Legend – Mississippi

“There is this legend that Robert Johnson desired to be the greatest blues player of all time on the guitar.  So one night he went down to the crossroads in Mississippi at midnight and made a deal with the devil that if he gave the devil his soul he would be able to play anything he wanted on the guitar.”

Riley told me that he heard this legend a long time ago before he can really remember.  He said that his family is very musically oriented being of Irish descent and that his father was probably the one who told him this story.  His father plays guitar, violin, banjo, mandolin and a variety of other stringed instruments that are all associated with blues and the bluegrass of the South.  He said that his family is also very centered on telling legends such as these and that he knew many other music related legends as well.  Typically a legend such as this would be told in a manner that is as if to make the person believe that Robert Johnson gained his great guitar playing abilities from the devil himself and that the devil is the reason that he is such a talented player.  Robert Johnson was indeed a legendary guitar player who lived from the 1910s to the 1930s and unfortunately died at a young age.

Notwithstanding, the devil is often referenced to in other legends and myths.  The devil is regularly viewed as a supernatural being that has the power to make sinful deals with people and hence give them powers in exchange for something, quite often their soul.  Examples of this can be seen in such modern films as “Little Nicky” in which Nicky’s (Adam Sandler) father is the devil and he gives Nicky the power to capture people’s soul in a flask.  Also the well-known song “Crossroads” performed by Eric Clapton and Cream actually came from Robert Johnson in reference to this legend.

Regardless of the truth behind the proverb, I believe that it shows religious power that the south held at this time in history.  It is also possible that the reference of the devil and Robert Johnson making a deal could have been impacted by the amount of racism that existed during the 1930s in the southern United States.  Robert Johnson was a black man who was clearly successful at something, and in the 1930s a black man in the south was typically seen as inferior by white folk in general.  Due to this reason I believe a possible conclusion of Robert Johnson’s ordeal with the devil could have been a rumor that was spread by a jealous white person in order to show that even though he was successful, it was because he had made a deal with the devil.