Thursday, November 27, 1986

On This Day (1936): Robert Johnson recorded “Cross Road Blues”

Cross Road Blues (aka “Crossroads”)

Robert Johnson

Writer(s): -- (see lyrics here)

Released: May 1937

First Charted: November 27, 1936

Peak: 2 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 30.8 video, 41.18 streaming



First Charted: January 25, 1969

Peak: 29 US, 17 CB, 17 HR, 2 CL, 13 CN, 45 AU, 2 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 13.9 video, 55.27 streaming

Awards (Robert Johnson):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Cream):

About the Song:

Robert Johnson has often been called “The Father of the Blues,” which sort of makes him “The Grandfather of Rock and Roll.” His most important song may well be “Cross Road Blues,” not just because it became a staple for Eric Clapton (he even named his box set after the song), but it promotes one of the greatest legends in rock and roll.

According to the legend, Johnson acquired masterful guitar playing skills overnight, supposedly because he went to the crossroads (an intersection of rural roads) and sold his soul to the Devil. In reality, Johnson set out touring all through the Delta for a year and when he returned home, his playing wowed audiences, contributing to the idea that he could only have acquired such talent via supernatural means. Cream’s version adds the line “goin’ down to Rosedale” from Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues.” This has led some to believe that the legendary crossroads are in Rosedale, Mississippi. BH

However, Johnson “sings nary a word about devil-dealing” BH in “Cross Road Blues;” rather he is trying unsuccessfully to hitch a ride at the crossroads. WK The story of Johnson selling his soul didn’t emerge until 1966 when Pete Welding wrote an article in Down Beat Music quoting blues man Son House as saying that “Johsnon, in his months away from home, had ‘sold his soul to the devil in exchange for learning to play like that.’” SS Music critic Robert Palmer said, “some of Johnson’s satanic references were simply macho posturing.” SS

The song was the third of eleven singles released during Johnson’s lifetime. They had little impact while he was alive, but after his death in 1938 at the age of 27, his songs became profoundly influential. The 1961 release of King of the Delta Blues Singers inspired notable British blues-rock acts such as Led Zeppelin and Cream, whose live recording of “Crossroads” was a top-40 hit. Rolling Stone named it the #3 greatest guitar song of all time. WK


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First posted 8/24/2022; last updated 9/8/2023.

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