Thursday, May 30, 2013
I Sold My Soul to the Devil…And all I Got Was this T-Shirt
616 State Street
“I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees”
-- Robert Johnson, Cross Road Blues
From Robert Johnson to Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton, the image of a drifter standing in the moonlight at the crossing of two lonely roads has been elevated to an iconic symbolism.
Clarksdale, Mississippi and Abe’s Bar-B-Q, literally standing at the crossing of the state’s two “Blues Highways”, are both inextricably linked to the legend of “The Crossroads”.
Of course the most famous crossroads story of all is tied to Robert Johnson himself, that pioneer of Mississippi Delta blues.
Johnson grew up on the Abbay and Leatherman Plantation, which still operates today about 30 miles north of here.
Interested in music at a young age, Johnson would bug blues-playing share croppers on the plantation like Son House to show him licks on harmonica and guitar.
There was just one problem.
Basically, young Robert Johnson sucked.
Around 1930, Johnson moved away.
When he returned a few years later, Robert Johnson had transformed into the greatest blues guitarist on earth.
To the Folks around the Abbay and Leatherman Plantation there could be but one explanation for Johnson’s newfound proficiency…
…he must have sold his soul at some Delta crossroads in a late night deal with the devil.
Of course. What else could it be?
I guess it never occurred to these folks that combining God-given talent with lots and lots of hard work and practice might be a more logical conclusion.
You can see the roots of collectivism in this thinking: your successes in life can’t possibly be legitimately earned, so therefore the rest of us have a rightful claim on the fruits of your labor.
But I digress.
Besides, the whole “sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads” thing sounds a whole lot cooler.
Apparently, the Clarksdale Chamber of Congress agrees.
They have erected a gaudy monument of cris-crossing blue guitars in the middle of a median at the center of town where Highways 61 and 49 intersect, commemorating the spot where Johnson did his supposed soul bartering.
In a way I understand the logic.
Highway 61, “The Blues Highway”, has been immortalized in countless blues songs from Mississippi Fred McDowell to Bob Dylan.
Same with Highway 49, as sung by everyone from Big Joe Williams to Mick Jagger.
These two iconic roads cut straight through the heart of the Mississippi Delta where the blues was born and intersect here in Clarksdale.
In front of Mid-South Farm Supply, Krosstown Pawn Shop and Church’s Chicken.
Somehow, I doubt this is where Robert Johnson would actually choose to sell his soul to the devil.
All I know is if I were going to do some dealin’ with the devil, I’d want a bit more privacy, like on some lonely crossroads out in the country.
But then again, maybe the devil was hungry.
If so, this urban crossroads in the heart of Clarksdale wouldn’t be such a bad place to hang out.
Even in Robert Johnson’s day, Abe Davis, a Lebanese immigrant, was smoking and slicing pork right here in Clarksdale.
Now run by Abe’s sons and literally sitting under the shadow of the Chamber’s “Crossroads” Monument, Abe’s Bar-B-Q remains one of Mississippi’s top roadside culinary destinations.
The pork here is smoked over hickory for six hours, which is just long enough to melt the fat and cartilage into the meat, but not long enough to achieve that pull apart tenderness most barbeque masters seek.
But Abe’s solves that issue by slicing the smoked pork shoulders super thin and grilling the pork shavings on the flat top.
The result is crispy, delicate barbeque topped with a vinegary/ketchupy sauce.
Delicious. Especially as a sandwich.
The barbeque sandwich is a double-decker, kinda like a Big Mac, with alternating layers of bread, pork, sauce and cole slaw.
The sauce adds a zesty tang. The slaw a crunchy, cool bite. The squooshy fresh buns hold it all together.
But man cannot live on barbeque alone.
You can’t visit the Mississippi Delta without trying some local tamales.
Tamales? In Mississippi?
There aren’t any Mexicans in Mississippi!
Nope. And never have been.
Nobody knows where the Delta tradition of tamales originated. But I do know one thing.
Abe’s tamales are among the best.
Starchy corn meal filled with moist beef, Abe’s tamales are best when slathered with its signature meaty chili.
Some top-notch onion rings on the side and a cold Coors Light long neck to wash it all down, Abe’s Bar-B-Q was a highlight of my trip to the Delta.
It was so good, I thought about how I’d give ANYTHING to get a replica of the Abe’s Bar-B-Q/Crossroads t-shirt my waitress was wearing.
Well, just about anything.
I’m not saying I’d sell my soul to the devil for a t-shirt, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.
Rating: Bought the Shirt!