At the corner of Clarksville and Blues…

29 11 2014

As you can imagine, life sometimes throws you curves. We’re out slaying dragons and rescuing damsels in distress, mostly the ones that have found their way backstage, but… 🙂

We’ve talked about some pals of ours, The Secret Strat Project guys, before. We recently learned that they are busy building  more incredible guitars to send overseas  to soldiers. Their custom guitars are quickly becoming legendary. They’re literally recreating some of History’s “lost guitars” and putting their own spin on them.

In a time where custom shops are building “custom handbuilt guitars” on tightly controlled schedules in assembly line conditions, it’s “a lesson in old school” for these guys. They literally breathe life back into Swamp Ash and Maple, Alder and Rosewood. We’ve played some of the guitars they’ve crafted. The Stratocasters and Telecasters coming out of The Secret Strat Project rival Masterbuilt axes coming out of the most well-known custom shops in America.

Capt America2-webThe recipients are very lucky guitarists, indeed.

When I spoke with them last, they told me about their new project, “The Crossroads Guitars”.

The guys at TSSP are going to build (12) Blues guitars in the “Crossroads” flavor. They’re going to build Resonators, Strats, Telecasters and even a hollowbody or three.

As I listened, I understood exactly why they were doing it. Anyone who is caught firmly in the grasp of the Blues would. As I thought about their new project, I wondered how many young guitarists know the “Crossroads” tale, so I thought I’d acquaint you with it. It’s  a tale told many times that described how a very famous guitarist named Robert Johnson, found his way to fame as one of the most beloved Blues guitarists of all time.

It was in the dark of a moonless night, deep in the bowels of the South…

Robert JohnsonIn the Mississippi River delta where Robert Johnson was born, the locals said that if an aspiring bluesman waited by the side of a deserted crossroads in the dark of a moonless night… the Devil 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.

As many watched the rise of Robert Johnson, they claimed Johnson must have waited by the crossroads and gotten his guitar fine-tuned for the price of a silver coin and his soul.

Robert Johnson was a Mississippi blues singer and songwriter, who according to legend, sold his soul to Satan “at the crossroads” in exchange for his remarkable talent on the guitar.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Robert Johnson started playing blues guitar in the late 1920s. His wife and child died in childbirth around 1930 and the event tore him apart emotionally. In his grief, he withdrew and is said to have devoted himself to the guitar. Part of the “evidence” supporting the Crossroads tale comes from reports that he dropped out of sight for a while in the early 1930s and returned a much-improved guitarist.

It is said that at the stroke of midnight, he walked down to the windswept crossroads at the junction of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Reciting an ancient incantation, he called upon the Devil to make his deal. In exchange for Johnson’s immortal soul and a coin, the devil tuned his guitar, thereby giving him the abilities which he so desired. From then on, the young bluesman played his instrument with an unearthly style, his fingers dancing over the strings. His voice moaned and wailed, expressing the deepest sorrows of a condemned sinner.

In 1936-37 he recorded at least 29 songs in Texas (San Antonio and Dallas) and then returned to Mississippi to play and sing in clubs and bars. His mysterious death at the age of 27 added to the legend: He died in 1938, falling ill after playing a party and dying four days later.

Some people said that Robert’s deal with the devil came due and as evidence gave the fact that they had seen him on all fours, howling at the moon the night he died……

Undisputed facts about Johnson’s life are few and far between. More often than not, his legend has obscured the few grains of truth that can be discerned. According to the myth, the young bluesman desperately longed for fame and fortune.

Whatever the reason, Johnson died at the young age of twenty-seven, and left a legacy of Delta Blues music that has influenced guitar players like Muddy Waters, and his songs have been covered by several rock stars, including Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. In 1986 Robert Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His songs include “Crossroad Blues,” “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Terraplane Blues.”