Saturday, march 14 will mark the 34th Anniversary the the release of the film, Crossroads. The coming-of-age music drama certification Ralph Macchio, Joe Seneca, and also Jami Gertz became instantly popular among members that the blues community, due to its semi-fictional Robert Johnson story heat connection, and tons of killer music perform by artists consisting of Arlen Roth, Ry Cooder, Steve Vai, and Sonny Terry.
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Almost everyone remembers the “Cuttin’ Heads” scene. Who could forget a etc duel in between Lightnin’ young Martone and Jack servant at a club in hell? but there’s therefore much much more to the movie than simply that finale. Come learn more about Crossroads we saw the guy who created it; singer-songwriter-screenwriter John Fusco.
The initial story came from a school thesis – Fusco defines what gave him the idea in the very first place. “I created Crossroads as my Bachelor’s thesis as I had actually only come off the roadway as a travel musician in the southern a couple of years earlier,” that shared. “In fact, ns was a high institution dropout and also had to walk to night school and also get a GED diploma to shot to get embraced into NYU’s Tisch school of the Arts. Ns came into the Dramatic Writing regime with a satchel full of stories from the road.
“(I) had actually long been fascinated by the Robert Johnson story — not only due to the fact that he to be the King the the Delta Blues and also his music hosted canonical status amongst my blues-rocker impacts like the Allmans — but likewise because his story to be so rich in mythic Americana. I beg your pardon is the stuff ns love together a writer. I had actually actually come up v the idea during the summer before I began at NYU, while ns was functioning a blue collar job to pay because that school. Mine girlfriend (now my wife) was functioning at an assisted living home and she called me to tell me the an yonsi African-American man from the south had actually been admitted, and also that he played harmonica.
“On my drive over to accomplish him i did the writer’s ‘what if’ game. What if the turned out to be a forget blues legend? and what if he want to get earlier home and also settle loose business. A deal at the crossroads? and also that’s exactly how it every started. I had currently traveled approximately the south with old blues guys, therefore I had the suffer to produce a drama around that concept. I usually went under the Robert Johnson hare hole and also put the pieces together, centering top top the line from the titular song, ‘my friend boy Willie Brown.’ who was he? might he be this secret cat in the rest home?”
The story was so good, it winner an award – Fusco’s student screenplay won an initial place in the national focus Awards (Films of College and also University Students) and also was offered to Columbia photos while Fusco was still a student. It may have actually been a bit overwhelming to a young college college student at first.
“I to be 24 and became something of a curiosity in Hollywood,” Fusco called us. “Was this a talented NYU movie student, or a previously homeless child who came off the road and wrote miscellaneous strangely original? i was broke and also tending bar while going to school full-time, therefore winning the emphasis award and being flown to L.A. Had actually my head spinning. Columbia images bought the manuscript from me for 6 figures, and also the following thing i knew, every major Hollywood director wanted to perform it as did every young star. Lasse Hallstrom, the Oscar-nominated sweden director behind my Life together A Dog want to carry out it and also the producer go ask my feelings around it. I was all-in. Lasse fucking Hallstrom?? but then Walter Hill read the script and also wanted it. Hill was an idol of mine, therefore he came to be my #1 choice. The studio and also producer felt that he could capture the rugged roadway quality and also American mythos.”
Lots of young stars came to casting calls – “Sean penn wanted to play the Lightnin’ Boy,” Fusco says. “So did Tom Cruise. However Ralph was warm off Karate Kid and box office rule the day. Karate Kid at some point hurt Crossroads native standing top top its own. Reality be told, I never ever saw the movie before I composed Crossroads. Mentor-student cross-cultural material has constantly been component of my story well. Ns think you have the right to look at practically every movie I’ve excellent (Young Guns, Young weapons II, Thunderheart, Hidalgo, etc) and see that. But because of Ralph’s famed presence the similarity in storylines was blown the end of proportion. Critics like to walk for low-hanging fruit and that similarity, made bolder because of the lead, walk my film a disservice. Imagine Crossroads directed by Lasse Hallstrom and also starring Sean Penn. By the way, Ralph passed on earlier to the Future in order to perform Crossroads.”
