Cream Play “Crossroads”

creamwheelsoffireListen to this track by British power trio, “supergroup”, and hard-rock pioneers Cream. It’s their live performance of Robert Johnson’s 1936 song “Crossroads Blues”, a take on the song that also quotes another Johnson song, “Travelin’ Riverside Blues”, and showcases the three-way assault of each member of the band (For you stereo listeners: Bassist Jack Bruce to your left, drummer Ginger Baker just behind you, and Eric Clapton to your immediate right).

The song itself is a tale of an unnamed dread, a fear of nightfall and being out on the road alone. Many associate this song with the legendary and very often repeated tale of a deal going down at a crossroads in Misssissippi, where Robert Johnson is rumoured to have sold his very soul in order to become no less than King of the Delta Blues Singers. Johnson’s influence is certainly proven by this cover version, performed in March of 1968 at San Francisco’s famed Winterland Ballroom, a mecca of rock ‘n’ roll history. Cream scored a #28 hit with this rendition of the song.

But, what is the real story behind this tune, and the real source of dread hinted at in its lyrics? Is it the terror of a supernatural force, or is the threat the song’s narrator is alluding to more of a mortal concern? Read more

Robert Johnson – A New Picture Unearthed?

Recently, a new image of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson has been put forward in a whirlwind of legal implications, not to mention questions of authenticity.  Take a read of the story from Vanity Fair about the search for Robert Johnson.

     The image above must have been taken after Johnson was beginning to make some headway as a musician, sharp-suited and well-fed as he is here. Johnson continues to be something of a mystery, the details of his life being largely down to an aural tradition. Yet his influence on bands from the Stones, to the Cowboy Junkies, to The White Stripes is undeniable.
The image above must have been taken after Johnson (depicted on the left) was beginning to make some headway as a musician, sharp-suited and well-fed as he is here. And look at the size of the man's hands! Johnson continues to be something of a mystery, the details of his life being largely down to an oral tradition. Yet his influence on bands from the Stones, to the Cowboy Junkies, to The White Stripes is undeniable.

When looking at a picture on eBay which was described as an early picture of B.B King, vintage guitar seller Steven “Zeke” Schien was sure that he’d found something even more valuable – a third photograph of the legendary and mysterious Robert Johnson, who was murdered in 1938 when, according to myth, a jealous husband poisoned his drink.

Before that of course, Robert Johnson recorded 29 songs from November of 1936 to June 1937, many of which had an untold effect on the development of the blues and of rock music too; “Love in Vain”, “I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man”, “Crossroad Blues”,  “Me and the Devil Blues” all standards and among many Johnson tunes covered by the Stones, the Yardbirds, Fleetwood Mac (under Peter Green), Cream, Led Zeppelin, and many others.

What was it that tipped Schein off that it might be Johnson?  It was the fingers, depicted in two other photos of Johnson as being abnormally long.  Some of my music geek associates noted the same thing when we talked about whether or not this was indeed Robert Johnson.  It is Johnson’s hands that characterizes him visually, and which possibly allowed for his incredible guitar skills too, at least in part.

Despite dying at the end of 1930s, Johnson remains to be a platinum-selling artist, with his 29 songs still being well sought-after artifacts of another age.  And the myth surrounding him, that he sold his soul for fame and fortune, only makes his lost history and his persona as the haunted bluesman damned for eternity for momentary gain all the more compelling.

For more information about the new picture and the man himself, check out the official Robert Johnson website.