Imagine yourself as a struggling bluesman in the 1930’s going from town to town, playing little juke joints and street corners in the rural south. Maybe you get in trouble with women and whiskey, maybe you catch some grief for playing evil music…I’m just guessing here. You may even wonder if playing this type of music is a good or bad thing. There would not be much fame or money—Rock stars don’t exist yet because you are going to be the first one.
So at a point in your life when you wonder just what the hell you are doing…you meet a white man at the crossroads (because he won’t go into town at night) and sign a record deal that probably makes him a lot more money than you- this seals the deal and makes you devote your life (there won’t be much of it left) playing the devil’s music.
Yeah, I made that up…
The actual legend has the young Robert Johnson meeting the devil at a crossroads at midnight and selling his soul in order to play guitar like no one ever played it before. The devil wouldn’t take too long to collect on this bargain as Robert Johnson would die at the age of 27 by means of poison; either a jealous woman or angry man? (the details are sketchy at best) There is little doubt that he got real talent so quick that people were looking for a story. There is also no doubt that stories fly fast and furious when you leave this earth by tangled means.
When his records were re-released many years later in England…they had a profound influence on musicians like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling stones. If blues is the cornerstone of rock music, it is not too much of a stretch to say that a lot of the weight and grit in that first heavy brick can be traced back to this man. Rock music owes its substance to him.
I have taken shots at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they got it right by putting him in with the first nominees.
So as I am starting a page called “The of 7 Wonders of Rock Music” with a crossroads in Mississippi- There is a marker at the intersection of U.S. Routes 61 and 49 in Clarksdale. This is the one that is tagged as the tourist place of this legend… But to complete this wonder, I would also go with any deserted crossroads in the State of Mississippi at Midnight (full moon optional) as a pure rock n roll alternative.
We have the first of the seven wonders of Rock music…6 more to go…get your comments in now to help find the others.
6 thoughts on “The Devil’s Music”
i always liked the story of him trading his soul to the devil to play guitar
Yes and thanks-that is a great movie. There was another one called Crossroads with Steve Vai playing a devil guitar guy…it was a bit over the top but based on RJ. The way this story changes and the truth being so evasive is fascinating.
Loved this piece. Have you seen O Brother Where Art Thou? There’s a lovely Robert Johnson reference, a young itinerant blues guitarist selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads…