Saturday, June 29, 2019

Two men are trying to find Robert Johnson's crossroads.

Where did blues legend make deal with devil? 
1991 By Steve Walton 

Bradley Seidman and Jeff Twiss say their research will end the decades-old debate in blues folklore about where 1930s musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to Satan. 

Johnson, according to legend, met the devil at a desolate crossroads somewhere in the Delta and traded his soul for blues greatness. Johnson left the meeting able to play the acoustic guitar better than anybody, but the devil had rights to his soul, says the story.

"Robert Johnson has become such a mythological person, it's getting harder to separate fact from fiction. I know the deal went down, I just want to find out where," said Seidman, 36, who lives in Chicago and uses Bradley Lastname as the signature for his surrealist paintings. 

Columbia Pictures used the Johnson myth as the basis for its 1986 movie Crossroads. The $10 million motion picture was filmed at several Delta locations and used an intersection on a plantation east of Beulah in Bolivar County as the legendary crossroads. 

Several crossroads have been called the site of the devil's deal, but none has been confirmed and many people doubt the story's truth. 

"I don't think it was a particular crossroads. That's sort of a mythical place," said Malcolm White of Hal and Mal's restaurant and nightclub in Jackson. Tourists often ask White about the crossroads' location. "I get a couple a month," White said. 

"I don't know about the crossroads' credibility. It's kind of a joke," said Jim O'Neal. founding editor of Living Blues magazine and owner of Rooster Blues Records and Stackhouse Record Shop in Clarksdale.

"I guess it depends on your beliefs, whether such a deal could be made at all."

"Thing is, he sold his soul to the devil, he got paid off pretty late. His songs are on the charts now, 52 years after his death," O'Neal said, laughing.

Johnson's songs include Crossroad Blues, Me and The Devil Blues and Hellhound on Aly Trail.

Johnson died Aug. 16, 1938, 27 years after his birth in Hazlehurst. Some say he was poisoned by a jealous husband, while others say he was stabbed to death in a juke-joint scuffle. 

"What I'm doing could easily be passed off as flippant or nonsense," Seidman said. 

Indeed, the pair's "research" is less than scientific A lot less. They plan to dig dirt from tour Delta crossroad sites this weekend and have a 1-ounce sample of the dirt weighed film time in January. The four sites were chosen from Living Blues magazine, which had an article on the crossroads debate in its November-December issue. 

Seidman could not explain where he got the hypothesis. 

The location where his soul was sold. that soil is going to weigh differently," Seidman said of the 1- ounce dirt samples. "It Will just make the scales go wild. It will be like the needle of a magnetic compass at the North Pole. That's a good comparison." They base their hypothesis on parapsychological research which claims the soul has weight, Seidman said. Parapsychology is the branch of psychology that studies psychic phenomena, such as Telepathy and telekinesis. Seidman claims to have no special powers.

 Twiss, 36, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Morton, laughed at a couple of Seidman's remarks. "I guess it was just a laugh of joy," Twiss said after Seid-man said his research will benefit everyone. 

Can I go back and change something. I think the correct word is delight — joy inaccurate," he said later. 

Twiss also speculated about why the dirt would weigh differently where .Johnson dealt with the devil. 

"When you buy something, you want to examine it, so when Johnson handed his soul over, some probably spilled," Twiss said. "And there might be some soil erosion." 

Seidman said skeptics would be people irritated at themselves for not thinking of doing this research first. Even skeptics would demand to know the results of their work, he said. 

"This is a research project," Seid-man said with a little irritation in his voice. "There's no ulterior mo-tive. I'm not selling anything. This isn't a publicity stunt. Its research." 

Patton Biopic Trailer #1

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Musician Rutledge Knows Hoboes

For the Commonwealth - The CheeseBoro

Contrary to rumor, Bobby Rutledge really did not walk from Washington state to Greenwood for last year's Balloon Fest. "It's not true that I walked," says Rutledge, who was not on the bill but was invited onstage at the last minute to play two songs. "I'm a lazy man by nature. Even lazier with 60 pounds of outdoor gear on my back." 

And that is really how he gets around — carrying a big pack and a guitar case. Rutledge, 32, a self described hobo, has never owned a car and only recently signed his first lease (on an apartment in Leland). He was born in Seattle and has lived most of his life on the road, hitchhiking and camping out. This year, he's listed on the Balloon Fest bill, one of the artists at Sunday's blues and gospel extravaganza. Rutledge ran away from home at 15, becoming a street kid in Seattle. He picked up a guitar to play pop and rock tunes for change. "Then someone taught me how to live out of a backpack and how to hitchhike," he says. Rutledge's world expanded. "I vagabonded around the West for about 10 years." 

When the Grateful Dead toured, Rutledge would join the horde of people who followed that rock band around, camping out and mingling and grooving to the music. Along the way, Rutledge says he "made a couple of failed attempts to settle down." When his dad offered to pay for him to go to college, Rut-ledge chose to study guitar repair. Afterward he returned to Seattle, hoping to land an apprenticeship, but found the town glutted with would-be guitar technicians. "I was going to have to wait two years just to get a minimum-wage job," he says. A few years later, he moved to Port Townsend, Wash., and tried to settle down again, with a girlfriend and her child. "I became a dad, took a job — and failed again," he says. The relationship ended, and Rut-ledge moved out to live in a school bus in the woods. But it was in Port Townsend that life.

Jenny Humphryes m Bobby Rutledge recently signed a lease on an apartment in Leland, but he has spent most of his life on the road, hitchhiking and camping out. He says he still has to "hobo from dig to gig" because he doesn't have a car. 

