Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson – circa 1936

“Went down to the crossroad, fell down on my knees” – ’Cross Road Blues’ (Robert Johnson)

It is a dark night.  Robert Johnson, an aspiring African-American blues musician, stands at the side of the road.  He shivers – but it may not be due to the temperature.  ‘He has been instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation [in Mississippi, U.S.A.] at midnight.’  Amongst those of a superstitious way of thinking, the crossroad has a special significance.  If a person is buried at a crossroad, should their unclean spirit return, the ghost will allegedly be unsure which path to take, sparing God-fearing folks from its depredations.  Additionally, socially, ‘the crossroad epitomises the vulnerability of a black in a hostile world.  To find oneself at a crossroad after dark is to be stranded on open ground, an easy mark for whites who don’t like the idea of a black man on the move.’  Robert Johnson ‘is met by a larger black man (actually the devil).’  Lucifer takes Johnson’s guitar and retunes it, somehow conferring supernatural musical ability upon Johnson.  ‘In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson is able to create the blues for which he becomes famous.’  Or so the legend goes…

The life and music of Robert Johnson predate the birth of rock ‘n’ roll by many years.  Yet ‘Robert Johnson helps invent the rock star lifestyle.’  This is borne out in both elements of his personal life and the subjects of his songs.  Because Johnson predates rock, he also predates rock journalism.  Only two photographs of him are known to exist and there are no interviews in which his thoughts and views are preserved for history.  Consequently, ‘much of Johnson’s life is shrouded in mystery.’  As best as can be determined, the story of Robert Johnson goes like this…

Robert Leroy Johnson (8 May 1911 – 16 August 1938) is born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, U.S.A.  He is the child of Julia Majors Dodds and Noah Johnson.  Robert is the ‘product of an extra-marital relationship.’  Julian Ann Majors married Charles Dodds, Jr. in February 1889.  Charles Dodds, Jr. is ‘a successful and well-respected, land-owning farmer, carpenter and wicker-furniture maker.’  He and Julia have six daughters and a son.  Dodds also has a mistress, Serena, who gives him two more sons.  ‘Following a dispute with white landowners’ around 1907, Charles Dodds, Jr. is hastily forced off his property.  Leaving Julia behind, Dodds flees to Memphis, Tennessee, with Serena and her boys.  In Memphis, the fugitive assumes the name of ‘Charles Spencer.’

Deserted, Julia Dodds finds comfort in Noah Johnson, a man ten years younger than she (Julia is born in October 1874, Noah in December 1884).  Noah Johnson is a farmer.  Their son, Robert, is born when Julia is 36 years old.  The couple also have a younger daughter, Carrie.  Julia Dodds signs on with a labour supplier.  She lives in migrant labour camps for a couple of years.

By 1914 Julia Dodds has drifted north from Mississippi to the neighbouring State of Tennessee where, in Memphis, she reunites with Charles Spencer (formerly Dodds).  The Spencer household is a full one since it holds ten children: Julia and Charles’ six offspring, the two sons of Charles and Serena (his mistress), and Julia’s two children fathered by Noah Johnson.  The peripatetic Julia Dodds wanders off, leaving Robert and his sister Carrie to be raised by Charles Spencer and family.

Characterised as ‘too disobedient’ and ‘strong-willed’, Robert Johnson is eventually packed off to live with his mother in 1918.  By this time, Julia Dodds is living in Robinsonville, Mississippi, thirty miles south of Memphis, Tennessee.  In October 1916 she remarried.  Robert’s new stepfather is Willie ‘Dusty’ Willis, ‘a hard working little fellow’ who is twenty-four years younger than his new wife.  Still known as Robert Spencer, their new addition to the household attends Tunica Indian Creek School on the Abbay & Leatherman Plantation.  As a teenager, Robert is told of his true father but he continues to use the name Robert Spencer until the mid-1920s.  At school, Robert shows his first signs of interest in music, learning to play the harmonica and Jew’s harp.  More formal studies are of less interest; he is ‘not a zealous student’ and displays a ‘lack of interest.’  Poor eyesight gives him an excuse to quit school.

After finishing school, Robert Johnson begins to learn to play the guitar.  He has more enthusiasm than skill at first.  Early inspirations and mentors include Ernest ‘Whiskey Red’ Brown, Willie Brown [no relation] and Charlie Patton.

