This 48-minute documentary looks into the life and background of Robert Johnson. There lies a myth that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for sublime and awe-inspiring blues guitarist skill.
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that most modern rock music can trace its roots back to Johnson. He only recorded a limited amount of songs and died young. Yet his legacy influenced blues musicians, and later rock and roll musicians, for decades to come. A lot of mystery surrounds Johnson and not much is known for sure. Which is evident in the fact this documentary is so short! Even only two photos are known to exist.
As there are little hard facts, Devil At The Crossroads aims to paint a whiskey-soaked picture. Interviews are spliced between each other from a range of people either influenced by Johnson or, in some rare cases, those that knew him. Information pieced together from documents like marriage or birth certificates mean that his early life can be extrapolated.
A life with no stable father figure; where work in the fields was the only option to a young black man in the deep south in the 1930s. Where love for the blues was a dangerous thing because it was considered ‘the devil’s’ music. Devil At The Crossroads fleshes out the background to fill in the gaps of Johnson’s short time on this Earth.
There is lots of interest here. Lyrical content is picked apart for references to African Hoodoo. And there is talk about Johnson’s very long fingers which helped him play the guitar in ways never seen by anyone at the time. The whole thing is infused with a smoky blues soundtrack that inspires thoughts of juke joints. You can imagine the work hard, play hard punters letting their hair down to the tunes of a man who actively encouraged the devil myth about him.
Even if you aren’t a blues fan or have no knowledge of the subject, Devil At The Crossroads is fascinating. It's a short documentary dedicated to a man who disappeared into the night as a mediocre guitar player and re-emerged a year later playing phenomenal blues. And how his handful of recordings would go on to shape music, only hindered by his early death at 27.
Indeed, at one point he was invited to play at a major concert only for the organisers to discover he had died a few short weeks before. Because of that, they played a recording of him instead, to rapturous applause. What could have happened if the devil man had lived?
Words by Michael Record