Cream – Crossroads

The solo Eric plays in this song is phenomenal. It is a live version and he pulls notes out of the air and sounds as fresh now as when I first heard it. After Cream, Eric never played the same way again.

This was originally recorded by the blues musician Robert Johnson in the 1930s. According to legend, Johnson went to the crossroads and made a deal with the Devil, giving up his soul in exchange for the ability to play the blues. The story originates from an interview with the blues singer Son House, who explained how Johnson went from being a terrible guitar player to a very good one in a very short period of time. Over the years, the story grew into the tale of Johnson selling his soul to the Devil.

Cream’s version is a compilation of parts of two Johnson songs: “Crossroads Blues” and “Traveling Riverside Blues.” The song was on the album Wheels of Fire which peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Charts in 1968. Crossroads peaked at #28 in the Billboard 100.

When I first learned the bass to this song…at least kinda close to what Jack Bruce played…I knew I accomplished a lot.

 

From Songfacts

Johnson fueled the legend on his track “Me And The Devil Blues,” where he sings about his meeting with Satan himself. In that song, Johnson explains that as part of his deal with the Devil, the Prince Of Darkness would harvest all of Robert’s “Childrens” at the age of 27, which is exactly how old he was when he died in 1938. A spooky correlation is the number of music stars who have died at age 27. Some members of the “27 Club” include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Al Wilson (Canned Heat), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones) and Kurt Cobain. (Thanks to music historians Dwight Rounds and Ed Parker for their help with this.)

Inside the gatefold of the 2-disk LP Wheels Of Fire, the song listings for Sides 3 (including “Crossroads”) and 4 are misleadingly subheaded, “Live at the Fillmore.” Same with Disk 2 of the 2-CD versions.

“Crossroads” was recorded at the Winterland Ballroom, also in San Francisco. Just one of the four live songs on these two LP sides, “Toad,” was actually recorded at the Fillmore, but the Fillmore name had a lot more marketing appeal. “Crossroads” was recorded at Winterland on March 10, 1968, a Sunday, during the first of the two Cream shows that night. “Crossroads” immediately followed “Spoonful” in the performance, whereas on the album, “Crossroads” comes right before “Spoonful.”

The version on the album was not edited down, although the booklet for the Crossroads boxed set implies that it was. Eric Clapton didn’t like to talk about the song and has said it was an inferior performance because the trio got the time disjointed a bit in Eric’s third solo chorus – that is, the first chorus (instrumental “verse”) of his second solo. So, he never really praised that performance.

When pressed on the length and editing issues, he might say something along the vague lines of he supposed it was originally longer, because the Cream usually played it longer live.

At the end of the song, Jack Bruce announces, “Eric Clapton, please,” over Eric’s saying, “Thank you” (both said simultaneously). Eric follows up by saying (probably turning toward Jack), “Kerfuffle.” This is British English for “foul-up,” referring to the time disjoint back in mid-song.

Clapton played this on a Gibson SG, a solid-body guitar that had been psychedelically painted.

Clapton recorded this song two years earlier in a greatly different form – slower, less urban, Steve Winwood singing, plus a harmonica – though he still gave credit to Robert Johnson.

In March 1966 he was still with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, but he went to do a one-off studio session with, among others, Jack Bruce (bass) and Stevie Winwood (vocals and keys). This group called themselves The Powerhouse, and “Cross Roads” (note space) was one of three songs they recorded. This was the version, appearing on an album with various artists called What’s Shakin’, that was heard by a young Duane Allman in mid-1966. With his early band The Allman Joys, Duane (with his brother Gregg on vocals) recorded a ragged version of “Cross Roads” soon after What’s Shakin’ was released, and about two years before the Cream version was released. The Allman Joys’ version might have been pretty ragged, but in spirit it actually anticipated the Cream’s smoking version, rather than the Powerhouse’s take.

Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded this for their One More From The Road live album. In most ways it is like the Cream’s arrangement, but the guitar solos are pretty much different, though they refer to Eric’s solo in a few phrases.

Fusion bassist Jeff Berlin did a version on the 1986 album Pump It!. It had additional parts – especially an intro and an outro – but was otherwise similar to the Cream’s arrangement. Berlin played Eric’s solos somewhat note for note, only on bass.

Eddie Van Halen has also covered the song, and Rush (another trio of musicians) covered this on their album Feedback. John Mayer covered the song on his 2009 album, Battle Studies. >>

Clapton named his 1988 greatest hits compilation Crossroads after this song. In 2004, he released a blues album called Me And Mr. Johnson, the title a reference to Robert Johnson.

Cream played this in 1993 when they reunited for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Crossroads” is the name of Clapton’s rehab center in Antigua. Clapton battled depression and drug addiction in the ’70s.

In Clapton: The Autobiography, Eric talks about Robert Johnson’s fingerpicking style that had him “simultaneously playing a disjointed bass line on the low strings, rhythm on the middle strings, and lead on the treble strings while singing at the same time.” Johnson’s sound was very hard to re-create, and it often sounded like more than one guitarist was playing. >>

This song had a profound effect on Geddy Lee of Rush, who told Rolling Stone: “Seeing Jack Bruce roam wildly up and down the neck of his Gibson EB3 in concert made me not want to play bass, but to play bass in a rock trio.”