In February 1929, the 17 year old Robert Johnson marries 16 year old Virginia Travis.  Although still playing guitar, Johnson is, at the time, ‘reluctant to consider himself anything but a farmer.’  He and Virginia live with Robert’s older half-sister, Bessie, and her husband, Granville Hines, on the Kline Plantation east of Robinsonville, Mississippi.  Virginia quickly falls pregnant, but both she and their baby son die in childbirth in April 1930.  Virginia’s relatives take the news hard and blame Robert.  In the African-American community in that time and era, the only ‘proper’ function of music is in praise of the Lord.  Gospel music and hymns are respectable, but anything more secular is frowned upon.  Robert Johnson’s blues music is considered to be ‘selling your soul to the devil.’  The death of the young man’s wife and child is considered to be ‘just punishment’ for his ‘sins.’  This scorn only serves to spur Robert Johnson on with his musical aspirations.

Less than two months after the untimely demise of Virginia Johnson, a blues musician named Son House comes to live in Robinsonville for a time.  Robert Johnson is fascinated by this ‘precarious combination of bluesman and preacher’ who proves highly influential.

Robert Johnson ‘abandons farming’ and ‘adopts the ways of a determined rounder.’  He returns to Hazlehurst, Mississippi, the area where he was born.  A lot of highways are in the process of being built and the road gangs and lumber camps provide an audience for the ‘jook joints’ and informal Saturday night parties that employ blues musicians like Johnson.  He finds a new mentor in the person of Ike Zinerman, a local blues musician, ‘an obscure figure who boasts that his mastery of his instrument stems from some graveyard conjury.’  It is in 1930 that Robert Johnson is purported to strike his own bargain with Satan.  For those disinclined to credit such supernatural agencies, it is claimed that Johnson’s ‘skills are acquired in a far more conventional manner, born…of a concentrated Christian work ethic.’  In any case, Robert Johnson fades from sight for about a year.  On his return, his greatly improved guitar skills highly impress musicians who were formerly his idols or mentors.

Robert Johnson was always ‘a good looking boy.’  He was ‘always attractive to women.’  He fathers a child with Vergie Mae Smith in Hazlehurst.  Years later, in 1998 Claud Johnson is named Robert Johnson’s legal heir.  Not that Robert Johnson is much of a father figure.  He moves on to other women; ‘He has…trouble keeping his hands off them.’

In May 1931 Robert Johnson marries for the second time.  Callie Etta Craft is more than ten years older than her new spouse.  She has been married twice before and has three young children.  ‘She idolises Robert, fusses over him, cooks for him, [and] treats him like a king.’  The marriage is even kept secret, ‘lest it cramp his lecherous style’, though Callie blindly trusts him.  In 1932 they move to Clarksdale, Mississippi, as Robert seeks to exploit work opportunities.  Robert deserts Callie.  She suffers a breakdown.  Callie returns to her family and home.  She dies in 1934 without Robert Johnson ever seeing her again.

Robert Johnson becomes a ‘walking’ bluesman, an itinerant musician.  He ‘stays with members of his large extended family or with women friends…He supposedly asks homely young women living in the country with their families whether he can go home with them, and in most cases he is accepted, until a boyfriend arrives or Johnson is ready to move on.’  Robert Johnson never marries again.  Perhaps his most notable later relationship is with Estelle Coleman in 1936.  She is fifteen years older than him.  He spends some time at her house in Helena, Arkansas, and befriends her son, Robert Lockwood, Jr.  Willie Mae Powell is another of Johnson’s inamoratas.

Robert Johnson becomes an inveterate traveller.  ‘Moving around the way he does and playing in so many different places to so many different people all the time, he has to be able to play almost anything which is requested.’  His ‘repertoire includes blues standards, his own compositions, and even such popular tunes of the day as “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”.’  Although Robert Johnson is a popular attraction, he has an ambition to also become a recording artist like other bluesmen such as Willie Brown, Son House and Charlie Patton.

H.C. Speir has a music store in Jackson, Mississippi.  This business also has a facility to make records for the personal use of paying customers.  Robert Johnson avails himself of this studio.  Speir is sufficiently impressed to pass Johnson’s details on to Ernie Oertle, a salesman and talent scout for the American Record Corporation.  Robert Johnson is subsequently signed to the Vocalion record label and his first recording session is arranged.

The music of Robert Johnson predates rock ‘n’ roll. He is a blues musician.  The blues has a long history.  Its roots lie in Africa.  Negro slaves brought to the United States to work on cotton plantations bring their music with them.  These ‘work songs’ have an understandably mournful character.  This is due to the harsh conditions faced by the slave labourers.  Because the singers are melancholy, they are ‘blue’ (i.e. sad).  The blues is a music of sadness.  Yet is also about transcendence; it is about taking that sadness and finding a kind of beauty within it.  By the time Robert Johnson enters the recording studio, slavery has long been abolished but many African-Americans still live in impoverished circumstances.  Moreover, the blues is as much about emotional hardship as economic hardship.  Robert Johnson is described as ‘doomed, haunted, driven by demons, a tormented genius.’