Rutledge picked up his first Robert Johnson song, "Kind Hearted Woman," after his dad bought him a CD by the great Delta bluesman of the 1930s. "I had been playing on the street, strumming chords, but I wasn't get-ting any better," Rutledge says. "Robert Johnson's music was the push that got me off that plateau. Keeping the beat with your thumb, playing a completely different melody with your fingers — I completely rethought my approach to the guitar." Rutledge immersed himself in the country blues. "I found out Robert Johnson had listened to Charley Patton, Skip James, Son House, Willie Brown." He sought out those recordings, and instructional books by Woody Mann and Stefan Grossman. It wasn't only the guitar-playing in those old songs that grabbed Rutledge's attention. "Mose old blues singers were singing about hobo-ing," he says. "I knew all about hoboing! They were singing to me. I could relate to those words." It was time for Rutledge to get on the road again. 

"I decided to leave Port Townsend. I didn't know where I was going. I had been all over the West. Then I thought about Dockery (the plantation near Cleveland where Charley Patton and other early blues musicians lived and played). "I should walk that property, I should visit Patton's grave, visit Robert Johnson's burial sites — which I still haven't done yet." So Rutledge hitchhiked down to the Delta. "Patton's grave was the first place I went to," he says. 

"A rice fanner found me in Hollandale with my 60-pound backpack and guitar case and took me there. I met Billy Johnson (director of the Leland Blues Museum and Highway 61 Blues Festival), played the first half of `Cross Road Blues' for him; he said, `I want you to play at the first Leland festival."' Although Rutledge had been playing music for most of his life, it had only been on the street. The Highway 61 Festival in Leland was his first time playing on a stage. "I had never played in a club before, either," he says. Three years later, Rutledge is more settled than ever. "My first home is in the Delta," he says. "I'm just trying to keep my belly filled, make sure I don't owe anyone too much money." He works part-time as a guitar tech at Brim's Music in Greenville. He has a self-produced CD out, and a regular gig, Tuesdays at the Bourbon Mall. And he plays local festivals and Greenville clubs. "I want to expand the circuit," he says. "But it's tough, because I don't have a car. I still hobo from gig to gig."

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Rich in Song, But No Mojo: A Review of "The Resurrection of Son House"

Cleavant Derricks as Son House
In its world premiere at Geva Theatre Center, Revival: The Resurrection of Son House takes us through the blues legend’s life with some terrific acting, dazzling songs and an ambitious production. 

We follow half a century of Son House’s ups and downs (mostly downs) and, as the play’s program puts it, we make “frequent stops in the hereafter.” 

It’s a lot of motion that, unfortunately, is not very moving. Revival just can’t seem to transcend being a straightforward biography in which we get a lot of information, but too little story. Still, there is a good deal of entertainment here, especially in Cleavant Derricks’s portrayal of Son House and the performing of Son House’s songs. 

Before the play’s opening, Derricks had said he started out mimicking Son House “to get the flavor,” and then he reached a point where he had to “turn it loose” and be himself. 

Apparently, his process works. The play’s most pleasurable moments come in the music, especially when Derricks — without a microphone and at times with little accompaniment — fills the 516-seat Wilson Stage with his voice. And he does seem to accomplish what he described — embodying Son House without simply mimicking him. He’s fun to watch and one can’t wait to see what he does next. 

Those unfamiliar with Son House’s music would do well to listen to some Son House songs before going to the show. “Death Letter,” “Grinnin’ in Your Face,” “John the Revelator” and “Walkin’ Blues” are a few of the standout numbers. The music is delivered by a four-piece band, led by guitarist Billy Thompson, a journeyman bluesman in his own right. Both the Son House songs and the original music are well integrated. 

Fans of the blues, fans of musicals and maybe fans of the craft of live theater will likely enjoy this show. Despite some inconsequential opening-night glitches and a few instances where actor’s voices came in at too low of a level, Revival is a professional production top to bottom. 

The music is good, the cast is good and the show looks good. So what’s the problem? The show’s biggest flaw is in Keith Glover’s script — though even that is well-crafted. Glover has been nominated for a Pulitzer in the past and the script is a pleasure to listen to and at times eloquent. Though the show could certainly use some more laughs, the scenes are at least amusing and sometimes heart-warming. The problem is they reveal all too little. 

We see Son House toil in Jim Crow Mississippi. We see his disappointing relationships with women. We see his spiritual struggle — he was a preacher at first, rejecting the blues, juke joints and alcohol before he embraced all of it. We see him come to Rochester and get rediscovered. We see him outlive his friends. We learn a lot about his life, but we learn little about who he is. The scenes march along year after year, adding up to too little payoff. 

Glover attempts to inject some drama by bringing in a chorus of angels to debate Son House’s life and decide whether he is to be “delivered or damned by the almighty.” Here again, the script is amusing in how the mortal characters sound natural, while the heavenly characters sound, well, supernatural. But at the same time, this ambitious idea is simply too extraneous for this play and feels tacked on. We’ve got moonshine, juke joints, sin, scandal, betrayal and great music on the earthly plane. Why not stay right here? 

With biographies — Revival is based on Daniel Beaumont’s biography of Son House — come the inherent challenge of creating a drama and remaining true to history. But as we’ve seen with Hamilton and even The Royale, a riveting play based on boxer John Johnson that just finished a run at Geva, biography certainly shouldn’t negate a stirring story. But that appears to be the case here. Because despite having a lot going for it, Revival, to borrow a phrase popularized by a Son House protegĂ©, just can’t get its mojo workin’.