How to choose the perfect bluesman – Joe Seneca was at some point chosen to play the role of Willie Brown. Besides being a seasoned actor, Seneca was also a singer-songwriter performing in ~ upscale clubs in brand-new York, and also writing together hits as “Talk come Me,” and “Break It come Me Gently.”
Fusco told us, “I wanted real-life bluesman Roy Dunn come play Willie Brown. I got to know Roy indigenous a insignificant he was playing at a bar referred to as Preachers on Bleacker Street in Greenwich Village, close to the NYU campus. Ns would work on my manuscript at a back table, listen to Roy, and then cave out v him. For this reason he to be a real affect in mine shaping the character. So to be Sonny Terry, who I knew and idolized and also who would certainly later come to be the harmonica behind the movie! I lugged the producer come come view him, and he was smart sufficient to recognize that a role that big required a genuine actor. Therefore he then took me to Broadway to watch Ma Rainy’s black color Bottom. We dropped in love with Joe Seneca — and also Bob Judd (who plays scrape in the film). Joe to be a exceptional talent and also the actual deal together a singer-songwriter. And what a gentleman. I loved the man.
And what about “guitarist indigenous hell” Jack Butler? – In the film’s decisive scene, Lightning boy stands in for Willie to reduced heads versus Jack Butler. The outcome would certainly be nothing less than Willie’s (and Eugene’s) immortal souls. Butler, as described by scratch “discourages a most up and also coming boys,” and also therefore had actually to be someone with major chops. The final selection as us all understand was virtuoso rock guitarist Steve Vai. But there to be plenty of various other players that want that part.
“I wish i had an ext insight into exactly how the final an option was made,” Fusco says. “Again, ns was a 24 year-old former bar musician gift told that Jimmy Page, Johnny Winter, and Keith Richards all wanted to play a function that i created. Ry (Cooder) and also Walter (Hill) were an extremely secretive around this details process. Ns remember acquiring the phone speak to that a decision was made and locked — and also that it would certainly be Steve Vai. I recognize that ns was thrown and confused, yet it all became clear really quickly the Ry knew what he to be doing and also it was the best choice of all.
“I ran right into Jimmy page in a bar in the West Indies years later. True story. That told me how badly he want that role. Us hung the end for days and also he played his acoustic guitar in me and my wife’s cabana while he was writing brand-new songs.”
According come the film’s musical consultant Arlen Roth, both frank Zappa and Stevie ray Vaughan were briefly thought about as well.
Did Macchio actually play guitar in the movie? – The short answer is yes, in some parts. Director Walter Hill had actually hired guitarist Arlen Roth as a musical consultant and to teach Macchio come play, type of. Roth checked out Macchio’s home, 4 days a week for months to teach the young gibbs blues techniques, consisting of finger-picking and also slide. Although Ralph was set on actually playing in the film, Roth, Cooder and also Hill knew that would certainly be impossible, but Roth tutored Macchio well enough for him come fake the parts on screen.
Fusco adds, “He (Roth) was very first and foremost the guy that Ry sought out to entrust to Ralph together his guitar mentor and ‘crash course’ teacher. Lock pretty much lived with each other for the few months leading approximately production. Arlen was also on set all the time and a component of the amazing musical pedigree us were soaking up every day, under there in the Delta. Ry and also Steve Vai are mostly responsible because that the licks we hear once Ralph plays. However I want to emphasize the Ralph did much of his very own playing and also it to be impressive. He is a smart and also diligent kid. Wait, he’s no a kid any kind of more, yet he quiet looks the same.”
As a side note, to now Arlen Roth has actually not to be officially credited for his occupational on the film. However, Fusco, Vai and also others remember his importance. In a 1987 interview v Guitar World Vai said, “Arlen worked really hard on the project. He taught Ralph Macchio how to hold and also finger the etc to do it watch realistic. And also he videotaped a lot of the on slide guitar parts throughout the film, along with Ry.”
Were the “jook joint” scenes filmed in actual Delta clubs? – Although there was a the majority of filming that took place in the Delta, the “jook scenes” were in reality filmed on a sound stage. That’s no to say over there weren’t some various other scary times.
