If the world’s greatest bluesman performed his most inventive guitar lick ever while sitting at the crossroads at midnight but no one — not even Mr. D — heard it, would it be any less inventive?
And if no one read this blog post, would that make me any less of a smartass?
These are the kinds of philosophical questions I ask myself when I contemplate Elijah Wald’s book “Escaping the Delta,” a book I’ve actually read and which Nate features this week in a Let It Roll replay interview with Wald.
Whether Robert Johnson was a blues magician whose devilish tunes spread Beelzebubba’s message far and wide, or he was an ambitious and peregrinating professional musician who just kept getting better as he incorporated a variety of popular styles, his songs and his recordings have endured and influenced generations of musicians, among them Keith Richards and Eric Clapton.
That Johnson persisted and survived his demons long enough to record his songs but not quite long enough to take his star turn at Carnegie Hall — which was planned before organizer John Hammond knew he had died, by misadventure of course — his bedevilments are in the details.
And, for that matter, so are everyone else’s. ‘Cause the crossroads ain’t just an intersection in Clarksdale, baby.
Ed Legge (@freebirdyeller) is a life-long musician, long-time journalist and sometime corporate dweeb who’s writing a book about originating rock ‘n’ roll’s most absurd tradition.