Crossroads

03:55
Eugene Smiley Sr.
Eugene Smiley Sr.

Story

   

The "Crossroads"

In 1995, I was on the road most of the time. My band “The BWB Show Band” was performing at the “King Biscuit Blues Festival” in Helena, Arkansas. I had heard so much about the “Crossroads” and I always wanted to go there someday to see what it was all about to experience the feeling of just being there and witness the tale that has been told for many years about the musicians that sold their souls to the devil to become famous.

We left Memphis heading south to Tunica, Mississippi, and then on over the Mississippi River into Helena, Arkansas. As we were driving down Highway 61 south I noticed the scenery; beautiful countryside with lots of farm land filled with cotton, cattle, corn and lots of clear open fields. As we got closer to the “Crossroads” the scenery began to change to a weeded, dull, dead looking sight that made me feel very uncomfortable. The first thing that caught my eye was a lake. I don’t remember the name of the lake, but I do remember it was not desirable. Soon we came to an old cemetery that looked as though it had not been taken care of for many years. It was an eyesore to look at. It must have been at least two hundred years old. I would hate to have my vehicle break down on me there! It looked like it would be very scary at night.

Finally, we ran into Highway 49 which crossed the Mississippi River and on the other side of the river we were in Helena, Arkansas. We went on to the festival and played the gig. That was fun! Some of the band members went to the casinos. My drummer and I were playing another gig in downtown Helena and we wouldn’t be done until 11.00PM. We both wanted to be at the “Crossroads” at midnight.

So, after the gig he and I headed for the “Crossroads”. We were excited thinking we would see something once we got there. When we got there it was pitch black and you couldn’t see a thing! The first thing I noticed was the Juke Joint that was said to have been there had been torn down and turned into a cotton field. I went into the cotton field and got some cotton balls to bring back to Kansas City with me as a souvenir from the “Crossroads”. We waited and waited, still nothing happened. Finally, we decided to leave and go to the casinos and join the rest of the band. The next day, I talked to some of the older people that live there and I listened to some of their stories. They all had basically the same story. The story was that Robert Johnson and several other musicians played at that juke joint. What happened was, they met this guy there and he told them he’d make them a star if they would go with him. He turned out to be a recruiter for the Chicago Clubs. The clubs made tons of money but performers did not. Anyway, the old folks made him (the recruiter) out to be the devil. This happened to many, many musicians in the area. Like sooner or later you’d be sure to meet this guy. I didn’t really believe any of that crap. I looked at it as fun at that particular time. I was expecting to meet him that evening but that never happened.

After getting back to Kansas City, I gave the cotton to my girlfriend and to me, it was no big deal. Then my girlfriend started having nightmares. I didn’t think too much of it and paid very little attention to it. A few days later, she said she was still having these nightmares and didn’t understand what was going on. The following weekend, I had a gig at My Place Lounge located in Grandview, Missouri. Midway through my second set the waitress handed me a drink with a message that read “I would like to talk to you on your next break.” On my break, I went over to the guy’s table and set down to talk with him. His conversation was interesting. As he was talking, I noticed some things about him that seemed to be kind of strange. This guy stood about 6’ 3, medium built, maybe 59 or 60 years old, his eyes sunk back into his forehead, very small lips, and he wore a long black overcoat, wide-brim black hat and spoke very softly. He asked many questions about my career and mentioned some of my old friends that he knew. That was a surprise to me. Then he asked me how my new CD project was going. I gave him an answer and tried to avoid talking about unfinished recording projects. The reason for that is you never really know until you get the finished product. He went on to tell me that if I needed backing, he was interested in putting up the money to complete the project and he said he had all the money I needed for what the project called for. My girlfriend was listening to this conversation and made no comment at this time. After our conversation, this guy asked me if he could sit in with me and sing a song. I didn’t mind and said yes because I thought he could really sing, since he knew songs of the recording artists that I associated with. When I started the next set, I immediately called him to the stage. He wanted to sing “Stormy Monday”. We started to play the song and he began to sing. I swear I have never heard anybody sound so bad in my entire life. After the song, he asked me to give him a call and he just disappeared. I didn’t see him leave or anything. Did he just vanish? After the gig my girlfriend told me she had had dreams similar to his conversation. We went on to bed and as she fell asleep, she began to talk in her sleep. Spoke very plan, “he’s in the lake – he’s in the lake.” I’m wondering what the hell she’s talking about. I come to find out she was still asleep. A few days later, she told me it was the cotton that was causing her nightmares and I should get rid of it. That was no problem because a friend of mine wanted it anyway. So I immediately gave it to him. After giving him the cotton he and his wife began having problems and she ended up putting him out. I don’t know if it really was the cotton or not but after he told me what had happened, I told him about my girlfriend having nightmares and the reason I gave him the cotton.

