Cross Road Blues enacts the legend surrounding Robert Johnson, the 1930’s Delta Blues singer. Johnson died at the age of twenty-seven, poisoned in a bar, leaving behind him a legacy of a few recordings, and a Faustian legend that has come to define the essence of the blues.
The play, along with its score, is currently available to be licensed for student, professional and amateur productions.
Robert Johnson (1911–1938) has something of a cult following. His music and its legacy are a perennial fascination for millions. Among others, his songs have been recorded by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, the White Stripes and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. There is a passage in Bob Dylan’s 2004 autobiography in which he describes an epiphany on hearing Johnson’s music for the first time: it was hearing Robert Johnson that inspired Dylan to become a songwriter. His influence on modern music cannot be overestimated.
The play recounts one of the foundation myths of the blues: a tale of Johnson’s alleged pact with the devil, the coming of age of blues music and the sacrifices made by a single man for his art. It takes place over the course of a single act, a discussion between Johnson and a stranger who happens upon him sleeping rough at a crossroads between towns in the American South. Magic and fear compel the young singer, and he is drawn to make a sacrifice he had never foreseen. By turns tentative, witty and unsettling, their conversation covers blues, love, slavery and religion, and ends in a dark, raucous incantatory battle for life, soul and music.
Originally written and performed as a sparse two-hander, the play has evolved into an expansive spoken-word blues opera, featuring a choir and six-piece Afro-blues ensemble, and music intimately and ingeniously synchronised with the dialogue. The music, written by classical musician Michael McHale, employs a blend of jazz, blues, African rhythms and classical harmony.