Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Mississippi Manifest Destiny: Robert Johnson's Crossroads

After a brief respite, My Mississippi Manifest Destiny is back. After leaving Mound Bayou, I motored up north to Clarksdale. Which brought me to the site, where legend has it, pioneering bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil--the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49.

I had trouble finding the iconic sign pictured above--Highway 61 was re-routed decades ago, so the crossroads is on the site where the roads used to meet. The monument is near downtown Clarksdale, across the street from Crossroads Furniture. The picture on the lower left is where the two roads intersect now.

The Johnson story goes like this: Sometime in the mid-1930s, Johnson travelled to this spot (although others are plausible) to offer his soul to the devil, so he could be the greatest blues artist ever. By many accounts, Johnson became just that. But as is typical of devil's bargains, Old Scratch (as he always does) got the best of his client--granting him his wish, but Johnson died shortly afterwards, reportedly poisoned by a jealous husband. So Johnson never got to reap the benefits of his evil business transacation.

Johnson made 41 recordings during his lifetime, they are are chronicled here. His best known song is Sweet Home Chicago. Most people remember that song from the The Blues Brothers movie.

If delta blues music has a hometown, Clarksdale is it. I'll cover the other artists with ties to Clarksdale in upcoming posts.

Previous My Mississippi Manifest Destiny posts:

Mound Bayou, a town founded by freed slaves
What Mike Espy is up to these days
Teddy Bear
Coca-Cola museums
Prison laborer in Louisiana
Natchez Part Three
Natchez Part Two, Forks of the Road
Natchez Part One
The Father of Waters
The Natchez Trace Part Four, Ghost Town
The Natchez Trace Part Three
The Natchez Trace Part Two, Indian Mounds
The Natchez Trace Part One
$aving$ in Tupelo
Where Elvis bought his first guitar
Elvis Presley's birthplace
The Battle of Tupelo
Shiloh Part Four
Shiloh Part Three
Shiloh Part Two
Shiloh Part One
Carl Perkins
The Varsity Theatre in Martin, Tennessee
Lincoln and Kentucky

Vicksburg-related posts:

Vicksburg Battlefield Part Five
Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Four, The USS Cairo
Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Three, Illinois Memorial
Mississippi River at Vicksburg
Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Two, State Memorials
Vicksburg Battlefield, Part One
Jewish Mississippi
Memorial Day tribute to our ally Australia
Memorial Day--a time to remember

Leland posts:

Highway 61 Blues Museum
Leland's Blues Murals
Birthplace of Kermit the Frog

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Levois said...

If you had more time to explore you might have found some roads or streets that might be designated old highway 61. In addition to the road that existed now I reasoned that on some stretches including thru Mound Bayou that there have been three different Highway 61s. In fact 161 the road you drove thru Mound Bayou used to be highway 61, but they rerouted 61 around the town.

John Ruberry said...

I didn't see any of those designations. But it towns like Onward, I had to be on the orig. road.

But they take real pride in Hwy 61 in Mississippi. Old or new.