RIC HOOL: Last Fair Deal Gone Down

Ses the corpse, “Hey Robert, I got black, boot-black, soil under my back and night-black sky above like you. But you got blood about your body.”

Ses Johnson, “Stay outa my ears crossroad creature. I’m movin on… just ‘cidin which way to go.”

Ses the scrape-voice creature, “Which ever you choose, you in a walkin blues, rambling on your mind, travelling riverside blues from four until late, wishin for a kind hearted woman… An all the time your love in vain.”

Ses Robert Johnson, “Shake my shoes of you! Stamp the ground on you! Fill your mouth with stone! Make you hush in your quick-buried scrape! You in the crossroad of no escape!”

Robert Johnson falls upon his knees, hands clenched in prayer learned over hard years, feeling sanguine tides pounding in his ears, moaning words through long unlit hours, looking this way, then that way, then looking high above into the cold starry sky.

Robert Johnson has winter mud cracked over his young hands making them old; making fingers hard to bend. He knows there is no future without fingers that can’t make quick whispers over his 5 cent guitar neck. Robert Johnson prays and bays like a hound fearing Hell. And all the time, between every break in his words the creature croaks in his ear, tempting him, doing the blues, taunting him. Another corpse, then another joins in.

Yells Johnson, “Hell on your souls! You in the unhallowed ground of men that done no good, an have no good word on your worm-rotten tongues. Jump Jacks snappin your backs awake from the earth to spit an talk dirt! Murderers every one!” 1

Robert Johnson remains at the crossroad, tortured by the eloquent tongue of the Devil as He speaks through the gone mouths of the trashed dead. Robert Johnson hears something in the Devil’s voice he recognizes. It is the shadow of his own voice. The womanizing voice he uses after playing hours, when another music begins, which fuels the music he plays in the juke joints. He knows many women and has loved many women. He says it’s not his fault, it’s his condition. You pick up a guitar: you pick up a woman. It’s a deal done in the first incarnation of an instrument. It’s in his voice calling:

 A woman is like a dresser 

Some men always running thro 

Its drawers 2

This he will sing later, but knows at this time at the crossroads…

“Now look here Robert, I can make rocks your pillows from now till forever; I can rain frogs and swamp on you thro the night; flay your back with memories of Abbay & Leatherman plantation; put honey of first love in your ear,” 3 moaned a cadaver.

“This crossroads is no good place. Got a bad deal-feel as good as X is a sign of a man’s name against a paper to sell his life away. To sell his wife away! To want her back to sell her again like a song traded in bar after bar for cheap liquor-coins. Who knows where this ends?”

The cold black night pours itself around Johnson’s shivering body creaking the trees and shaking the hobo-brush jungle; shaking the stars out of the heavens to frost the shone rail lines all the way to the rich north.

“You see your way?” ses the Devil’s Dead. “You see your way to Canada, to visit The King?” ses the Devil’s Dead. “To troubadour a land clean of The Klan; where cotton dust don’t sit in your lungs; where a noose ain’t hung lazy over the branch of a hangin tree.”

Ses another Devil’s Dead, “You put your sign like Jesus upon all time an stop your hangin round this crossroads. A small cross is alls needed to nail you to eternity. Try signin in the air. Try signin in the earth. Try signin on your heart.”

“OK, OK, but what deal’s a goin down at this crossroads?” ses Robert Johnson “I ain’t got little above n below the soul of my shoes.”

“Soul,” ses the Devil. “Soooooooul.” Licking his lipless lips with his tongueless tongue, the Devil thinks thinkless things, “You have yourself Robert an you can give yself to any heart you want. Don’t be out of heart, you can lose your heart to a good-heart, a sweetheart. Give your heart from the bottom of your heart, wear it on your sleeve, take heart don’t eat your heart out – ain’t no one never had their heart in their mouth over some heart-breaker! This here’s a heart to heart talk Robert. Learn my words by heart an set your heart on what I say instead of standin there chicken all over with your heart in your boots. You a man after my own heart an enjoy women an song. I’ll throw both in. Do it with heart an soul. Sayin this once an no more Robert, from the heart of my heart.”

Whether Robert Johnson agrees to the proposition or if he is sweet-talked into sleep, his head nodding as his eyes close, nobody knows. The Devil seizes the moment. The dark-heart deed is done.

Next morning Robert Johnson wakes with a dew blanket on his clothes and sweat on his face. He looks about but is alone except for the perfectly curved body and long slim neck of a Sears & Roebuck Stella guitar lying next to him and an X scored deeply into the earth beside the crossroad.