Crossroads

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above for mercy, “Save me if you please”

I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride
I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride
Nobody seemed to know me, everybody passed me by

I’m going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side
I’m going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side
You can still barrel house, baby, on the riverside

You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy Willie Brown
You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy Willie Brown
And I’m standing at the crossroads, believe I’m sinking down

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

35 thoughts on “Cream – Crossroads”

  1. I never knew the history behind the song, quite interesting. Clapton’s guitar work is exceptional though I find it a bit excessive or over-powering on this track… guess it was around then that he began listening to The Band and decided “less is more” in the future.

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    1. Eric admits he is lazy…Cream made him do more with his guitar playing. I do like less is more but it would be nice to hear him rip solos like this again. on some songs.

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    1. I didn’t know that. When I first learned the bass…John Entwistle was my number one person to listen to…and his piano sound live. McCartney was after him and then I found Jack Bruce. All three different styles…fun to combine a little of the three.

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  2. Yipes so Johnson’s “childrens” were all of those stars that died at 27? I hope it was worth it to him. Cream is a unbeatable trio. You’re right those riffs were never rivaled by anything that came after, although he’s done so much good guitar music I can’t complain. Great choice for today, Max.

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    1. Thanks Lisa… A lot of myths built up around this song…it is interesting that is for sure. Yea he kicked butt when he was with Cream…he has been great afterward also.

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      1. It starts out so tame and then all hell breaks loose! I need to think on it awhile to figure just what the heck happened. I thought it was great but extremely disturbing. I think both of those roles were outside of the comfort zones of the actors, and they were blessed to have a chance to play them. Scary movie to watch alone! What did you think of it?

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      2. The closest thing I can barely compare it to is…The Shining…as far as the desolation and slowly going mad. What it all meant? I’m still not sure but it worked.
        Did you like the look of the movie? Now that I loved.

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      3. Oh dang, Max, you and I have to disagree on it not aimed at being scary. I think those hallucinations/hauntings were meant to scare. It’s ok if we don’t see it the same, your tolerance for scary is different than mine. It sure made me think! And I will be continuing to roll it around in my mind for awhile.

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      4. Yea I didn’t see it as being scary…creepy yea I give you that. It was more physiological to me.
        I feel bad for recommending it to you…I know you don’t like scary. I just didn’t take it that way…

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  3. Well, that was good to listen to again! I have been glued to your blog for the last few days (so if you look at your stats and see a frequent visitor from the UK that was probably me). We’ve got so much music in common! Hopefully (as you’ve got all your posts in your side panel) you won’t mind me commenting on old posts, as well as new?

    I was a teen in the mid and late sixties. Didn’t see Cream live (not as far as I remember, anyway!) but it was frequently on my record player then stereo system. (Oh boy, didn’t that make a difference to the sound quality!) and I went to loads of gigs where they were played. Later got to see Blind Faith in Hyde Park – though not the whole gig – and later than that, Clapton at one of the two A.R.M.S. concerts at the R.A.H. (Royal Albert Hall). I had a seat near the front for that.

    I love the spontaneity of their playing in the video above. Great, thanks!

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    1. You are welcomed to comment as much as you want!
      I grew up in the south near Nashville Tennessee but I became a Beatles fan when I was 8 in 1975…60s/70s British rock and roll is what I grew up on ( I read about it and listened to it) and I’ve loved it ever since.
      I do wish I could have grown up when you did.
      Blind Faith was wonderful. Those concerts at Hyde Park with Blind Faith and then the Stones afterward are mythical now. I’m truly jealous.
      Thank you so much for commenting.

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      1. Thanks. I was in love with The Beatles (particularly George, after having been told by my best friend of the time that I couldn’t ‘have’ Paul!) and then sometime in the late sixties went off them. That changed a few years ago when I fell in love with them again (but I no longer want Paul!) So, you were born and were a little child in my most memorable and crazy years? I often watched friends children from that time and thought “one day I’m gonna be talking to these kids as adults.” It was a bit weird… but not anymore.

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      2. That is funny…no Paul now. I waited for that man to include Nashville on his tour so I could finally see him. In 2010 he came to Nashville and finally I saw him. It was worth the wait.

        Something happened and I was drawn into the Beatles first by their music…then I had to read everything about them…I still do. I’m as big of a fan now as I was then. Their story is just as interesting as their music.

        I’m 53 but still 18 at heart…until I look in a mirror.

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      3. Yeah, I know the thing about the mirror! Recently I’ve started dancing (in my room) to try to get fitter and in my head I’m still a teen, but then I start slowing down and pop into the bathroom and there the mirror tells me “nope, not even close”!

        I had some fan-type books about the Beatles when I was a kid, I wish I’d kept them.

        I’d love to see/hear Paul at a gig, but I watch him on youtube instead. Did you see the Russian one he did (several, probably) – he did ‘Back in the U.S.S.R. substituting Russian cities, and Putin was there, looking really wound up!!

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      4. I tell you…we should be old first and grow young…I like that idea better…that way I would have some sense as a youngster.

        Yes I saw the Russia video…Putin did look a little put off. Many of the older acts…their voices change a lot. McCartney must have taken care of his voice better than others. He still sounds very close to what he did.

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      5. McCartney has definitely aged very well, including his voice. Portait in the attic, maybe? (If you get that reference.) I think your idea of aging backwards is excellent – trouble is, our mothers would’ve had a difficult time birthing us!! We’d have come out saying “Ow! Mind me old bones, will ya?”

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