnson learned to play from listening to radio and records.

"Robert Johnson certainly was very conscious of what a hit record sounded like," Wald says. "If you listen to something like 'Come on in My Kitchen,' he's singing very quietly, and he actually has a moment when he says, 'Can't you hear the wind blowin'.' He whispers it and then plays this very quiet riff. That never would have worked on a street corner or a Mississippi juke joint, but it sounds great on records."

Sound is one of the main things that distinguishes Johnson's sides from other records of the time. By facing the wall, Wald says Johnson might have made his vocals sound better to a later generation accustomed to high fidelity. It doesn't hurt that the original masters of his recordings survived, too. But what really set Johnson apart from his peers was all of the mythology that grew up around him, especially the part about the devil. Many of Johnson's friends, including Johnny Shines in Can't You Hear the Wind Howl, dismissed it as false.

"No," Shimes says, "he never told me that lie. If he would've, I would've called him a liar right to his face. You have no control over your soul. How you gonna do anything with your soul?"

But the myth about Johnson persists, in part because it helps sell records. Steve Berkowitz is a producer at Sony Legacy, which is reissuing Johnson's music again, this time in a new centennial edition.

"That was always the heart and soul of the marketing plan," Berkowitz says. "We always knew the music was great. But a guy sells his soul to the devil at midnight down at the crossroads, comes back and plays the hell out of the guitar, and then he dies. I mean, it's a spectacular story."

And there wouldn't be any harm in that, Wald says, except that the legend tends to overshadow the real Robert Johnson.

"To just say that he went to the crossroads in the dead of night, first of all means we're not getting what happened. And second of all, it's kind of insulting," Wald says. "It's kind of implying that, unlike us who do this serious work to understand music, these old black blues guys just went and sold their soul to the devil."

If it were really that easy, Wald says, the devil would own the souls of every teenage boy and girl in America.


Another recent NPR item, You've Never Heard Robert Johnson's 'Complete Recordings'?!, a blog essay by a young NPR intern, including a nice YouTube of an animation to "Crossroads".

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 07 May 11 - 07:52 PM

The story about playing with your back turned so the other musicians won't learn your secrets (bobad's post of 13 Nov 09, a few posts up) has also been attached to 1920s klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein.

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Wesley S
Date: 07 May 11 - 08:46 PM

This documentry is worth checking out. And it's hosted by John Hammond Jr.

The Search for Robert Johnson

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: GUEST,Bluesman James
Date: 07 May 11 - 11:30 PM

Happy 100 Birthday Mr. Johnson. There was a documentary made about 15 years ago, "The search for Robert Johnson" narrated and starring John Hammond Jr. There are some great moments with Honeyboy Edwards and the late Johnny Shines (for some reason Robert Jr. Lockwood was not included - He was Robert's step-son.
Its really strong with the research and musicology with Burton "Mac" McCormick and other Blues Historians. Mac McCormick was the scholar who tracked down Robert's death certificate.

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Subject: RE: Robert Johnson
From: Will Fly
Date: 08 May 11 - 08:21 AM

There's a short article in today's (UK) Observer - an interview with Honeyboy Edwards about Johnson.

I tend to approach these articles with some weariness these days - the same stories, and refutations of stories, and refutations of the refutations - plus the one and only picture of RJ with guitar.

(Thinks: I wonder if the reputed RJ guitar's been sold for $2,000,000 yet...)

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Subject: Essay: Robert Johnson and the (Cross)Roads
From: GUEST,Joachim Brouwer
Date: 27 Jun 14 - 12:15 PM

Joachim Brouwer
Hamilton Ontario

Robert Johnson and the (Cross)roads

     It is the year 1928. A man, of the Negro race wearing a dapper suit walks down a dusty Mississippi state road near midnight. He is carrying a black case by his side. A full moon fills the night sky, throwing brooding shadows onto the cotton fields that lie perfectly flat as far as one can see. The silhouettes the black man sees far off in the distance to the west are the earthen levees keeping in the dangerous waters of the Mississippi River.

     The man comes to the intersection of another dirt road and stops right in the middle. From the black case, he produces a scratched and scoffed six string guitar, maybe one of the $8 Sears Roebuck catalogue models that are becoming popular, putting the strap over his shoulder. He issues a few ruminative chords entreating some spectre of the night or an astral entity to visit him.

     Crickets hiss from the damp weeds by the side of the road, but even their base insect nature sense a nefarious act in the offing and their chatter trails off. Soon even the lonesome warblings of the whippoorwill birds ceases and there ensues the most unearthly of silences.

     On the northern branch of the crossroads, a phantasmagoric black figure appears, seemingly riding on air and stirring up the dust. The figure stops in the crossroads and materializes into a well-dressed man with a leather valise.

     "Hello Satan. I believe its time to go," the black man says. The shadowy figure in turn reaches into his valise and produces a fountain pen and scroll of parchment with strange symbols inscribed on it, handing it to the man.

     Such might been the moment when Robert Johnson sold his soul to an unbeknownest agent of the diabolical so that he could make the music the world knows him by. The telling of Johnson's pact with The Devil is often recounted in the story of the Blues to heighten the mystery and impact of this powerful music but it is rarely treated as indubitable fact.

     Julio Finn in his book The Bluesmen: The Musical Heritage of Black Men and Women in the Americas says that Robert Johnson's biographers are divided into two camps. There are the older black bluesmen who don't question that Johnson, the consummate Hoodoo man sold his soul to the Devil and then there are the Ivy League white folklorists who infuse Johnson with an almost impenetrable fanciful air of mystery but cannot accept the Pact.

     To the young northerners, some of whom may have been Freedom Riders and very supportive of the civil rights movement in the South in the 1960’s, Robert Johnson lead the life of a romantic troubadour who died young. Like John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley and carries important cross-cultural/ epochal/geographic/racial importance but there is nothing else. (Julio Finn The Bluesmen pg 210.)

     Robert Johnson himself did little to dispel the rumours that he had made a deal with The Devil and dabbled in the black arts. But Johnson never himself stated he was in The Lord of the Underworld’s service. Pettie Wheatstraw, one of Johnson's forebears , on the other hand, described himself as the `High Sheriff of Hell' and the `Devil’s Son-in Law.' But it is Robert Johnson's bargain with the Devil that has passed into popular legend and has the appearance of being more than bravado or self-hype.

     It is from the supposition that Robert Johnson sold his soul to The Devil at a Mississippi Delta crossroads in 1928 , that this writing shall proceed.

     The Crossroads as an actual place where macabre events take place and the symbolic significance of the Cross in various religious traditions including western occultism will be discussed.

     On Nov 23, 1936 in San Antonio Texas, Johnson recorded blues `Crossroads Blues' with its haunting lyrics:

    I went down to the crossroads fell down on my knees/ x2
    I asked the lord above have mercy save poor Bob if you please./
    I'm standing at the crossroad/
    Babe, I believe I'm sinking down/
`Crossroad Blues' lyric can be interpreted from a non-supernatural point of view when we remember that a black person on the open road late at night in the old South could easily be arrested for vagrancy or beaten up and left for dead.

     Standing at a crossroads on a hot summer night in the flat expanses of the alluvial soil late of a small river like the Grand River in Ontario, Canada, where I am from is powerful enough, but the experience in the Mississippi Delta must have an allure all its own.(INSERT PICTURE #1 HERE)

     "Anyone who's ever stopped at a deserted Delta crossroads in the dead of night knows what a spooky experience it can be. Everything's empty- black-black bottom land stretching for away for miles in every direction"(Robert Palmer Deep Blues pg. 126) The crossroads are often the only markers in these flat expanses. Businesses located at prominent crossroads often take names such as Crossroads Service Station or Crossroads Wreckers.

     The most well-known crossroads relating to the Johnson story is the intersection of Highways #49 and #61 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, although it would seem to be too busy even in the thirties to be the Crossroads where the infamous deed took place.

     Another story says the actual Crossroads was at Dockery Road and old Highway #8 in Sunflower County. Dockery Road was built to service the well known Dockery plantation where Charlie Patton and Howling Wolf came from and is one of the fabled birthplaces of the Blues.

     Further south in Washington County, the intersection of Highway #61 and #82 has been proposed. Another report has Johnson signing the pact somewhere near Crenshaw, Mississippi. The crossroads used in the movie of the same name is near Beulah, just south of Rosedale in Bolivar County.

     Robert Johnson’s `Pact’ at a Delta crossroads is only the most recent example of the macabre things that went on at the intersection of two roads. The Greek goddess of witchcraft Hecate was supposed to have conducted her rituals at a crossroads.

