Mar
20

The Real Crossroads?

New speculation has emerged.

Although the crossroads at hwy 61 and hwy 49 in Clarksdale is believed to be the legendary crossroads where Robert Johnson made his pact with the devil, and is definitely the spot where people go to pay their respects, new evidence suggests this is NOT the crossroads where the famous pact was made.

According to the bluesmen of the south, most well into their 80′s and 90′s, as well as some historians and blues researchers, the crossroads he is referring to is actually in Rosedale.

Even in the song he mentions the city: “Going up to Rosedale, got my rider by my side”. The truth is, of course, no one will ever know for sure. But there is someone who knew.

That someone is legendary blues musician Son House. Son said he knew for a fact where Johnson made his deal, and it wasn’t in Clarksdale, but in Rosedale. In fact, he claims in was right where Hwy 8 intersects with Hwy 1. That’s the real crossroads, he says.

More proof is in the folklore of the devil himself. According to legend, and some voodoo claims, the devil always hangs close to the river. The devil, marking his territory with an “X” (thus the crossroads) would not and could not make his mark so far from the river as Clarksdale. Rosedale, on the other hand, is right by the river.

Truth is, no one will ever truly know which crossroads are the “real” crossroads. Except the devil himself and Mr. Johnson. But I find it entirely plausible that this could be the true crossroads themselves…. According to this folklore, Johnson did not go to the crossroads seeking the devil. The devil was waiting for him as Johnson passed through from Beulah on his way to Helena. Johnson was greeted by tyhe devil and his dog, and the dog seized Robert and shook him violently; When he did, the strings in Johnson’s guitar shook and vibrated and the blues emerged from those sounds. The devil told Johnson, “the dog is not for sale, but you can buy that sound.” Robert wanted it so bad, the deal was made. From there, he was a master.

Who knows the truth though? “Science” says he got that good through diligent practice, and a natural ability. But the blues was never about Science, was it?

23 Comments to “The Real Crossroads?”

  • There is now even more research coming to light saying the crossroads could be in a different location:
    Where Dockary Road crosses old Highway 8, which is just south of the new Highway 8. This information comes from a source who inquired about it quite frequently while visiting the Delta, and more than one person gave him this response….

  • The older guy next to me, says that he was with some even older dudes, that gave him the correct location of the crossroads. According to him, they are south of Tunica on 61 make a left after 4 to 6 miles. Then go about a mile 1/4 and there is a cemetery on the right. That is where Johnson used to practice and lay low. There was a road that used to run through there, it is now over growing and is abandoned. It was called cross-town road. With slang and broken English of that era in time, often parts of words were left out in speech, leaving cross-town road to become crossroad.

    Also, nearby is an abandoned railway in reference to “catch a flag” Johnson was known to frequent the area until he would acquire some travel money and work his way North somewhere to Chicago. He heard all this in Helana, Arkansas at the King Biscuit festival, hanging back stage during the Bobby Rush show.

    What really matters is that the blues and it’s legends stay alive, and Karl here hopes that the it will continue

  • Always nice to hear from the old dudes. And I mean that. There is quite a bit of speculation. I have heard, especially since running this site, quite a few tales of the real location.

    I also heard, from a man in Mississippi, (who claims his father knew Johnson) that the crossroads were near Greenwood, out in an old cotton field – and that the roads were access roads in the field and had no name.

    I have heard about Tunica. Actually, Crosstown Road still exists in Tunica, just south of the city, about 6 miles. There is a small Graveyard, presumably the one you speak of out there. It sits close to the intersection of what is now Sarah Road and Crosstown Road in Tunica. It seems, given the vague directions the old guy gave you, that this would be the place they speak of. I am sure the original road is grown over and abandoned, but the cross roads still exist.

    here it is on a map

    I have heard abut it being near Dockery, Highway 8, and many others. The truth is, the Delta is literally strewn with crossroads. They are everywhere – from the popular to the less traveled.

    I only believe two things to be true: The location of the crossroads is not where the monument is in Clarksdale, and we will never know the true location.

    But hell – let’s log as many possibilities as possible!

  • Has anyone ever thought this is nothing more than folklore. Fact is; he was great and probably worked hard to get that sound.

