Down to the Crossroads

Son House, Muddy Waters and Peter Green. (illustrations by Margie Greve)

Son House, Muddy Waters and Peter Green. (illustrations by Margie Greve)

The famous tale, as John Milward relates it in his new book Crossroads: How the Blues Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll (and Rock Saved the Blues) published by Northeastern University Press, has a young Robert Johnson creating “an unholy racket” while playing on the breaks at a Son House gig in the 1930s. He played so badly that they had to make him stop. Yet less than a year later, when Johnson asked for a chance to play on one of House’s breaks, he’d become a visionary virtuoso of the blues, said to be a product of a deal he made with the devil, selling his soul for artistic transcendence at the crossroads near Clarksdale, Mississippi.

And though there was much that went before, and though Johnson never achieved fame and fortune while still alive (he died mere years later, in 1938, before the age of 30 under equally legendary circumstances) the blues was never the same.

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But more than just telling the story of the blues, Milward is concerned with its connection with rock, with how, as Muddy Waters sang, “the blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll.”

He chronicles the love affair with young British youth, showing how long forgotten blues artists found adoring, fertile audiences and acolytes in the young U.K. rebels…Clapton, Peter Green, the Rolling Stones; weaves the connections by telling the stories of the country bluesmen, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Son House and how they were rediscovered on the heels of the folk movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s; shows how young American players, like Mike Bloomfield and Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, all took it all a step further; looks at the giants, Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and how the reverence the young players had for them translated into second, more popular careers, propelling the blues to ever headier peaks.

The book is also filled beautiful illustrations by Margie Greve.

Milward will read from and sign copies of this very entertaining and fascinating account at a book release party, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at the Colony Café, 22 Rock City Road in Woodstock. Admission is free and at 9 p.m. Milward’s band, Comfy Chair, will crank it up and perform. Milward sings and plays acoustic guitars, Josh Roy Brown performs on electric and lap steel guitars; Eric Parker is the drummer and Baker Rorick sings and plays bass.

For more information, see www.colonycafewoodstock.com or call 679-8639.

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