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Lecture 3: Devils, Crossroads, Blues in Robert Johnsons lyrics


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Title: Lecture 3: Devils, Crossroads, Blues in Robert Johnsons lyrics

Lecture 3 Devils, Crossroads, Bluesin Robert
Johnsons lyrics
  • Vesa Matteo Piludu
  • Helsinki

Department of Comparative Religion University of
Exú and the crossroads Devil
  • The figure of Exú, Elegguá, Legbá the god of
    the crossroads popular in the Afro-American
    religions became the Devil or Satan of the
    crossroads in the blues and in North American
    popular music
  • The Blues Devil is different from the ambiguous,
    tricky but also generous Exú Satan is clearly
    only a negative figure
  • In the puritan and protestant United States the
    moral distinctions should be clear there is good
    and bad, black and white, profane and sacred,
    Sunday and Friday

Symbols according to the existential semiotics
  • The symbols are changing their meaning often,
    especially in oral and popular culture
  • The world of existence isnt static
  • According to Eero Tarasti (Existential semiotics,
    2000 Fondamenti della semiotica esistenziale,
  • the symbols are mobile, flying as the objects in
    a Chagall painting

Cross Road Blues (Take 2)
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?vYd60nI4sa9Afeature
  • I went to the crossroad
  • fell down on my knees
  • I went to the crossroad
  • fell down on my knees
  • Asked the Lord above "Have mercy, now save poor
    Bob, if you please
  • Mmmmm, standin' at the crossroad
  • I tried to flag a ride
  • Standin' at the crossroad
  • I tried to flag a ride
  • Didn't nobody seem to know me
  • everybody pass me by
  • Mmm, the sun goin' down, boy
  • dark gon' catch me here
  • oooo ooee eeee
  • boy, dark gon' catch me here
  • I haven't got no lovin' sweet woman that love and
    feel my care
  • You can run, you can run
  • tell my friend-boy Willie Brown
  • You can run, you can run
  • tell my friend-boy Willie Brown
  • Lord, that I'm standin' at the crossroad, babe
  • I believe I'm sinkin' down

What Lord?
  • The Lord of the Crossroad is probably a kind of
    Elegua, Exú or Legba (Afro-American gods of
    crossroads and doors) some supernatural being
    that could help during the night
  • Even so, Robert Johnson use the generic world
    Lord, indicating also the Christian God
  • Another lord of Crossroad in the Afro-American
    folclore is the Devil but a call to the Devil
    asking for help is a nonsense, as the Devil is
    clearly a negative figure in the Johnsons and
    Blues men's songs
  • Even so, legends about a secret path between
    Johnson and the Devil are classic of blues
    literature .

Nature and Robert Johnsonby Carter Neil
  • To us being by the side of a road at night may
    contain a bit of fear, but to a Black man in the
    Delta in Johnson's time this was a terrifying
    position to be in.
  • After dark a Black man could be considered to be
    a threat by a White man and could be beat up, or
    worse without any evidence of wrongdoing.

Robert Johnson and Satan at the Crossroad
  • In the Delta of the Mississippi River, where
    Robert Johnson was born, they said that if an
    aspiring bluesman waited by the side of a
    deserted country crossroads in the dark of a
    moonless night, then Satan himself might come and
    tune his guitar, sealing a pact for the
    bluesman's soul and guaranteeing a lifetime of
    easy money, women, and fame.
  • They said that Robert Johnson must have waited by
    the crossroads and gotten his guitar fine-tuned.

Crossroads of Highways
  • It is said that Robert Johnson made his pact with
    Satan at the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61 in
    Clarksdale, Mississipi

Robert Johnson
  • Robert Johnson, 1911-1938, the most influential
    Delta blues artist of all
  • King of Delta Blues
  • Granfather of Rock

The original folk legend talk about another
Johnson Tommy
  • So you sit at the crossroads. Out of the
    darkness, there comes a sound in the distance. A
    large black man appears, playing a guitar. He
    takes your instrument, gives you his, and for a
    moment you play together. Your fingers dance
    across the strings and begin to bleed. The man
    tunes your guitar and hands it back to you. He
    walks away into the darkness. You strum a chord,
    pick a note, and it occurs to you that you can
    play anything, absolutely anything you want. You
    also know that the devil will come back for your
    soul, and he will come back sooner rather than
  • "That's the way I learned to play anything I
    want," Tommy Johnson told his brother LeDell.
  • Tommy may have sold his soul first, or said that
    he did, but Robert Johnson, who was not related
    to Tommy, is the more notorious soul-swapper

Satan and the musicians
  • The story of a musician that learn to play from a
    devil, a spirit or a daemon is present in every
  • Plato wrote as the best artist and especially the
    musicians shoud be possessed by a daimon
  • In Finland the best pelimanni (folk players) were
    told to have learnt the art from a devil or a
    water spirit
  • Paganini was called the Devils Violinist
  • Paganinis many adventures and extraordinary
    indulgences apparently sparked off stories of his
    being in league with the devil and that he had
    even been imprisoned for murder.
  • "The devil was at his elbow!" was the claim made
    to explain his technical prowess at the violin.
  • Someone even swore that he saw the devil
    directing Paganinis arm and guiding the bow!
  • As a result, his burial in consecrated ground was
    actually delayed for 5 years.