Then I began to think about the curse of the “Crossroads”. I went down to the Missouri River and threw the cotton in the river. I knew the Missouri River runs into the Mississippi River in St. Louis. And the Mississippi River runs pass the “Crossroads” on into the Gulf. I was hoping I could get rid of the curse if I sent it back to where it came from. After I got rid of the cotton, my girlfriend stop having those nightmares and my friend and his wife got back together. That was an experience that will always be with me.

      

Brody Buster and I at the “Crossroads”

A few years later, I was back at King Biscuit Blues Festival with young Brody Buster. I had told him about the “Crossroad” and he was at the age where he wanted to see if there was something there that was unusual and scary. After the gig, it started raining really hard. I didn’t want to go but the kid was all over it. It was the greatest thing that could have happened for him. He was ready for whatever we would be faced with. So we headed to the “Crossroads” and we got there a little before midnight.

Still it was raining really hard. The wind was blowing very hard like we were in a storm or something. So we waited it out. It was so dark you couldn’t see a thing. Then it finally stopped raining after we had been there 30 minutes or so. We had seen nothing, just rain. No devil appeared at midnight. So Brody got out of the car and went into the cotton field and all of a sudden, I heard him call out, “Smiley, help! I’m sinking.” I jumped out of the car and ran to help him. I managed to pull him out before I got stuck too. He lost both his shoes in the mud! We left them there. We began to drive back to the motel where we were staying, it started to rain again. This time the highway was filled with frogs, thousands of them hopping on the road surface. We were squishing them as we drove. Early the next morning, we told the other band members what had happened. We all drove back down the highway where we saw the frogs. There were no sign of them anywhere. It was like it never happened. I told Brody, ”Maybe the birds ate the frogs or something." If the rain washed them off the highway, then we would see them on the side of the road. But there was not a sign of them anywhere. That was my second and last experience at the “Crossroads.”

 

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Lyrics

 

The Crossroads

The Crossroads

 

There’s a tale being told down in Mississippi cross the line from Arkansas.

Where highway forty nine meet sixty one,

 So the legend goes, they call the cross roads.

There was a man who played the blues.

Hard times; was all he knew.

Hustling to find a gig; hoping to make it big.

People say he was a fool; fools have nothing to loose.

Bound to do his thing; he was a blues man.

Course;

Was it evil; was it bad; wanting something he knew he shouldn’t of had.

People say he sold his soul to the devil at the cross roads.

 

On a cold dark and dreary night, you couldn’t see a thing in sight.

Appeared a man who never showed his face;

He came from a hell of a place.

He wore a long black coat and a big black hat.

He only appears at midnight.

So the legend goes; they call the crossroads.

He said, “boy, you ain't living right,

That’s why I’m here tonight.”

He said, son, I’m for real I come to make you a deal.

Chorus;

There’s a price you have to pay if you want to live that way.

Soon you’ll become a star and play the blues on your guitar.

When you let me tune your guitar,

Then you’ll become a star.

And when you finely reach the end,

Remember, I’m still your friend.”

 


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