  • The problem with Son House’s acknowledgement about the “real” crossroads is that he says that that is where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. Robert Johnson never went to any crossroads to do such a thing. It was actually TOMMY Johnson that proclaimed to have done so. Some say the story got associated with Robert Johnson in Robert Palmer’s “Deep Blues” (because it made a better story?). Some say Robert Johnson himself heard the Tommy Johnson stories and decided to adopt them for himself, though there is a bit of doubt cast on this.

    Also, it is interesting to note that Tommy Never said he sold his soul to the Devil. He said he went there and at certain times (you know the ritual) a man would appear and teach him whatever songs he wanted to know. That was it. Nothing about a soul being sold, or even anything sinister or necessarily supernatural, though the supernatural aspect seems to be implied.

  • rosedale is my hometown and we grew up with that legend, not just as associated with r.j. but others. my dad was chief of police for 60 years starting in the early part of the 1900′s and dealt with many of the old blues guys, mostly putting them in jail for vagrancy then releasing them at hwy 1 and 8 day or nite. i recall asking why there were so many churches at one time at that location and he said it was to ward off the devil. now my dad was a no nonsense peace officer but honored the beliefs of the black community who were much into such things. i also noticed that there was always a dead dog in the ditch in the area and yet it would be gone the next day. daddy said it was the menion of satan and had done its work fetching souls the nite before. no one would get out at that location at night even the most macho football stars. last time i was there we stopped late on a hot august night and opened the window. at that spot it was as cold as a winters day. needless to say we got the heck out of there posthaste. yeah it is a legend but it is huge there.

  • [...] The Real Crossroads – Where Did Robert Johnson Sold His Soul? Most of the information on this post is based on “The Real Crossroads?“. [...]

  • Hello!

    Yes, i agree with most of the comments here. Did Robert sell his soul? Probably not. Did he come across crossroads in his travels? Of course – they are literally everywhere, especially in the Delta. Did Tommy mention the crossroads story first? My research says yes; but it also shows he first mentioned a graveyard, then a crossroads. I am sure Robert worked hard for his sound – adopting a legend about the crossroads fits in with beliefs of that time.

    That being said – there is something mystifying at the crossroads of 1 and 8. Having been there myself, it is eerie – and I was there is broad daylight.

    There is further info available at this site dealing with the legend of the crossroads, as well as Robert Johnson.

    Thanks for visiting!

  • It`s not really the Devil. It`s the keeper of the Crossroads spirit of Yoruba beliefs, called Ellegua, Papa Legba or any other name. You can read about it on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellegua. When these African beliefs melded with catholic beliefs, this spirit became wrongly associated to the Devil. I`ve been to Dockery Plantation this year and the guy told us that the crossroads is the one by dockery. Also, in the song “Love in Vain”, where Robert mentions “two lights on behind”, he told us Robert was talking about the Two lights cemetery. Can you confirm this? If there was actually a cemetery called Two Lights or something like it?

  • Dan,

    Very interesting! Yes, I have heard about it being wrongly associated with the devil before. As far as the crossroads, that all depends on who you ask. I have been to the crossroads by Dockery as well though. The thing is, according to legend, and african belief, the crossroads where the “keeper” resides, etc, has to be by the river, or by the water. Dockery’s is a little too far inland. But there are hundreds of crossroads throughout the delta.

    I will look into the cemetery thing, ad see what I can find.

  • Dan,

    After further digging, I think you were misinformed about the two lights cemetery.

    The lyrics to “Love in Vain” represent a woman leaving RJ, using the train and the station as the metaphor. Basically, he follows her to the station, the train pulls up, and she leaves. The reference to the red and blue light refer to the lights used at train stations to notify the conductors of the appropriate action for their train. Red, obviously, means stop. Blue, however, is a color of light that would be custom to a certain station, and could have different meanings depending on the line. Most likely it means proceed with caution. This fits in with the lyrics.

    The thing about cemeteries is they are usually very easy to research. Why? because people’s loved ones are buried there. This makes it nearly impossible for a cemetery to be totally forgotten. That in mind, i was not able to find any such reference to a cemetery either formally named Two Lights, or referred to it that way by locals.

    Hope this helps!!!