In November 1936, in a San Antonio hotel, Robert Johnson records twenty-nine tracks with Don Law for Vocation Records. He works regularly, dresses well, is popular, drinks and enjoys the company of women. He is poisoned in Greenwood, Mississippi August 16th 1938. 4

Testament. All who hear him say the Devil plays his deal through Robert Johnson, jerking and plucking each finger on each noted string and wailing torturously in vocals

Got to keep movin

Got to keep movin

Blues fallin down like hail

Got to keep movin

Got to keep movin

Hellhound on my trail 5

 It is Wednesday 25th July 1965 in the men’s toilet of The Pontiac Club, Zeeta House, Putney. 6 A fourteen year old kid from Newcastle recognizes the guy zipping up at the urinal. Without hang up he flips out a small flimsy diary asks for an autograph. The two chat about blues and especially blues singer Robert Johnson, before going into the club’s live music lounge. The kid shuffles near the small stage along with a few other punters whilst the guy from the toilet tunes his Sunburst Gibson Les Paul. What happens during the next 45 minutes defies description. The guy plays guitar like nobody has ever played guitar. The small audience is rock-still in awe.

Near the end of the set the guy steps up to a mic, nods to the kid, mumbles, “I’m at the crossroad,” sings Robert Johnson’s Ramblin On My Mind. The guitarist leaves the Bluesbreakers four days later. 7 John Mayall plays the Pontiac Club the following week with a new guitarist.

Standing at the crossroad the guitarist makes a new deal. He will summon a magic to make a Strange Brew of music for the years ahead. 8

The baton of The Devil’s Music, passed to Robert Johnson, is palmed into new keeping.

It is Sunday, 31st July 1966 at The Royal Windsor Racecourse, Windsor, Berkshire. Ten thousand people have turned up for the 6th National Jazz & Blues Festival. The fourteen year old kid from Newcastle is now fifteen and stands in that audience. The early evening sky remains clear, as thunder explodes from the crowd, heralding the debut performance of a three- piece group. 9 The guitarist wears white bell-bottom trousers and a flash, silver jacket, spawned from his new deal. He plugs a Gibson Les Paul into a  Marshall stack, carves the opening riff of Spoonful 10 into the air, and whips up slavish worship from his devotees.

The fifteen year old from Newcastle gathers a lungful of air, “Play Robert Johnson!” he bawls through the drowning bedlam of appreciation.

By a magic darker than Black Mass from a Black Jack Scrub oak thicket, the words take flight on raven-black wings through the darkening din.

“This one’s for anybody who likes Robert Johnson.”

From Four Until Late rumbles, darkens the atmosphere.

It is 2004. The guitarist records 14 of Robert Johnson’s songs. The CD from those recordings is issued on the Reprise label under the title, ME AND MR JOHNSON. The cover art work is by Peter Blake and shows the guitarist, shirt, tie and suited, guitar on lap, sitting in similar pose to a portrait of Robert Johnson which is hanging on a wall behind. The guitarist is fifty-nine years of age. The portrait of Robert Johnson is copied from a studio photograph of him taken when he was 25 years of age. There is perhaps a new take and a new telling of The Portrait of Dorian Gray in this. The young Dorian Gray surrenders his soul (to the Devil?) in order to remain forever youthful in much the same way that Robert surrendered his, to be a great musician.

The guitarist writes the cover notes and cites Robert Johnson as the keystone to his musical foundation, and a landmark from which to navigate.

It is June 1st 2014. The fourteen year old boy from Newcastle, who turned up at The Pontiac Club all those years ago, is sixty-three years of age and writes an article on the mythology of Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson and the guitarist move into music’s history.

Who knows what last fair deal goes down?



1 Practice from Europe of burying criminals away from good souls laid to rest in cemeteries is documented. Perhaps the act of gibbeting at crossroads as a warning to law-breakers led to convenient burial of remains in shallow graves in those proximities, as the next ‘fresh’ example was hoisted.

2 From Four Until Late by Robert Johnson

3 In 1929, at the age of seventeen Robert Johnson married 15 year old Virginia Travis. One year later Virginia died in childbirth.

4 Details are scant regarding Johnson’s death, but it is strongly suggested that he drank poisoned whisky, given to him by a jealous girlfriend or her betrayed husband.

5 Hellhound On My Trail by Robert Johnson

6 On Wednesday 4th July 1965, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers began a two month residency at the newly opened south-west London, Pontiac Club.

7 The guitarist is Eric Clapton.

 8 Strange Brew, the first track on the Disraeli Gears album, released November 10th, 1967, and co-written by Eric Clapton.

9 The group is Cream, featuring Eric Clapton (gtr), Jack Bruce (bass) & Ginger Baker (drums).

10 Spoonful written by Willie Dixon


Ric Hool has 10 collections of published poetry and has his work featured in poetry magazines & journals in Europe, USA & UK.
From Cullercoats, Northumberland he moved to Wales in 1990.

Fitting in with Malcolm (WYSIWYG Chapbooks, 1994)
Cage Door Sprang Open! (WYSIWYG Chapbooks, 1994)
Making It (Collective Press, 1998)
The Bridge (Collective Press, 2000)
Voice from a Correspondent (Collective Press, 2001)
No Nothing (The Collective Press, 2009)
Selected Poems (Red Squirrel Press 2013)
A Way of Falling Upwards ( Cinnamon Press 2014)

Contributed to:
Hetrosexual Honkies (co–writer) (WYSIWYG Chapbooks, 1994)

Tilt (co-writer) (Collective Press, 1996)


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