     Hecate’s followers would pour oil on the smooth stone stones of two intersecting roads and wait for the goddess, wreathed in garlic to appear to answer their supplications.

     In pre-Christian Europe human sacrifices were made at altars set up at crossroads. Suicides were buried at such places in the hope that the constant traffic at the junction of two or more roads would prevent the dead person’s ghost from escaping the ground. In Christian times, the cruciform shape of the crossroads was claimed to disperse the evil energies stirred up by the person who killed themself.

     The cross is a familiar object of art and veneration in cultures ranging from North American Indians to those of the Orient. A mandala or pictorial image of the Tibetan Buddhist’s Heaven was laid out in the form of a cross with demons placed at the four quarters.

     In Jacobus de Vorgaine's Aurea Legenda it is related how the actual cross that Jesus was crucified on, two beams of wood, the horizontal bean placed three quarters of the way up the vertical shaft came from three seeds of the Tree of Life from the book of Genesis. These seeds grew into the straplings that Noah took into the ark and were the ancestors of the Burning Bush that talked to Moses in the Egyptian desert. Many generations latter, the bush, now a huge tree was cut into two pieces and used to crucify Jesus Christ at the very spot where Adam's skull with the three seeds was buried. (Manly Hall. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. pg 123.)

     The perennial themes of death and redemption in the Blues finds a parallel with Jesus's crucifixion on the cross. By dying on the cross, Jesus showed how mankind can free themselves from material earthly enslavement and become One with God . For many people, the blues is a cathartic experience that is nothing short of transcendent too.

     In the Mystery religions that vied with Christianity in the first centuries of the first millennium, the initiate was ritually crucified to signify rebirth. Apollonius of Tyana supposedly hung on a cross in tomb for three days. When he became unconscious, he passed into the realm of the immortals. Prometheus, Adonis, Apollo, Bacchus, Mithras, Quetzalcoatl, Krishna all did time on the cross. (Hall, pg 125.)

     It was the Latin or Passion cross (Insert picture #2 here)where the horizontal arm is higher than the vertical, indicating the ascendancy of spirit over matter, that became associated with Christianity. Robert Johnson no doubt saw many of these rugged old crosses made of coarse wood in his travels around the South in front of churches and far out in fields.

     The equilateral or Greek cross on the other hand is more Gnostic oriented and representative of an actual crossroads. Here the vertical and horizontal arms cross at equal distances, representing the interpenetration of n the spiritual and material realms.

     In astrology, the equilateral cross forms the basis of the natal horoscope. The horizontal arm, representing space and the vertical arm time, fixes the Native in time and space. The enfolding circle symbolizes Spirit, the Timeless Eternal, the Platonic One. The astrological symbol or glyph for earth is a cross inscribed in a circle.

     The cross was a symbol of the equinoxes and solstices since at these times the sun passed crucial angles of its path around the earth reversing or balancing the power of the sun. The sun was seen as being ritually being crucified at these times (Hall, pg 124.)

     An early form of the cross was the Tau which resembles the letter T. This may have the shape of the crossroads where Johnson signed his pact since `a fork in the road' is often used in blues lore to describe the place where nefarious dealings were done.

     The Tau cross held great significance for the ancient Egyptians, since it resembled the face of a bull and became transformed into the `crux ansata’ or ankh a oval inscribed above the horizontal bar. The `crux ansata’ resembled a device called the Nilometer which measured the waters of the Nile River. For this reason it became known as the symbol of life and often was buried in Tombs of pharaohs and used as sacred implement in Egyptian magic. A modification of the `crux ansata’ became the astrological glyph of Zodical sign of Taurus.

     In Voodoo, the religion which came to the southern states from Haiti, the crossroads not only represents the totality of the earth's surface by the extension of the cross into space in all directions on a horizontal plane, but also represents the meeting of the horizontal plane, the mortal world with the vertical plane or metaphysical axis.

     "The crossroads... is the point of access to the world of les invisibles, which is the soul of the cosmos..and the source of the life force."(Maya Deren The Divine Horsemen: Voodoo Gods of Haiti pg.35) Other cultures see the spiritual and physical worlds as a parallelism, an irreconcilable dualism but the Haitian practitioner of voodoo sees it as resolvable in the right angles created by the crossroads.