All the songs Robert Johnson records are his own compositions.  As a songwriter, Johnson’s major themes are the darkly supernatural, thwarted love, alcohol and the travelling life.  Additionally, he writes a lot of sexual innuendo cloaked in double entendres.  Looking over that list, Johnson could pass for a rock singer or even a heavy metal artist.

To modern listeners unfamiliar with Robert Johnson, his work can be challenging to absorb.  The recordings are extremely spartan, just Johnson’s voice and acoustic guitar.  There are no other instruments, no other musicians.  Many of the songs have a similar tempo and sound.  It is really only with repeated exposure that more individual nuances become noticeable.

Legend has it that Robert Johnson is very shy.  This is at least partly prompted by his habit of turning away to face the wall while recording.  A more interesting latter day interpretation of his behaviour is that he was using a technique called ‘corner loading.’  Rather than let his voice and guitar notes drift off into dead air, by bouncing them off a wall or corner, he was trapping the echo and making a more vibrant and indelible sound.

Robert Johnson’s complete recording career consists of only twenty-nine songs.  These are put down in two recording sessions, bot under the supervision of producer Don Law.  Sixteen songs are recorded in San Antonio, Texas, between 23 November 1936 and 27 November 1936.  These tracks are: ‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues’, ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’, ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’, ‘When You Got A Good Friend’, ‘Come On In My Kitchen’, ‘Terraplane Blues’, ‘Phonograph Blues’, ’32-20 Blues’, ‘They’re Red Hot’, ‘Dead Shrimp Blues’, ‘Cross Road Blues’, ‘Walkin’ Blues’, ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’, ‘Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)’ and ‘If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day’.  A further thirteen songs are recorded in Dallas, Texas, from 19 June 1937 to 20 June 1937.  These tracks are: ‘Stones In My Passway’, ‘I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man’, ‘From Four Until Late’, ‘Hell Hound On My Trail’, ‘Little Queen Of Spades’, ‘Malted Milk’, ‘Drunken Hearted Man’, ‘Me And The Devil Blues’, ‘Stop Breakin’ Down Blues’, ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’, ‘Honeymoon Blues’, ‘Love In Vain Blues’ and ‘Milkcow’s Calf Blues’.  (Note: It is possible that some other songs were recorded, but lost to history.)

Robert Johnson’s music is first released on 78s.  A ‘78’ is a shellac or vinyl record designed to be played on a phonograph set to 78 revolutions per minute (rpm).  The ‘78’ is virtually extinct by the mid-1950s.  Rock ‘n’ roll records are usually either singles (small discs played at 45 rpm) or albums (large discs with more material that are played at 33 1/3 rpm).  Physically, a 78 is about the same size as the later albums but, usually, only with one song per side – a format akin to singles of a later day.

Vocalion issues twelve Robert Johnson 78s.  Nines are issued in 1937, two in 1938, and a final disc is posthumously issued in 1939.  The 1937 releases are: ‘Terraplane Blues’ backed with ‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues’ (03416); ’32-20 Blues’ b/w ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’ (03445); ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’ b/w ‘Dead Shrimp Blues’ (03475); ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’ b/w ‘Cross Road Blues’ (03519); ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ b/w ‘They’re Red Hot’ (03563); ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ b/w ‘Walkin’ Blues’ (03601); ‘From Four Until Late’ b/w ‘Hell Hound On My Trail’ (03623); ‘Malted Milk’ b/w ‘Milkcow’s Calf Blues’ (03665) and ‘Stones In My Passway’ b/w ‘I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man’ (03723).  The two 78s issued in 1938 are: ‘Stop Breakin’ Down Blues’ b/w ‘Honeymoon Blues’ (04002) and ‘Little Queen Of Spades’ b/w ‘Me And The Devil Blues’ (04108).  The final Robert Johnson 78, issued in 1939, is ‘Love In Vain Blues’ b/w ‘Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)’ (04630).  This accounts for only twenty-four of the twenty-nine songs in Johnson’s oeuvre.  This means that five Robert Johnson tracks are never issued on 78.  These unreleased items are: ‘When You Got A Good Friend’, ‘Phonograph Blues’, ‘If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day’, ‘Drunken Hearted Man’ and ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’.  Let’s look at ten of Robert Johnson’s best songs – with some honourable mentions and interesting notes about some of the rest.

