Robert Johnson’s 1936 recording of ‘Cross Road Blues’ has become a central element in the story–real, imagined, or fabricated–of Johnson selling his soul to devil at the crossroads, as depicted on the big screen in the 1986 film Crossroads. Among the many problems with the tale, however, is the fact that in the lyrics to ‘Cross Road Blues,’ Johnson falls to his knees and asks the Lord for mercy, he sings nary a word about devil-dealing. The song became a rock classic when recorded by Cream in 1968; in the Cream version, Eric Clapton added a verse from Johnson’s ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ containing the line ‘Goin’ down to Rosedale.’ This in turn has sent many a believer to the town of Rosedale, Mississippi, in search of the crossroads, even though Johnson never sang of Rosedale in his crossroads song. Regardless of mythology and rock ‘n’ roll renditions, Johnson’s record was indeed a powerful one, a song that would stand the test of time on its own. As was the case with some of Johnson’s other songs, the record originally released in 1937 was not the version LP buyers heard when they bought the historic reissue album King of the Delta Blues Singers, which featured an alternate take of ‘Cross Road Blues.’

Robert Johnson, vocal and guitar. Recorded November 27, 1936, San Antonio, Texas. Take 1 released May 1937 on A.R.C. labels (Banner, Melotone, Oriole, Perfect, and Romeo) 7-05-81 and Vocalion 03519 (78 rpm). First reissued c. 1967 on a bootleg LP, Kokomo K-1000, Mississippi Delta Blues Singer. Take 2 first released on Columbia LP CL 1654, King of the Delta Blues Singers, in 1961. Both takes released on the Columbia boxed set The Complete Recordings (LP, CD, and cassette 46222), 1990.

Discographical details of recording session are from Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943.

— Jim O’Neal