  • I was just down there also, Dockery etc. I too had the story of the cemetery told to me. If you go across # 8 from Dockery to old road, there is a cemetery with no name. It also does not appear on google maps. Oddly it has Keep Out signs on it.

    I think this is as good as others or more so. #8 and #1 are a hike from Dockery. But Robert seemed to get around.

  • It wasn’t Robert Johnson who sold his soul. It was Tommy Johnson. However, Tommy Johnson is not famous so at some point people switched out Tommy with Robert.

    Even though Robert Johnson didn’t sell his soul at the crossroads, he was still a believer in hoodoo, .a.k.a. conjure or root work.

    @ Dan,

    You are incorrect. Most of the blacks in the South origianted from the Congo peoples, not the Yoruba. They would be more closer to the religion of Palo. However, the crossroads spirit may actually be the Devil as the crossroads was very important to the Scott-Irish people who immigrated in the late 1800s and they had extensive folklore about “The Black Man” (Devil).

  • Doc,

    I believe Robert Johnson got his his tale of selling his soul to the devil in three ways.

    1.) He heard the story concerning Tommy Johnson and adopted it;
    2.) Peetie Wheatstraw was a large influence on RJ, and Peetie billed himself as the Devil’s Son in Law.
    3.) He practiced with Ike Zimmerman in graveyards, and it was “assumed” by other musicians (like Son House) he sold his soul to the devil to get “that good” in a short amount of time.

    As I have noticed with other blues players, of yesterday and modern times, often times they will take and adopt these stories and run with them. It helps them get gigs, sell billings, and get recorded/sell records. I think Robert did just that. he saw an opportunity, and he took it.

  • Dockery sits right on a river/bayou. Backs right up to the main buildings not far from the crossroads.

  • I was just down in Mississippi and prior to going I was trying to find dockery road on google maps but it didnt seem to come up anywhere. Is this road still there? Did the name change?

  • For those foolish folks like Doc and Mark and Brain21, sorry kids, but RJ most certainly DID sell his soul according to legend!!!!!
    Once you kids decide to do a little reading and LEARN some folklore, you will realize that SEVERAL people, not just Tommy or RJ have sold their souls. It was (and is) common practice. Tommy was the first blues musician famous for this, but RJ also sold his soul. Son House saw him annoying everyone TRYing to play guitar at the juke joints and then RJ left. He came back with a Hell of a Talent and Son and others concluded that he had sold his soul. (and Papa Legba is basically the devil, btw).
    The real story is that RJ left and hung out with his mentor Ike Zimmerman who taught him to play night and day (even in a graveyard where they could be as loud as they wanted).
    Don’t believe me? Listen to RJ’s Grandson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6dX1I3eLYk&feature=related.
    Bottom line: RJ sold his soul to the devil per folklore. AWESOME STORY!!

  • Well folks, let me tell you this, I did go to the crossroads. Near Highway 8 and 1. and I was there for several nights.The first night I saw nothing but felt a eerie cold wind blow. It seemed to pull at my soul. On the following nights I did see something or rather someone, as I played my guitar this cold wind began to blow and it was the middle of the summer! Anyway as I stood there a white mist appeared and began to surround me, as I began to shake with fear I heard someone walking towards me. I looked and saw what I can only describe as the “Dark Man” he walked up to me and asked what I was doing there? I was really scared and shaking, I told him I want to learn how to be a master of the guitar, he laughed at me and said, “hand me your guitar I will tune it for you and you will have the gift of genius.” I did as he said and as he tuned it he laughed at me and said “see you in 20 years.” I am afraid I sold my soul and now I have only twenty more years, but I can play anything I want to on my guitar, any artists, any music style I can play.

  • i seemed to take a very keen intest in this so caled Crossroads as i was reading a book on black magic I just wanted to ask if it ment anything to due with the whitching Hour

  • I am writing a screenplay and have found this very informative. I will be visiting this area in Mississippi next week. I will document and keep you posted. Any updated info would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  • [...] crossroads is Hwy 61 and Hwy 49 at Clarksdale, but folklore puts the crossroads at many other locations). Possibly also of interest to you would be to visit Memphis, TN. It's where the traveling [...]

  • As stated, I found many possible ares. One stands out more than the others due to an overwhelming feeling of being watched and it was just plain creepy. There was a run down cemetery, but no dead dog. Hmm

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