Rosedale, Miss. — “Lord, I’m goin’ to Rosedale, gonna take my rider by my side,” wailed blues legend Robert Johnson in his song “Traveling Riverside Blues.”
Now the little town of Rosedale, Miss., immortalized by Johnson, has one less reason to sing the blues. A project to restore a lake that the town’s residents use for fishing recently received $29,800 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, popularly known as stimulus funds.
Johnson, the influential blues singer-songwriter of the 1930s, played throughout the Mississippi Delta, including Rosedale and nearby Lake Perry Martin. “While growing up in the area, my grandfather spent a lot of time playing around Lake Perry Martin,” said Steven Johnson, Johnson’s grandson and vice president of the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation. “He enjoyed playing for the crowds and having a good time.”
According to one widespread legend about Johnson, whose life is sometimes as much popular myth as verifiable fact, he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for supernatural mastery of his guitar at a crossroads that may have been near Rosedale or Clarksdale, Miss. Eric Clapton later paid tribute to Johnson and Rosedale when he included the town in lyrics to his song “Crossroads,” which was a hit for the ’60s rock band Cream.
Rosedale’s population today is around 2,400, and 82 percent is African-American. The median household income in 2007 was $21,666.
“That’s a very poor section of the Delta,” said Ron Garavelli, director of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “They’ve really struggled economically.”
For years, the residents of Rosedale have been catching fish for their dinners at Lake Perry Martin, an 18-acre lake in Great River Road State Park stocked with catfish, bream, bass, blue gill and other species. But several years ago, the Mississippi River flooded and destroyed an old stone weir, which caused the lake to start draining back into the river. Since then Lake Perry Martin (which is named after a famous local bootlegger) has struggled, as water levels have fallen and fish kills have become prevalent in the summertime.
The stimulus contract rebuilt the stone weir to help make the lake a self-sustaining fishing spot again. “There’s no other bank fishing really within hundreds of miles,” said Garavelli. “This project will help the fishing improve, and that will help everyone there.”
“I think it’s great that the Recovery Act is helping to improve the community’s economic situation,” said Steven Johnson. “My grandfather would be honored that this is taking place — and very supportive too.”