Robert Johnson Me and the Devil Blues
  • Animated Video
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?v3MCHI23FTP8feature
  • Early this mornin'
  • when you knocked upon my door
  • Early this mornin', ooh
  • when you knocked upon my door
  • And I said, "Hello, Satan,"
  • I believe it's time to go.
  • Me and the Devil
  • was walkin' side by side
  • Me and the Devil, ooh
  • was walkin' side by side
  • And I'm goin' to beat my woman
  • until I get satisfied
  • She say you don't see
  • why that you will dog me 'roundspoken Now,
    babe, you know you ain't doin' me right, don'cha
  • She say you don't see why, ooh
  • that you will dog me 'round
  • It must-a be that old evil spirit
  • so deep down in the ground
  • You may bury my body
  • down by the highway side
  • (spoken) Baby, I don't care where you bury my
    body when I'm dead and gone
  • You may bury my body, ooh
  • down by the highway side
  • So my old evil spirit can catch a Greyhound bus
    and ride

Blues spirits, blues feelings, blues music
  • Blues illness
  • The blues are also evil spirits causing bad and
    depressive feelings
  • There are many kind of blues loneliness blues,
    walking blues
  • Blues recovering
  • Playing the blues music and singing about the
    blues spirits, the blues singer is able to drive
    blues spirits away
  • Its a kind of musical exorcism and self analysis

Robert Johnson Hellhound On My Trail
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?vwC4M4eQlz5I
  • got to keep movin'
  • I got to keep movin'blues fallin' down like
    hailblues fallin' down like hail
  • Umm mmm mmm mmm
  • blues fallin' down like hailblues fallin' down
    like hail
  • And the days keeps on worryin' me
  • there's a hellhound on my trailhellhound on
    my trailhellhound on my trail
  • If today was Christmas Eve
  • If today was Christmas Eveand tomorrow was
    Christmas Day
  • If today was Christmas Eve
  • and tomorrow was Christmas Dayspoken Aow,
    wouldn't we have a time, baby?
  • All I would need my little sweet rider just to
    pass the time away, huh huhto pass the time away

Robert Johnson Hellhound On My Trail
  • You sprinkled hot foot powder, mmm mmm, around my
    doorall around my door
  • You sprinkled hot foot powder
  • all around your daddy's door, hmm hmm hmm
  • It keep me with ramblin' mind, rider every old
    place I goevery old place I go
  • I can tell the wind is risin'
  • the leaves tremblin' on the treeTremblin' on the
  • I can tell the wind is risin'
  • leaves tremblin' on the treehmm hmm hmm mmm
  • All I need's my little sweet woman
  • and to keep my company, hey hey hey hey my

Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)
  • Mmmmm mmmmm I's up this mornin'
  • ah, blues walkin' like a man
  • I's up this mornin'
  • ah, blues walkin' like a man
  • Worried blues
  • give me your right hand
  • And the blues fell mama's child tore me all
    upside down
  • Blues fell mam's child
  • and it tore me all upside down
  • travel on, poor Bob
  • just can't turn you 'round
  • The blu-u-u-u-ues
  • is a low-down shakin' chillspoken Yes,
    preach 'em now.
  • Mmmmm mmmmm
  • is a low-down shakin' chill
  • You ain't never had 'em, I
  • I hope you never will
  • Well, the blues
  • is a schin' old heart diseasespoken Do it.
  • You gon' do it?Tell me about it.
  • Let the blues
  • is a low-down achin' heart disease
  • Like consumption
  • killing me by degrees
  • I can study rain
  • oh, ohm drive, oh, oh, drive my blues
  • I been studyin' the rain and
  • I'm 'on drive my blues away
  • Goin' to the 'stil'ry
  • stay out there all day

From Disease Imagery in Johnson's Preaching
Blues by Adriana C. Rissetto
  • The speaker states that he can "study rain/oh,
    oh, drive, oh, oh, drive my blues" in the same
    way that a scientist would scrutinize a bacteria
    culture in order to ascertain a cure to the
  • Here the rain resembles a vaccination in which a
    small amount of the virus is introduced into the
    patient's blood in order to build up an immunity
  • the speaker studies the rain, a symbol of
    depression, to build up "an immunity" to the
    effect of the blues on him.
  • However, eventually he rejects this in favor of
    the distillery, a quick and easy pain killer
    which offers immediate, albeit temporary, relief.
  • http//xroads.virginia.edu/music/BLUES/rissetto.h

