Open a book about rock n roll, and it usually starts with legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson. He’s the guy who allegedly sold his soul to the devil for the ability to be a great guitarist.
Looking back at it now, the 1986 film “Crossroads” was an awakening for me. I didn’t know who Robert Johnson was or anything about blues music. I don’t think I could have named one film director — let alone this film’s — Walter Hill, who would become one of my favorites. This film is also a great introduction to blues music.
It follows the affable, fresh-faced Eugene Martone (played by Ralph Macchio) on his quest to leave classical music behind and follow his heart as a blues guitar player. Along the way he has to break out the crotchety, old harmonica player Willie Brown (played by Joe Seneca) of a correctional facility. (Incidentally, Willie Brown is referenced in the Robert Johnson song “Crossroad Blues”.) The two go on an adventure to the Mississippi Delta filled with not only blues, but brushes with the law, booze, trains, and pawn shops. They also cross paths with a sultry runaway played by a young Jamie Gertz. She eventually leaves and Eugene purges his emotions into a slide guitar masterpiece (“Feeling Bad Blues” by Ry Cooder.)
One part of Crossroads is a coming of age story. Eugene tries to discover who he is, what he wants, and the price he’s willing to pay for it. In addition, the story is an introduction into blues music and blues folklore. The crossroads theme/deals with the devil are a big piece of that. It also delves into things like mojo hands, which are referenced in some seminal blues songs like “Got My Mojo Working” for example. (Since this blog is titled Mojo Horizon, I feel obligated to elaborate. From what I’ve read, a mojo is essentially a “prayer in a bag” associated with hoodoo/voodoo. It’s usually a charm in a flannel bag and may contain a “lucky hand root” favored by gamblers.)
Some fantastic musicians were involved in the film and the soundtrack: Sonny Terry, Jim Keltner, Arlen Roth, Steve Vai, and Ry Cooder. It’s definitely worth a listen. The script was apparently written by John Fusco for his undergraduate thesis. This film tells a great story and does so with some great music.
Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!