Cover

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Half Title, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction

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pp. 1-16

This book offers a series of explorations into the role played by the devil figure within an evolving blues tradition. It is primarily a thematic study, one that pays particular attention to the lyrics of recorded blues songs; but it is also a cultural study, one that seeks to tell a story about blues-invested southern lives, black and white, by mining an extensive array of sources, ...

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1. Heaven and Hell Parties: Southern Religion and the Devil’s Music

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pp. 17-73

Any researcher seeking to understand the role played by the devil in the history and mythology of the blues stumbles repeatedly upon two primal scenes. Both are set in the harsh pastoral of a premodern Mississippi Delta, and both involve young black men determined to realize their destinies as creative artists. ...

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2. Sold it to the Devil: The Great Migration, Lost Generations, and the Perils of the Urban Dance Hall

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pp. 74-106

This study is premised on the claim that the devil’s presence in the blues has, in our own day, become overidentified with crossroads mythology and a fictive Deep South soul-selling location as a result of specific imaginative and financial investments in the figure of Robert Johnson. It may come as a surprise, then, when I suggest that the nation’s metropolitan center, ...

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3. I’m Going to Marry the Devil’s Daughter: Blues Tricksters Signifying on Jim Crow

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pp. 107-153

The claim that the white man is the devil, by now a cliché of black supremacist politics, achieved early and notable mainstream exposure in Alex Haley’s 1963 interview with Malcolm X published in Playboy magazine.1 “The first time I heard the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s statement, ‘The white man is the devil,’ ” insisted his most charismatic disciple, ...

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4. The Devil’s Gonna Get You: Blues Romance and the Paradoxes of Black Freedom

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pp. 154-192

In Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (1998), a groundbreaking study of women’s blues, Angela Y. Davis justifies the music’s frank preoccupation with sexual love—desired and desiring bodies and souls—by reading it as a register of the transformed experiential horizons enjoyed by African Americans in the post-Emancipation period. ...

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5. Selling it at the Crossroads: The Lives and Legacies of Robert Johnson

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pp. 193-196

To the extent that the devil remains an active force in the twenty-first-century blues world, he does so primarily through a series of investments made in the figure of Robert Johnson (1911–38) and the Mississippi Delta crossroads tableau within which Johnson is imagined to have sold his soul in exchange for unearthly talents on the guitar. ...

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I. Playing for the Haints: Ike’s Protégé and Crossroads Folklore

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pp. 197-230

To the extent that it is sourced in his recorded output, the devil legend that has attached itself to Johnson is grounded almost entirely in three songs, spread out across a pair of recording sessions in November 1936 and June 1937: “Cross Road Blues,” “Hell Hound on My Trail,” and “Me and the Devil Blues.” (A fourth song, “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped the Devil),” makes no reference to the devil apart from the title.) ...

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II. I Got a Big White Fella from Memphis Made a Deal with Me: Black Men, White Boys, and the Anxieties of Blues Postmodernity in Walter Hill’s Crossroads

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pp. 231-254

Blues fans of a certain age may remember Crossroads (1986), a Hollywood feature film about a Mississippi blues pilgrimage that stars Ralph Macchio as Eugene “Lightning Boy” Martone, a sulky but determined Long Island guitarist, and Joe Seneca as Willie Brown, an irritable old harmonica player and former sidekick to Robert Johnson. ...

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III. Local and Private Legislation: Branding the Crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi

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pp. 255-303

One of the more surprising developments in American popular music is the way a rich, variegated, and long-standing relationship between the devil and the blues tradition has been crystalized, in our own day, into one iconic sculptural installation on a tiny patch of ground in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Few contemporary blues tourists are unfamiliar with “the crossroads”: ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 304-322

The seventy-five-year span that separates Clara Smith’s “Done Sold My Soul to the Devil” (1924) from Clarksdale’s erection of a monument at a peculiarly vexed crossroads location offers an occasion for reflecting on the birth and flowering of a devil-blues tradition, as well as on the apotheosis of a somewhat narrowed idea of what that tradition is about. ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 323-326

During the seven years that it took to research and write Beyond the Crossroads, I received a great deal of help from many different people and a handful of organizations. It gives me great pleasure to thank them here. Needless to say, I take full responsibility for this book’s failings, whatever they may be, ...

Appendix: Devil-Blues Recordings and Selected Sermons, 1924–2015

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pp. 327-336

Notes

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pp. 337-362

Bibliography

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pp. 363-388

Song Credits

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pp. 389-390

Index

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pp. 391-404