Making the film “Crossroads” has been one of my major accomplishments to date in the music field, and it was an amazing adventure full of twists and turns!
It was so wild to actually get a call from Director Walter Hill, telling me that Ry Cooder, who was the film’s musical director, said he “should get Arlen Roth, because he’s the only one on the east coast who can do this”. Ralph Macchio, the kid in the film, well-known as “The Karate Kid”, had to be taught from scratch on how to play the guitar, basically enough so he could “fake” the parts in the film. I was told at the time that I was to play his parts in the movie, which of course, made total sense since I was his teacher! Also, lucky for me, Ralph had never played guitar before, so I had a clean slate to work with, technique-wise. It meant that whatever I said was the “gospel” for Ralph, and he could therefore adhere to the things I was teaching him.
One very gratifying part was that I knew that when I recorded the music for the film, I knew exactly what he could and couldn’t do. This way, I could come up with pieces that I knew already contained Ralph’s “vocabulary” on the guitar. I can recall one day, in the Mississippi Delta morning, we were about to shoot the scene that was actually “at the Crossroads”, and Ralph had a very specific piece of music in mind that he wanted to play there. It was a slide cut from my first album, called “Landslide”, and he felt, and I agreed, that it was perfect for the stark feeling of the scene. I went to record it, and as Ralph climbed into his trailer, he shouted, “don’t make it too tough, Arlen!”
So, there in the quiet, I plugged into a little battery-powered amplifier, and recorded “Landslide”, bullfrogs jumping in the background, and all. Didn’t expect that the whole crew would then erupt into applause after I did it! I guess they were getting pretty starved for entertainment, having been in those swamps and cotton fields for weeks already! Later that day, Walter Hill actually passed over his Director’s chair to me, and let me handle the directing that day! What a thrill!
Then, in an even more surrealistic “Hollywood” moment, we all sat down to a full sushi lunch that was flown in from L.A., just so we could sit in the middle of an arid cotton field, eating away, with crop dusters flying overhead! As I looked around, I noticed dozens of curious little kids with no shoes on, peering through the bushes at this strange sight. All I know, is that a few hours after that, Juke Logan, the harmonica coach and I, as usual, drove off into the Mississippi night in search of more barbeque!
More on “Crossroads” next time…till then, be cool!
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