“Cross Road”, Robert Johnson, 1936
Happy Birthday Robert - born 100 years ago this week.
Eric Clapton called him “the most important blues singer that ever lived”, and spent his entire career trying to get a sound even approaching his. (Check out “Me and Mr. Johnson” to see if you think he got close).
This week it is a full 100 years since the birth of an acclaimed blues legend who many attribute to be essential, to ultimately what became rock and roll. Of course this was clearly delta blues music in its finest form. Johson, born May 8, 2011 and died August 16, 1938), lived a life shrouded in mystery and myth.
It is said that he was an o.k. guitar player and he went off on his own for a while and came back a brilliant guitar player. Where had he been? Why down at the crossroad making a deal with the devil - to play the guitar in exchange for his soul. How many ‘Faustian’ myths have we heard weaved in popular culture since this? People love this story. So the story goes, Johnson took his guitar to a crossroad at midnight and a tall black man (the devil) took his guitar, tuned it, played a few songs, and gave it back to Robert. He then had mastery over it, but was doomed to fore go his soul. He was then able to create the blues for which he was so famous.
Like a number of rock musicians, Robert died when he was 27 (Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix,Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones to name the most important). So one of the stories goes, he was flirting with a Juke Joint owner's wife so the husband laced a bottle of whiskey with strychnine and gave it to her to give to Johnson, who died a painful convulsive death that night in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Few songs really were recorded by Johnson. A session in ‘36 in San Antonio and a session in Dallas in ’37, give us what we hear of him. The only recorded song he lived to hear of himself was “Terraplane Blues” which sold some 5,000 copies.