Cream – Crossroads

Cream – Crossroads

‘Cross Road Blues’ (commonly known as ‘Crossroads’) is a song written by the American blues artist Robert Johnson. He performed it solo with his vocal and acoustic slide guitar in the Delta blues style. The song has become part of the Robert Johnson mythology as referring to the place where he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for musical genius. This is based largely on folklore of the American South that identifies a crossroads as the site where Faustian bargains can be made, as the lyrics do not contain any references to Satan.

‘Crossroads’ became a part of the band Cream's repertoire when Eric Clapton began performing with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in July 1966. Their version features a prominent guitar riff with hard-driving, upbeat instrumental backing and soloing. Clapton previously recorded ‘Ramblin' on My Mind’ with Mayall and ‘From Four Until Late’ with Cream using arrangements that followed Johnson's original songs more closely. He envisioned ‘Crossroads’ as a rock song: “It became, then, a question of finding something that had a riff, a form that could be interpreted, simply, in a band format. In 'Crossroads' there was a very definite riff. He [Johnson] was playing it full-chorded with the slide as well. I just took it on a single string or two strings and embellished it. Out of all of the songs it was the easiest for me to see as a rock and roll vehicle.”

Clapton simplified Johnson's guitar line and set it to a straight eighth-note or rock rhythm. He and Bruce on bass continuously emphasize the riff throughout the song to give it a strong and regular metric drive combined with Baker's drumming. Clapton's guitar solo is praised by critics and fans, but in interviews, he expressed reservations about his performance. In 1985, he explained: “I really haven't heard that song in so long—and I really don't like it, actually. I think there's something wrong with it. If I hear the solo, and think, "God, I'm on the 2 and I should be on the 1", then I can never really enjoy it. And I think that's what happened with ‘Crossroads’. It is interesting, and everyone can pat themselves on the back that we all got out of it at the same time. But it rankles me a little bit.”

Cream recorded the song on November 28, 1966, for broadcast on the BBC Guitar Club radio program. At under two minutes in length, it was released in 2003 on BBC Sessions. On March 10, 1968, Cream recorded it again during a concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The song became the opening number on the live half of Cream's Wheels of Fire double album, released in August 1968. After the group's breakup, Atco issued the song as a single in January 1969, which reached number 28 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and 17 on Cashbox. Both the original album and single credit the songwriter as Robert Johnson or R. Johnson, although Clapton and Cream extensively reworked the song.

Labels – Polydor (UK), Atco (US)
Songwriter – Robert Johnson
Producer – Felix Pappalardi


[Verse 1]
I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
Down to the crossroads fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above for mercy, "Take me, if you please"
[Verse 2]
I went down to the crossroads tried to flag a ride
Down to the crossroads tried to flag a ride
Nobody seemed to know me, everybody passed me by
[Verse 3]
Well, I'm going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side
Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side
We can still barrelhouse, baby, on the riverside
[Guitar Solo]
[Verse 4]
Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side
Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side
We can still barrel house, baby, on the riverside
[Guitar Solo]
[Verse 5]
You can run, you can run tell my friend boy Willie Brown
Run, you can run tell my friend boy Willie Brown
And I'm standing at the crossroads believe I'm sinking down
[Spoken Outro]
Uh, Eric Clapton lead, uh, vocal
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