Sunday, July 29, 2012

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees (Robert Johnson)

I recently made my way through the Eric Clapton autobiography and it was a pretty run of the mill experience. Great guitarists are seldom great writers (Keef's Life is the outstanding exception) and sho nuff 'Slowhand' is about right.

Nevertheless there are some good chapters amid the drugs and booze romp - I liked reading the John Mayall and Cream chapters. I'm so familiar with the George, Pattie, EC triangle that I could have written those chapters myself.

The bits I was most keen to read - the Lennon/Ono connections - are the most disappointing. Just gloss. If he was so wary of Lennon why did he play with lennon's Plastic Ono Band so much?? Nothing is revealed.

And it did make me go back to the Beano Bluesbreaker's music and Cream.

As time goes by Cream's version of Crossroads at the  Royal Albert Hall farewell concert becomes more and more impressive. Surely Jack Bruce must be taking the piss when he acknowledges Eric Clapton - for vocals!!

Cross Road Blues was first recorded and released on 78rpm by blues titan Robert Johnson in 1936.

The lyrics explain the narrator's failed attempts to hitch a ride from an intersection as night approaches, and somehow this scenario has frequently been linked to stories of Johnson selling his soul to the devil for the ability to play music (nothing in the actual lyrics indicates this). 

Some writers state that the song refers to the common fear felt by blacks who were discovered out alone after dark; that Johnson was likely singing about the desperation of finding his way home from an unfamiliar place as quickly as possible because of a fear of lynching, in addition, the lyrics could be an allusion to the curfews that were then imposed on blacks in the South. The imagery of the singer falling to his knees and the mention of his failure to find a "sweet woman" suggests that the song is also about something a bit more basic. 

It has been covered by a huge number of bands over the years but two versions stand out for me. Cream takes the song and just makes it their own with some outstanding individual playing, while John Mayer doesn't try to compete with the old versions and goes for a fresh new approach.


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