This past month, I decided to take a job in Louisiana. For some that doesn’t seem like a stretch. I mean, some of you may live in Texas, Mississippi, or even Arkansas near the line. However, for me, that meant a thousand-mile move. There were some bumps in the road on the way down, but I’m not going to complain. But what I did do, was to stop by a couple places that I have wanted to see for years and have never made the time to do it. This trip I did.
The first stop was on Beale Street in Memphis. Those of you that follow us on twitter seen the photos. I have been through Memphis several times, always saying that I would like to step foot on Beale Street and check it out. Finally, I did.
Second place I wanted to see, and the main focus of this article, is stop by the crossroads where it was said that Blues legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil to master the blues guitar. That was actually harder to pin down than I thought. Even though there is a giant sign in Clarksdale, Miss stating that it is the location of the crossroads in the legend, there is another in Rosedale, Miss that locals claim as the true crossroads.
Then it gets a little murkier, there are crossroads in Dockery, Hazlehurst, and Beauregard that have the dubious claim to be the actual crossroads. However, before we get into that. In case you don’t remember, or don’t know the story, let me start from the beginning.
Robert Johnson was an American bluesman who, before he disappeared for a while, was as Son House said, “a decent harmonica player, but a terrible guitarist.” Accounts differ as to how long of a disappearance Johnson made, some said a year, House’s account said just weeks. No matter how long. He came back as someone who created the sound of the Delta Blues.
He started off as someone who played the street corners. He got the occasional gig at a juke joint or at Saturday night dances. However, for the most part, he was forgettable. When he disappeared and re-emerged onto the scene, the difference was beyond the pale.
Legend has it, at a crossroads somewhere near the Dockery Plantation around midnight, Johnson sat down in the middle of the road and prayed to heaven for help. Seemingly in answer to his prayer, a large black gentleman walked out of the darkness. He took Robert’s guitar, tuned it, and then played a few songs on it. Once he handed the guitar back to Robert, he completely mastered the instrument.
So, as I took on the herculean task of trying to track down, through the literature, the internet, and on the ground in Mississippi. I stood in the two spots that claim the distinction, it just happened the second time I was in those places it was midnight as well. I found a couple places around the Dockery area that locals say it happened, as well as Hazlehurst and Beauregard.
As cool as the story of Robert Johnson is, no large black gentleman approached me. Actually, nobody was anywhere near at that time. The only creepy thing that happened was completely losing all cellphone signal in just the area of the crossroads.
It was a fun trip, and I would suggest it to anyone who wants to try to track down the actual place. Just remember, the actual place might be forever lost to history because, as historian Steve Cheseborough once wrote, “Robert Johnson was a rambling guy”.