Down to the Crossroads
My Journey into the Delta
The Heaviest Music in the World
Worn fingers, slide down the steel strings caressing the neck of the weathered metal dobro, coaxing the sounds of God, love, the Devil and regret from the depths of a soul. Wandering gypsy guitar players rode the rails from the South to the North, pursuing the big city dream, driven by forces that raged from a lifetime of being told you were no good. That you were a nigger, a coon, a spade, something to be hunted down and hung from a tree, spit on in the street, kicked to the curb and oppressed for no reason other than the color of your skin. Your ancestors ragged cries from the whip and iron, ring resolutely in your mind and your heart and the pain of a tortured past is never far from you. The music that came forth from this delirious pain, was called the Devil’s music. A form of spirited gut-wrenching music that told tales of heartache and triumph and became the soundtrack for a history marred by slavery and racism.
The most renowned delta player, Robert Johnson, was said to have traded his soul to the devil for his incredible ability on the guitar. Legend had it that he went to the crossroads at midnight on a full moon and waited there with his guitar. Truth is he probably just practiced after being mentored by legendary blues man, Isaiah “Ike” Zimmerman.
He inherited Ike’s talent and the legend of his acquisition of that talent but bargaining with the devil. The true story pales beside the ominous legend of a bluesman standing on the side of the road, deep in the heart of Mississippi on Hwy 61, offering his soul for a taste of greatness in the music that came from his own sorrow. The delta blues rolls, rocks and careens in a twelve-bar form that decries its simple nature with the thunder of the sound and the poetic beauty of the stories told. There was nothing heavier than Howling Wolf, leaning so far into a crowd, that he defied gravity, sweat pouring off his 300 lb. frame, dripping on the denizens below, gathered like guilt ridden parishioners at a Baptist church, reaching out for salvation. Then the rumble of his voice as it ripped through the room like an out-of-control steam train, “welllllll…smokestack lightning”. He brought audiences to the point of ecstatic delirium with his powerful delivery and intense personae. It shakes me to my core every time I hear it and I haven’t heard anything in my life heavier than the blues told honest and loud.
I have been on a journey for the last three years, learning how to play slide guitar on a dobro and writing songs like crazy. I’ve been cracked open and the light has come blazing out of me. When I play, I burn for this music like nothing else and it is food for my soul. I am drinking deep from this well and the stories that are in me are flowing like the mighty Mississippi river. I have tasted the bitter nectar of racism and experienced it in ways that most people wouldn’t understand unless they had it happen to them too. This music is healing my soul and providing me a pulpit to rage on against the wrongs of racism and oppression. It has become my salvation and when I slide into a chord in Open D tuning and feel that warm resonance against my body, foot stomping hard on the floor, that is when I feel fully alive.