     The crossroads is "the mystical barrier that separates the divine from the profane world." Legba,(Insert picture #3 here) the guardian of the crossroads", interprets the will of the gods to man and carries the desires of man to the gods." (Francis Davis The History of The Blues pg 105- 106)

     Legba is also associated with the crossroads since he spends a great deal of time walking the roads of the land. `The big black man' that Tommy Johnson talked about in his own pact with the Devil was one of the shapes taken up by Legba.

     In the Yoruba mythology of West Africa, crossroads are places where spirits, people and animals met. Legba directs traffic bringing peace and order representing the link between the mortal visible worlds and the invisible immortal ones. "Legba is the god of the poles, of the Axis, of the axis itself- he is the god of the crossroads, the vital intersection of two worlds" (Deren pg 97.)

     The crossroad is a concrete metaphor for the mirroring or reflecting aspect that is central to Yoruba/voodoo cosmology. As long as a human being is alive his spirit- gros-bon-ange or lau stands on the one side of the mirror. With death, the force which kept the two apart is lost and the spirit sinks into the substance of the mirror and he becomes one.

     Most voodoo ceremonies begin by supplicating Legba, offering food such as flour at actual crossroads. The sign of the crossroads made in the air as well as on the ground symbolizes the traffic of energies and forces between the material and spiritual realms. In addition to being the guardian of the crossroads, Legba stood in front of the sacred gateway called the Grand Chemin, using a ritual rattle to call up other lau.

     One description of a voodoo conjuration tells a female participant to remove her hairpins lest they become accidently crossed and introduce an unwanted malacious energy (Finn, pg.143.)

     We can imagine Robert Johnson adhering to the following voodoo prescription for evading his pursuers, whether they by white authorities, jilted women or jealous men: "When you reach the crossroads, select the road you will take. Then walk backwards nine steps in the opposite direction. Your pursuer will take the wrong road"(Jim Haskins. Voodoo and Hoodoo, pg 175)

     The following is a voodoo prescription for obtaining luck in gambling: "Take a lodestone and some brimstone and go to the crossroads at midnight. Strike a match and light the brimstone making it flare up. In that moment a man... will come and give you advise as to when luck will be on your side"(Haskins, pg 159)

Could it not apply equally to calling up the Devil?

     The crossing of two lonely Mississippi roads in the early part of the last century should not be seen as fanciful side story in Robert Johnson’s biography but an ancient geometric archetypal symbol containing eternal truths. The Crossroads should be seen as the forlorn foci of a master Hoodoo Bluesmen’s Pact with an Agent of the Infernal.


    1. Charters, Samuel, Robert Johnson. Oak Publications: New York, 1973.

    2. Barnes, Bertrum and Wheeler, Glen. "A Lonely Fork in the Road" Living Blues Nov./Dec. 1990: University of Mississippi.

    3. Barnet, Sylvan. edited by, Doctor Faustus. New American Library: New York, 1980.

    4. Davis, Francis. The History of the Blues. Hyperion: New York, 1995.

    5. Deren, Maya. The Divine Horsemen: Voodoo Gods of Haiti. Chelsea House Publishers: New York, 1970.

    6. Finn, Julio. The Bluesmen:The Musical Heritage of Black Men and Women in the Americas. Interlink Books: New York, 1992.

    7. Garon, Paul. Blues and the Poetic Spirit. Da Capo Press:New York, 1978.

    8. Greenberg, Alan. Love in Vain: A Vision of Robert Johnson. Da Capo Press: New York, 1994.

    9. Guralnick, Peter. Searching For Robert Johnson. E.P. Dutton: New York, 1989.

    10. Hall, Manly. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Los Angeles Philosophical Society

    11. Haskins, Jim. Voodoo and Hoodoo. Scarborough House Publishers Chelsea, Michigan, 1990.

    12. Metraux, Alfred. Voodoo in Haiti. Oxford University Press: New York, 1957

    Oliver, Paul. Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning in the Blues. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1990

    14. Palmer, Robert. Deep Blues. Penguin Books: New York, 1981.

    15. Smeed. J.W. Faust in Literature. Oxford University Press: London, 1975

    Note from Joe Offer. Joachim says he has been working on this article for a long time, and he asked me to post it on his behalf. I will insert links to the pictures at a later time.

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