Robert Johnson’s Timeless Tune

I have chosen to use one of Robert Johnson’s most famous songs, “Cross Road Blues”, or known as “Crossroads”. I’ll be honest, I’m really only choosing this song because I’m a fairly big John Mayer fan so I’ve spent a lot of time assessing the lyrics in this song before realizing it was a cover. WHOOPS! (They should really do a better job of writing that in a cd.)

Curse you, John Mayer!

The song being in Open A tuning stands out to me personally. It seems Johnson wrote a few songs in Open A tuning, but not many people do anymore, as far as I’m aware anyways. Another characteristic that stands out is that it’s different from the standard 12 bar blues, with some verses ranging 14-15 bars. The shuffle rhythm a definitely lazy tempo. The overall timbre seems strong, especially Johnson’s voice, but relaxing at the same time. His voice doesn’t appear to have a large range, he is almost half-speaking the lyrics. I think a lot of the interesting aspects of this song can be captured with terms from the textbook, but it doesn’t compare to hearing his music for yourself. There aren’t words that do justice to his raspy voice or soulful renditions. 

 

The lyrics to the song are short, but they are powerful!

I  went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees

Asked the Lord above

“Have mercy now, save poor Bob if you please”

 

Yeoo, standin’ at the crossroad, tried to flag a ride

Ooo eeee, I tried to flag a ride

Didn’t nobody seem to know me, babe, everybody pass me by

 

Standin’ at the crossroad, baby, risin’ sun goin’ down

Standin’ at the crossroad, baby, eee, eee, risin’ sun goin’ down

I believe to my soul, now, poor Bob is sinkin’ down

 

You can run, you can run, tell my friend Willie Brown

You can run, you can run, tell my friend Willie Brown

That I got the crossroad blues this mornin’

Lord, babe, I am sinkin’ down

 

And I went to the crossroad, mama, I looked east and west

I went to the crossroad, baby, I looked east and west

Lord, I didn’t have no sweet woman

Oh well, babe, in my distress

Although there is some suspicion that Robert Johnson really did sell his soul to the devil to gain such musical ability, I’m going to guess that didn’t happen.

Nope, sure didn’t.

Though his song talks about going down to the crossroads, to me this is a figurative statement for being faced with a moral dilemma. This theme of good vs. evil is timeless so the song is just as relevant today as it was in 1937. The song opens with him asking God for help, he’s looking for guidance in whatever situation he’s faced with. When he says he tries to “flag a ride” I believe that means he’s trying to get out of the situation as quickly as possible so he won’t be tempted by a bad decision. Because he is not able to take the easy way out, he is forced to stay at the crossroads, and he knows he is not going to make the right decision. When he says he’s “sinkin’ down” I believe he means that he made the bad decision, but his “distress” later is regret for doing so.

I respect the lyrics and artistry to the song, but in general I am not drawn to older blues. Learning more about the hardships Johnson faced in his life, his inconsistent family upbringing, the death of his first child during birth, and seeking love over and over, did make me more interested in his music though. He definitely wrote from the heart and put passion into everything he did.

Works Used:

  1. Campbell, Michael. Popular Music in America: The Beat Goes On. S.l.: Cengage Learning, 2013.
  2. Havers, Richard. “The Devil’s Music – The Myth of Robert Johnson | uDiscover Music.” UDiscoverMusic. August 16, 2017. Accessed October 04, 2017. https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/devils-music-myth-robert-johnson/.
  3. “Robert Johnson Biography.” Rolling Stone. Accessed October 04, 2017. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/robert-johnson/biography.

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