“Shit gained real,” claims Fusco matter-of-factly. “We had actually LA crew blended with neighborhood crew and also there was part palpable prejudice. Several of our African-American camera males were no accustomed come being called ‘boy.’ One night, Joe Seneca and I saw dinner in ~ a restaurant on the Mississippi River. The ar was less than half-full and also they would certainly not seat an old black color man and a long-haired white boy. Then i remember who yelling, “Hey!” and also it was the late blues harp monster Juke Logan. He and also Arlen to be sitting in ~ a table and also they called us over. The staff didn’t prefer it, but we sat down.
“We did scout right into the deepest nooks the the Delta, come jooks and also fish frys, looking for our ‘house band.’ Me, Ry, Arlen, Juke Logan — acquiring paid to explore jook joints and find undiscovered blues talent. Like Frank Frost (who along with John Price, Otis Taylor, Richard “Shubby” Holmes, and also Terry l Evans comprised the residence band). We did no shoot in really jooks, we constructed them.
“Look, just a couple of years previously I had actually been ideal there wherein we to be shooting, and also I witnessed a many shit. It found its means into the script. You recognize the scene through the guy getting jumped in the motel room through the girl? I had lived every one of that. Today when I sing about running for my life down Highway 8 south of Rosedale, I’m no making it up.”
There were in reality two various endings to the film – (Spoiler Alert) once Lightning young defeats servant in the duel, he and also Willie space instantly transported back to the crossroads to begin the following leg of their journey. Yet that’s not the means it was originally written.
“My initial screenplay has actually Willie dying on a Greyhound bus,” Fusco said us. “Walter Hill’s father passed away that main if ns recall, and also it was very hard for him come shoot. Therefore he shooting an alternating ending that i did no like. My script was really different, much more of a gritty realistic drama quite than a metaphysical romp that illustrated so many things literally and lyrically. My duel at the end took location in a defunct rail garden in Clarksdale. Kind of an underground blues competition between guitarists. It was left to the viewer to recognize if that was really the devil or not.
“Today, the movie has accomplished a sort of cult status amongst musicians. The guitarists who have actually personally reached out come me come say so include Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, Devon Allman, Duane Betts, Eric Krasno, and also many others. Since of that, ns am okay through the final outcome of the movie, but somewhere deep within it quiet hurts.”
There were various other scenes that finished on the cut room floor as well – A couple of scenes never saw the darkness that the theater. There was a step in a cemetery, a Gospel scene in a church, and someone who cut heads v Jack prior to Lightning boy took increase the challenge.
“My absolute most coherent memory was rebuilding a church in Beaulah, Mississippi that had actually been ruined in a storm,” Fusco shares. “We eliminated a enormous tree that had actually crushed it and rebuilt the church because that a gospel company scene (cut from the film) and then handed the restored church back to the community. Understanding that this came out of something I wrote made it all worth it.”
The human who reduced heads through Butler (and lost) to be none various other than “Shuggie” Otis, the kid of R&B pioneer Johnny Otis. Shuggie self is a funk, rock, blues, R&B and also psychedelic soul singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist that wrote the hit track “Strawberry Letter 23,” taped by the brothers Johnson.
After all was said and also done, go the film you re welcome its author? –
“It to be a dream come true,” claims Fusco. “Unfortunately, Walter Hill did no like having actually the 24 year-old writer who had lived the story ~ above set. I forced my method on and also just hung out with the blues guys and the local gospel community. Ns would find out from that experience to always attach myself as a producer and also wield much more power — or friend don’t get my script.
“Aside from the opening through RJ, it (my favorite scene) would certainly be ‘Good guy Feelin’ Bad’ the scene in the room, putting rain outside, once Willie opens up around his life and Lightnin’ ultimately starts to gain it on his ax.”
After 34 years, Crossroads has stood the check of time, a cult classic among musicians and also blues pan alike. The Robert Johnson story, the legends of Willie Brown and Lightnin’ Boy and also the significant soundtrack make this a film that will certainly be watched over and also over again.
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As for Fusco, you can see his initial screenplay in the background of the blues archives at the college of Mississippi. He continues to create both scripts and also songs, and has a new album through his tape the X-Road Riders early out sometime this summer. Yet that’s another story…
*Photos courtesy of man Fusco with the exemption of the theatre poster.