Nature and Robert Johnson by Carter Neil
  • When he says "I been studyin' rain..." he is
    doing more than using the image of rain to
    reinforce an idea of isolation.
  • He is telling the listener that he has knowledge
    about loneliness gained through a study of it,
    through an intense relationship to it.
  • His use of the word "study" further serves to
    validate his attempt in the song to "preach" the
    Blues since a preacher must know what he's
    talking about.
  • http//xroads.virginia.edu/music/BLUES/neil.html

ROBERT JOHNSONIf I Had Possession Over Judgment
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?v3KgYk5FFMhgfeature
  • If I had possession over judgment dayif I
    had possession over judgment day
  • Lord, the little woman
  • I'm lovin' wouldn't have no right to pray
  • And I went to the mountain lookin' far as
    my eyes could seeAnd I went to the mountain
    lookin' far as my eye could seeSome other man
    got my woman and the -'a lonesome blues got me
  • And I rolled and I tumbled and I cried the whole
    night longAnd I rolled and I tumbled and I
    cried the whole night long
  • Boy, I woke up this mornin' my biscuit roller
    goneHad to fold my arms and I slowly walked
  • (spoken ) I didn't like the way she doneHad to
    fold my arms and I slowly walked awayI said in
    my mind, "Yo," trouble gon' come some dayNow
    run here, baby set down on my kneeI wanna tell
    you all about the way they treated me

Robert Johnson Life and Legend
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?v5RAcer5QVMsfeature

  • Short film about Robert Johnson told through the
    eyes of Son House
  • Clip 1
  • This clip shows a young Robert learning how to
    play then as a 27 year old man playing at Three
    Forks the night of his death
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?vA7OivLt6wwUfeature
  • Clip 2
  • This clip shows Robert as a young and terrible
    guitar player. It shows one of the reasons why he
    later became great...the crossroads myth.
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?vtPrjzohMjcAfeature
  • Clip 3
  • This clip shows Robert as a young man studding
    hard, learning how to play the guitar from Ike
    Zinneman. The locations are a street corner and
    rent party. The last scene is a flashback to the
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?veNLdrqHqWOgfeature

Robert Johnson and the hellhounds
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?vz-PQ3z9M2U0feature
  • This is a part of Supernatural TV films,
    "Crossroad Blues", season 2
  • Interwiews
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?vy__fi7SAhJQNR1

Devil's Roadmap Featurette Crossroad Blues Film
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?vy__fi7SAhJQfeature

Film Crossroads (1986) duel Steve Vai
  • http//www.youtube.com/watch?vD0QKbnCDW94feature

The women of the film Crossroads
  • Has the typical characteristics of Pomba Gira
    (sensual, gypsy looking) and the hoodoo woman of
    the blues (femme fatale, expert of love spells,
    creates love blues and desperation in men)

On Robert Johnson Part 1
  • Calt, Stephen. "Robert Johnson Recapitulated."
    Blues Unlimited 86, November 1971.
  • Charters, Samuel. Robert Johnson. New York Oak
    Publications, 1972.
  • Cowley, John. "Walking Blues." Blues Unlimited
    106, February-March, 1974.
  • Ferris, Tim. "Robert Johnson." Rolling Stone.
    February 4, 1971.
  • Greenberg, Alan. Love In Vain a Vision of Robert
    Johnson. New York Doubleday, 1983.
  • Groom, Bob. Robert Johnson. KnutsfordBlue World,
  • Groom, Bob. "Robert Johnson The Man Behind the
    Music." Blues World 4, November, 1965.
  • Groom, Bob. "Standing at the Crossroads Robert
    Johnson's Recordings." Blues Unlimited
    118-121, March-October 1976.
  • Guralnick, Peter. "In Search of RobertJohnson."
    Rolling Stone, March 26, 1976.

On Robert Johnson Part 2
  • Guralnick, Peter. Searching for Robert Johnson.
    New York Dutton, 1989.
  • Iglauer, Bruce. "Reconstructing Robert Johnson."
    Living Blues 5, Summer 1971.
  • Lomax, Alan. The Land Where the Blues Began. New
    York Dell, 1993.
  • Marcus, Greil. Mystery Train. NewYork Dutton,
  • Mosley, Walter. RL's Dream. New York Norton,
  • Palmer, Robert. Deep Blues. New York Viking,
  • Pearson, Barry Lee and Bill McCullogh. Robert
    Johnson Lost and Found. University of Illinois
    Press, 2003.
  • Schroeder, Patricia R. Robert Johnson,
    Mythmaking, and Contemporary American Culture.
    University of Illinois Press, 2004.
  • Shines, Johnny. "Remembering Robert Johnson."
    American Folk Music Occasional 2, Oak
    Publications, 1970.
  • Wald, Elijah. Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson
    and the Invention of the Blues. Armistad Press,
  • Welding, Pete. "Hellhound On his Trail Robert
    Johnson." down beat, Music '66.
  • Wolf, Robert. Hellhound on my Trail the Life of
    Robert Johnson, Bluesman Extraordinaire. 2004.
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