"Breathtaking in its wide and comprehensive coverage of the topic...Beyond the Crossroads is masterfully researched, impeccably well-written, spell bindingly interesting food for thought for curious minds. It explains many things about 'the devil and the blues' that most blues fans think they may have known, but most likely misunderstood...[A]n eye-opener and a much-needed critical look at the commerce of mysticism....An important addition to any serious blues reader’s bookshelf."
--Frank Matheis, TheCountryBlues.com
"Gussow's scope is broad and deep, impeccably researched and far too complex and thorough for a brief review to do it justice….His central thesis…[challenges] much of the mythologizing of blues culture that has arisen over the years--and, by implication, the patronizing (at best) or downright racist (at worst) assumptions that have often accompanied it…. Gussow’s analysis is prescient, and it adds significantly to our understanding of the texture and complexity of the bluesmen’s art, its legacy and its meaning."
--David Whiteis, Living Blues magazine
Beyond the Crossroads:
The Devil and the Blues Tradition
by Adam Gussow
University of North Carolina Press
$29.95 paper / $9.99 Kindle
Publication date: October 2, 2017
AMAZON - buy now
BARNES & NOBLE - buy now
UNC PRESS - buy now
Winner of the JOHN G. CAWELTI AWARD from the Popular Culture Association
Apart from blues singers themselves, the devil is arguably the most charismatic and important figure in the blues tradition. He's not just the music's namesake ("the devil's music!"), but a shadowy presence who haunts an imagined Mississippi crossroads where, according to the legend-invokers, Delta bluesman Robert Johnson traded away his soul in exchange for extraordinary prowess on the guitar. Yet, as scholar and musician Adam Gussow argues, there's much more to the story of the devil and the blues than these clichéd understandings.
In this groundbreaking study, Gussow takes the full measure of the devil's presence. Working from original transcriptions of more than 125 recordings released during the past 90 years, Gussow explores the varied uses to which black southern blues people have put this trouble-sowing, love-wrecking, but also empowering figure. The book culminates with a bold reinterpretation of Johnson's life and art and a provocative investigation of the way in which the citizens of Clarksdale, Mississippi managed to rebrand a commercial hub as "the crossroads" in 1999, claiming Johnson and the devil as their own.
NOTE: I'll be making a lot of personal appearances to promote Beyond the Crossroads in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018. You can find a complete list of those HERE.
Adam Gussow is a professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi and a professional blues harmonica player. He is the author of four other books on the blues, including Mister Satan's Apprentice (1998), a memoir of his time as a Harlem street musician, which won the Keeping the Blues Alive award in Literature from the Blues Foundation in Memphis, and Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition (2002), which won the Holman award from the Society for the Study of Southern Literature. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
More praise for Beyond the Crossroads:
"At once affable and frightening, the devil is forever partnered with the blues. Beyond the Crossroads is a beautifully written exploration of what Adam Gussow calls 'the blues' most malleable, dynamic, and important personage.' This is a work of exquisite detail."
– William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues
"Beyond the Crossroads is brilliant, a game-changer in blues history. A breathtaking and highly engaging book on a most American of sounds." –Patricia R. Schroeder, author of Robert Johnson, Mythmaking, and Contemporary American Culture
“Adam Gussow is an excellent interpreter of the blues. He has earned the right to speak. We should listen to him and be informed about one of the most important musical expressions in American history. I strongly recommend Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition.” –James H. Cone, Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary and author of The Spirituals and the Blues
"Gussow...gives blues fans plenty to ponder in this challenging book that doesn’t back away from taking on some cherished parts of the blues tradition. Readers will be compelled to revisit some classic tunes to hear the songs with fresh ears, ready to garner new meanings based on the many forms of the devil illuminated in this work. Thanks to Mr. Gussow for attempting to get us out of our blues comfort zones, and for providing readers with well-researched concepts that invite us to do more than just listen to the music." --Blues Blast Magazine
"[T]he blues and the devil serve in this study as helpful and fascinating lenses through which to examine the cultural complexities of race, religion, and economics in America....Aficionados of the blues will be richly rewarded, although it should be noted that one would do well to read this text while listening to the recordings that Gussow so ably discusses. As an engaging storyteller, Gussow brings to life the lives and music of Clara Smith, Fats Waller, Peetie Wheatstraw, John Lee Hooker, and many more. For those who are not fans of the blues tradition, Gussow explores other musical genres, from spirituals to jazz to rock to rap. And for those who do not care for music at all, Gussow moves easily into the areas of dance, minstrelsy, folk tales, essays, and sermons....[A]n impressive interdisciplinary study."--Reading Religion (a publication of the American Academy of Religion)
Spotify Playlist: Beyond the Crossroads: Devil Blues and More
YouTube Playlist: Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition