The Crossroads in Clarksdale Mississippi where legend says that the musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil for guitar playing prowess.
I was inspired by this story when I wrote the words for my song “Crossroads Of My Life”. I went out and looked up everything I could about “The Crossroads” and that is where I got the inspiration for the song.
There was a preacher that once told me that my music has unnatural influences. He was talking about my third album, “Crossroads Of My Life”. He said that I couldn’t have written the lyrics to those songs by myself.
My trip to the crossroads.
Let me go back. In late fall 2011 my manager took us out to the crossroads in Clarksdale Mississippi to shoot some pictures for my first album, “Have Mercy On Me”.
We had the whole band out there to shoot some pictures while we played. So we are out there playing, shooting some pictures, when my first cousin Tommy Davis out of nowhere says, “ you better be careful man, or you will call him up”. By “him” he meant the ”Devil”. He was only joking around when he said this. I said, “who”, because I had no idea what he was talking about.
Everyone that listens to the blues knows about the story of Robert Johnson supposedly selling his soul to play guitar.
Folklore says that if you come you need to leave something and you must use the power of three (candy, money, or whatever you’ve got). To pay my respects I decided to leave something. Reaching into my pocket I took out three pennies…
I didn’t think much of it and I certainly didn’t expect anything to happen. I flipped each one up into the air. Right at that moment there was this breeze where I stood. Where I was standing got really cold. There was this chill that I could feel down to my bones.
When the pennies came down, they all landed on heads right next to each other at my feet.
It seriously freaked me out! For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened. When I told my guitar player Mickey Rogers he said, “you’ve got your luck. If you go back out there they will be on tails”.
That experience changed what I thought about that place. I’ve always believed in God and the Devil but only figuratively. I don’t know what happened but it definitely wasn’t natural.
My belief is the talent that I have is a gift from God and he is the guiding hand in my life. There is good and evil in the world. I put my life in God’s hands because I believe he has a purpose in my music.
Whenever I go to that place I get this odd feeling like it holds some secret. It’s an almost visceral experience whenever I go there. There really is something special about that place. If you want to get that hair standing feeling – that’s the place to go!
I never did go back out there and check to see if those pennies were now lying on tails.
Here’s a free download of the song, “Crossroads Of My Life”. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments below. I’d love to know what you think.
How I came to love the blues.
My parents had a major influence on me and the kind of music I play. Just before my dad died, he told me – he said, “son you go out there and play your music. Just remember who you are”. He gave me his blessing.
My affinity for this lifestyle can be traced all the way back to my childhood. I was always drawn to music and admired those who played it. My uncle Clinton (Uncle Butch) showed me how to play the guitar when I was 9 years old and it’s been a love affair ever since.
It’s an addiction I have never been able to shake – nor would I want to for that matter. When I have these ideas buzzing around in my head, I have to get them out. If you put a guitar in a musicians hands, they will start playing it. It’s just who we are. You either have it or you don`t.
I`ve been playing music for 30 years… playing the nastiest juke joints and fanciest country clubs and I prefer the juke joints much better. I’ve played nearly every hole in the wall bar in the Southern US, toured Europe, Canada and Mexico.
Many of the hole in the wall bars I played were so rough and tumble that I started to carry my 38. And would bring it in when I played. There was this base player I played with one time in a casino in Nevada. He had this small hollowed out compartment in his amp where he hid a .45. He told me, “if anything goes down I got your back”.
Learning where to hide when the guns went off. I really developed an affinity for, and a predisposition to the blues. Blues music represented a value system and a way of life that was eye opening for me.
It related to me as a young man trying to navigate my way through marriage and own up to my struggles and shortcomings. Not only was this music that connected with people and was really fun to play, but it also had romance and tradition.
You don’t have to experience the blues to play it. However I believe that those that live the blues play it best. Those cats that experienced real oppression and the horror that comes when you are faced by humanities greatest fear – total annihilation.
The blues becomes something to hang on to. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. After it’s all over you can start to make peace with your demons through the healing power of the blues. I believe the blues originated as a coping mechanism for the slaves. It gave them hope for a better future.
The blues is so emotionally gripping because of the intense emotions that go into it’s creation. It’s hard to imagine how so much suffering could produce something so striking as the blues.
And you – my audience.
Above all these others things I mentioned there`s the relationship with my audience. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously. I tell my stories in the hopes that you can relate with them to the point where they become just as personal to you as they are to me. And this relationship stretches beyond music.
When I write one of these posts or sit down next to someone at a diner after a show and just get to chatting, it becomes about life. I am a wisened veteran musician and songwriter, who isn’t afraid of what life throws at me.
I stand before you all these years later guitar in hand and my latest full album, “Johnny Riley Live @ Bluesberries Cafe”. It’s a collection of the 12 most recent songs of a musical journey that has taken me through hell in the pursuit of three chords and the truth.
It’s gritty unmistakably blues that is sometimes about having a good time and the consequences of having those good times. It would be my honor if you would give it a listen.
What is your take on the crossroads? Do you think something hangs around there? Let me know in the comments below.