Original Artist: Robert Johnson
Original Album: Nothing But the Blues: Cross Road Blues (1936)
Historian: Craig DeLucia
Countless bands throughout the years have covered “Crossroads,” a blues classic written by the legendary Robert Johnson and made popular by super-group Cream on the 1968 album Wheels of Fire. The song tells the story of a young man on his knees at the crossroads, looking for mercy from the Lord above. The lyrics weave nicely with the commonly accepted story of Johnson’s genius.
As the legend goes, Robert Johnson was a young man from Mississippi who met the Devil at the crossroads and sold his own soul in exchange for the crown as the King of the Delta Bluesmen. Of course, many blues historians would tell you that Johnson was simply a hardworking man who dedicated himself to his craft and perfected it like few before or after him. As a young plantation worker, he studied the works of local legends like Son House, Charlie Patton, and Willie Brown (immortalized in the lyrics of “Crossroads”) but was always shunned when he asked to jam with them. They thought of him as a decent harmonica player without any real guitar playing abilities. Johnson went on to spend a year with the mysterious and unrecorded Ike Zinneman; when he returned, his guitar playing blew his peers away. Some thought that there was no way a human being could perfect the craft that quickly and wrote off his success as the work of the Devil, and the legend has always stuck. That Johnson died an untimely death in 1938 at the hands of a jealous man (who, it is believed, poisoned Johnson’s moonshine) only adds to the legend.
Phish added “Crossroads” to its repertoire in 1993, sandwiching the song in the middle of an insane “Mike’s Song” during the last show of the spring tour. Touring fans were prepared for it, as the band previewed “Crossroads” inside of “Harpua” the night before. The song then disappeared until 10/11/95. In the middle of a second-set “Suzy Greenberg,” the band teased the song, along with Cream’s hit “Sunshine of Your Love,” before breaking into a full-fledged “Crossroads.”
“Crossroads” appeared sporadically throughout the remainder of the fall of 1995 (including an appearance inside “You Enjoy Myself” at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta on November 10) before being shelved for all of 1996. “Crossroads” was subsequently played thrice in 1997 and one last time in 1998 (not including a performance at the 4/17/98 Eight Foot Fluorescent Tubes show).