Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Cross Road Blues

for Harry Duncans

Tommy Johnson,
born in Crystal Springs,
Mississippi, in 1896
left home around 1912
with an older woman

& traveled north
to Rolling Fork, then
settled farther north,
by Boyle, near the Dockery Farm,

in 1913—right
on the line
of the Pea Vine
Special, where he spent
a year or two

studying
with Charley Patton,
Willie Brown, Dick Bankston,
Ben Maree & them at Dockery’s

& then returned south
to Cystal Springs
& his family & the peoples
who used to know him.

By this time
Tommy Johnson
had developed
a style of his own—
not just in his music

but as a ”com-
pulsive womanizer,”
an “acute alcoholic” who
”would drink almost anything:
Sterno, shoe polish,” the works—

His brother LeDell
”asked him how
he had learned to play
so well in such a short time . . . .

”He said the reason
he knowed so much,
said he sold himself to the Devil. . . .
I asked him how ?”

& Tommy Johnson said:
”If you want to learn how to play
anything you wanna play
& learn how to make songs
yourself,

you take your guitar
& you go
to where a road
crosses that way,
where a crossroads is.

”Get there,
be sure to get there
just a little ’fore 12 o’
clock that night,
so you know you’ll be there.

”You have your guitar
& be playing a piece,
sitting there by yourself.
You have to go by yourself
& be sitting there

playing a piece.
A big black man
will walk up there
& take your guitar,
& he’ll tune it.

”And then he’ll play a piece
& hand it back to you.
That’s the way
I learned how to play
anything I want.”

& Bob Palmer adds,
”The ‘black man’ [referred to]
is recognizable as
Legba, a Yoruba trickster god

who ‘opens the path’
for other supernatural powers
& is
traditionally
associated with crossroads.

As the only
wholly unpredictable deity
in the Yoruba pantheon
—the rituals that are virtually
guaranteed

to bring a desired result
from all others
do not always work
in his case— Legba

became identified
with the Devil
of Christianity
early on”

. . . . early on

— Detroit
March 11, 1982