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Down to the crossroads

A journey to the heart of the Mississippi Delta and "the crossroads" — the place where Highways 61 and 49 intersect at Clarksdale and where bluesman Robert Johnson made his legendary pact with the devil — has brought David Pinsky and his Rhythm Kings new enthusiasm for American blues.

Pinsky and his band — whose lineup has changed over the years to include many of the Rogue Valley's best players — have presented guitar and harmonica-based blues since 1988. A new album by the group has been in the works for more than a year.

"I had a bunch of stuff in the can and about eight rhythm tracks," Pinsky says. "I wanted to do something new, but I just wasn't hearing the thing that I wanted."

Then in October 2007, Pinsky and the Rhythm Kings were invited to perform as emerging artists at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival, formerly the King Biscuit Blues Festival, in Helena, Ark.

"The trip was a life-changing experience," Pinsky says. "Everything — the friendliness of the people, eating ribs on Beale Street in Memphis and going to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. You could feel the blues in the air."

And while visiting Clarksdale, Pinsky stood at Robert Johnson's famous crossroads.

When Pinsky returned home, he put the finishing touches on a collection of original songs for the new album, titled "Jump Everybody."

"Its sound comes from the early blues era of Atlantic Records," Pinsky says. "Its roots are in that '50s-style jump swing music that includes artists such as Ray Charles, The Robins, the Clovers, Ruth Brown and Billy Ward and the Dominoes, which featured vocalists Jackie Wilson and Clyde McFatter.

"Mix that with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter Jacobs and anyone with the last name King, and you'll get where we're coming from," he says.

Along with Pinsky, the album features Mark Cunningham, J. Rockefella Smith, Jeff Ebnother, Gary Halliburton, Brent Norton and Joe Diehl.

The Rhythm Kings will perform for a CD release party to be held at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland. Copies of the new CD will be available at the show and also at cdbaby.com.

Saturday night's band lineup will include Tom Stamper and Jay Jorgenson, along with Halliburton, Diehl, Norton and appearances by past members of the Rhythm Kings.

Standing at those crossroads, did Pinsky make a deal with the devil for fame and fortune?

"No," he says. "He never showed up."

David Pinsky strikes a pose in front of an old theater on Main Street in Helena, Ark., during a trip to perform with the Rhythm Kings at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival.