Going to The Crossroads by Jimmie Bratcher
Have you been down to the crossroads? Here is my story.
It was warm that May morning in 2003 as I packed up my Harley and “headed south out of Memphis on Highway 61.” (That’s a quote from my song “Take it Back”.) Accompanied by a pastor and friend of mine, our plan was to ride the Mississippi Delta from Memphis to Natchez and visit all the historic blues sites. If you know me, you would probably expect that this trip was my idea. Well, it wasn’t; it was my friends.
Nevertheless, I was eager to go. During my teen years, I often spent my summers on the streets in Memphis doing drugs and playing the music. I have great memories of Memphis in May and this motorcycle trip would prove to be a memorable one as well.
There is nothing really scenic about Highway 61 and the Mississippi Delta. Highway 61 is just a flat road and the scenery is the same: flat river delta land punctuated by farms and the occasional delta town. Yet this part of the United States holds a mystique and wields an influence in our history far beyond its outward appearance. The Delta’s influence in music history, in particular, is huge. Almost all of the founders of blues music—which is, of course, the root of rock and roll and a whole bunch of other music genres—came from this delta. Over the years I suppose thousands or even tens of thousands of pilgrims have made a trip similar to ours.
As we rode down the highway my mind buzzed with thoughts of all the blues greats, both past, and present, who have traveled this same road. Our first stop was to be Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of blues greats like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, and others. My friend and I didn’t really have a solid plan as to where we were going. We were just travelin’ south. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? Let me tell you, it was!
As we entered Clarksdale we pulled up to an intersection and stopped. It looked just like thousands of other intersections in thousands of other small towns everywhere. That is until I saw the sign that said, “JCT HWY 61 & 49.” This was the spot! A glance to my left confirmed it. There it was: the sign marking this place as “The Crossroads.” According to blues historians, The Crossroads is where several of the most mysterious transactions in blues history are said to have taken place.
I already knew that people from all over the world come to this very place for a couple of reasons. They want to see for themselves the very spot where Robert Johnson and several other blues musicians supposedly sold their souls to the devil and many hope to have a similar transaction also! No one knows for sure if this is the actual spot, but many people believe that it was right here where Robert Johnson made his infamous transaction with the devil.
Robert Johnson was a marginal guitarist who suddenly became an outstanding guitarist seemly overnight. He also became one of the most influential musicians of the last century, leaving his mark on the music of such artists as The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Keb Mo, to name only a few. When people asked Robert how he became such a great guitar player he would tell the story of how he sold his soul to the devil at The Crossroads.
As wild as this tale may sound, people from all over the world come to the Mississippi Delta and Clarksdale looking to have a similar experience. Now here I was in May 2003 sitting at The Crossroads. I, however, was not looking for an experience with the devil, but as always, I was expecting the favor of God.
We pulled through the intersection and off the road to find a map of historic blues sites. Suddenly, a mysterious man in a pickup appeared. It seemed as though he came out of nowhere. He pulled up next to our bikes, poked his head out the window, and said in a gruff, stern voice, “Are you boys here to look at my town”?
“Yes,” I responded. “What should we see?”
As we chatted some more the conversation came around to food, especially barbecue. You can’t really have the blues without good barbecue. My friend asked the stranger where we could find some. The man pointed and said, “Right there, at Abe’s at The Crossroads. Come on, I’ll take you over there. By the way, my name is Doc.”
As we sat and ate, Doc asked about our vocations. Pointing to my friend I responded, “This guy is a pastor and I am an evangelist but also a blues guitarist.” Doc said, “Blues? Have you got CDs and stuff?” “Yes, I do.”
“Well,” Doc continued, “I know people here in Clarksdale who are into the blues. Did you know that Morgan Freeman, the actor, has a club downtown? Come on, I’ll introduce you to him.” So off we went on this first adventure since arriving at The Crossroads.
As it turned out, Morgan Freeman wasn’t at his club, Ground Zero, that day, but Doc introduced us to several other people in the blues community in Clarksdale.
A Defining Moment
When I got home later that week I sent Doc a thank you card. I was thrilled and amazed by the entire experience. Somehow I knew that God was behind our encounter with Doc and the people he introduced us to. That’s one of the many things I like about following Jesus; you never know where the road is going to take you. Any day, no matter how normal it seems, can be instantly transformed by a simple yet profound defining moment. Everything may seem mundane yet suddenly change dramatically.
About 90 days after my trip I got an email from Doc requesting my phone number. Doc called and said, “I have just been made the co-chairman of the first ever blues festival to be held at The Crossroads and I want you and your band to be the first band that we book.” Well, I was off the chart with excitement! Just imagine, me playing in Clarksdale, Mississippi, at “The Crossroads Blues Festival!”
My band did, indeed, play the festival. In March, 2004 we also played at Morgan Freeman’s club, Ground Zero, in downtown Clarksdale. The place was packed with bikers drinking beer. In my song “Love Running” I scream the third verse, “Jesus, will you take me as I am?” I wondered how the crowd that day would respond. Then the time came and I just let it rip, and to my amazement, a roar of applause and cheers came from the crowd at the name of Jesus. You see, when people hear the gospel they love it. This day at Ground Zero has become one of the most outstanding defining moments of my ministry, and all because I was at the right place at the right time.
People ask me all the time what kind of ministry I have and I always say, “I have the ministry of showin’ up!” That may sound simple but I have discovered that it is the key, for me at least, to open up the vast treasure chest of God’s favor.
After over 20 years of following Jesus, I finally came to the understanding (why did it take so long?) that Christ is in me! Paul says in Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 emphasis added). I had known that Scripture for years, but it had just never become real to me.
But the moment I finally understood that Jesus really was in me, it completely transformed my thinking. I am no longer on a quest to “find God.” I am on a quest to discover the fullness of the riches of Jesus who happens to live in me. So in my ministry of “showin’ up,” when I show up somewhere, I expect Jesus to show up there also because He came with me. Whether I’m preaching in church on a Sunday morning or playing the blues at a festival somewhere, I know and expect Jesus to be there with me and to work through me.
That day at The Crossroads I just showed up and Jesus took over, ordering my steps and making divine connections in a very natural, yet supernatural way. I guess you could say that the supernatural is when the natural becomes super! The day we played at Morgan Freeman’s club, Ground Zero, was a divine moment for me, for Sherri, and for the band as well as for all those who came to hear us play.
When we arrived at Ground Zero to set up, the sound man came out and introduced himself. “Hi. My name is Wolff.” He was a bearded, tattooed young man in his 20s and he and I became quick friends. Wolff helped us load in and setup. Before. I left the club I gave him a copy of my DVD, LIVE on the 4th of July.
A few days later I received an email from Wolff complimenting me on the quality of our performance and commenting on the quality of the interaction he saw between the band members both on and off the stage. He also told me that he had watched the DVD and specifically my testimony, the track titled “As the Story Goes.” Then he wrote, “You have given hope to my shattered faith. I have been through some stuff.” I was thrilled to read Wolff’s words, for I knew they meant that he was making a new commitment to Jesus, which I later confirmed was, indeed, the case.
At another time I also learned that, as a result of our encounter at The Crossroads and our playing the blues festival there, that Doc also rededicated his life to Christ. God is so good. Doc passed away in September of 2017. That moment at The Crossroads did so much to encourage and motivate me to believe for more of the favor of God.
I believe that God has a “crossroads” experience for you, too; perhaps many of
them. Just keep walking in faith and keep “showin’ up” and He will work in and through you. And one of these days you will find yourself walking toward, and then into, your dream.