ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads
Director: Brian Oakes
Mississippi’s own Faustian tale of Robert Johnson has been given its due documentary treatment.
Remastered: Devil at the Crosswords shares what little there is about renowned blues musician Robert Johnson through academics, musicians (Keith Richards and Bonnie Raitt among them) and people with deep roots in the Delta.
It is alleged that the man who influenced rock and roll made a deal with the devil through some hoodoo at the literal crossroads.
The myths and legends that have come to shape America, and perhaps a fair portion of pop culture, can find their origins in this deal he made, and subsequent jam sessions in the cemeteries of Hazlehurst, Mississippi.
Devil at the Crossroads reveals a lot of the mysteries about Johnson and does a fine job of grounding them in logic. It also explains the reasoning behind blues being called the Devil’s music. Preachers were not making money from the men not being at church service. The juke joints were where they were, and the preachers would thump their pulpits saying they’re going to hell.
Music has forever been a curse to organized religion as rock and roll also experienced the same Satanic panic.
Born to a well-to-do farmer, who left his wife and child as he was afraid of being lynched, the younger Johnson found himself alone with his mom, Julia Dodds.
His biological father would come into the picture intermittently, but Johnson would eventually return to his mother
After watching Son House perform, and being told to stop fiddling with the guitars, Johnson disappears from the Delta. This is where the fable of Johnson selling his soul to the devil comes into effect.
However, it is said, after the death of his first wife, and child, before he could even see them, led him to disappear back to his hometown. This is where Ike Zimmerman comes into play.
The question always raised with Robert Johnson, how did a novice guitar player become, as the documentary put it, an impresario?
Zimmerman was the answer. But what led to the perpetuation of the myth was the aforementioned practicing in cemeteries.
Devil at the Crossroads is a wonderful documentary that still touches on the supernatural and the dark fabric of American history. The challenges of being an African American were still present during Johnson’s 27 years between 1911 and 1938.
Of course, that leads us to another age-old myth of the 27 Club, where artists who have lived hard and fast, die at that age. Johnson was one of the first.
Now, superstitions aside, we can all understand that the only way we can get good at our craft is through practice.