  1. ‘Terraplane Blues’ is a ‘moderate regional hit’ selling five thousand copies. It is the ‘only real hit during his lifetime’ and ‘the song for which he is most widely remembered.’  It boasts a wild, twanging guitar chord and shivery atmosphere.  This ‘lewd composition compares a woman to an automobile.’  The ‘Terraplane’ is a car brand and model of the Hudson Motor Company manufactured from 1932 to 1938.  “Who been drivin’ my Terraplane now for you since I been gone?” asks Robert Johnson.  He goes on to claim, “I’m gonna get down in this connection, keep on tanglin’ with your wires…” and “When I mash down on your little starter, then your spark plug will give me fire.”
  1. ‘Cross Road Blues’ is Robert Johnson’s greatest song. It directly addresses the central element of Johnson’s legend, his alleged deal with the devil.  It has been said that ‘the most likely source of the tale is Johnson himself.’  ‘Cross Road Blues’ is acknowledged as ‘the most fearsome of the inaugural tracks.’  The sound is hard and metallic.  In an agonised voice, Robert Johnson sings, “That I got the Cross Road Blues this mornin’, Lord, babe, I’m sinkin’ down.”  His conviction is inescapable.
  1. ‘Hell Hound On My Trail’ is a ‘haunting one-of-a-kind performance.’ “Blues fallin’ down like hail,” notes Robert Johnson, “There’s a hell hound on my trail.”  If Johnson sold his soul at the cross roads, this is the sound of the debt collector coming after this sad and doomed creature.
  1. ‘Love In Vain Blues’ is Robert Johnson at his most wounded and heartsick.  “Well it’s hard to tell, it’s hard to tell, when all your love’s in vain,” he mourns.  With unbearable sadness, Johnson howls, “Ou hou ou ou, hoo, Willie Mae,” evidently pointing to Willie Mae Powell as the inspiration for the song.  The singer’s ‘moaning at the end of “Love In Vain” is still one of the saddest sounds ever heard.’  This is ‘a timeless romantic lament.’
  1. ‘Me And The Devil Blues’ mixes a tickling guitar with a yowling vocal. “And I said, ‘Hello Satan / I believe it’s time for me to go’ / Me and the devil walkin’ side by side,” is another reminder of Robert Johnson’s legendary infernal bargain.  This ‘hair-raising anthem of dashed hopes’ seems to envision Johnson’s ultimate fate: “You may bury my body, woo / Down by the highway side / So my old evil spirit / Can get a Greyhound bus and ride.”
  1. ‘Preachin’ Blues’ is a ‘distant relation of Son House’s “Preaching The Blues”’, it is said, due to a stylistic similarity between this Robert Johnson tune and the work of one of his main inspirations. Over a fast stroked guitar, Johnson sings with wild abandon, “The blues, is a low down, shakin’ chill, yes, preach ‘em now.”
  1. ‘Stop Breakin’ Down Blues’ is perhaps the most modern sounding piece in Robert Johnson’s catalogue. Over a rumbling, locomotive rhythm, he barks, “I can’t walk the streets now, can’t consulate my mind / Some no good woman she starts breakin’ down.”
  1. ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ is a song that ‘beguiles us.’ It’s a bit of an oddity.  Robert Johnson was not from Chicago, though that city in Illinois becomes important for blues music in the 1950s particularly.  Johnson may well have visited Chicago in his travels but the lyric is rather geographically scrambled: “Baby don’t you want to go / Back to the land of California / To my sweet home Chicago.”  California is, of course, on the west coast of the U.S. while Chicago is in the Midwest.  The swaying and rocking melody is entrancing enough to make up for such incongruities though.
  1. ‘Stones In My Passway’ has Robert Johnson pickin’ and strummin’ his guitar, twanging a note or two for added embellishment. “I got stones in my passway / And my road seems dark as night,” he sings.  This is ‘the sound of a doomed man thinking out loud.’
  1. ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’ has a cantering rhythm and teasing guitar. “I’m gonna get up in the mornin’,” avers Robert Johnson, “I believe I’ll dust my broom / Girlfriend, the black man you been lovin’, girlfriend, can get my room.”  Love has obviously gone wrong, but Johnson is quitting, rather than being dismissed.  The authorship of the song belongs to Robert Johnson but sometimes causes some confusion.  Firstly, the song seems based on ‘I Believe I’ll Make A Change’, a 1932 song by Pinetop And Lindbergh (a.k.a. The Sparks Brothers).  More often, it is claimed that bluesman Elmore James is the author of this piece.  James’ 1951 take on ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’ is justly considered a ‘classic.’  Though Elmore James may have reinvented the song, there is no doubt that Robert Johnson’s 1936 recording is the original.

Some other notes on the remainder of Robert Johnson’s body of work: ‘When You Got A Good Friend’ is not about a male buddy; it’s about a woman (“I mistreated my baby…Anytime I think about it, I just wring my hands and cry”).  ‘Come On In My Kitchen’, ‘Phonograph Blues’, ‘Dead Shrimp Blues’ and ‘Milkcow’s Calf Blues’ can all be given a more ribald and salacious interpretation than the face value of their lyrics would indicate…if the listener is so inclined. ’32-20 Blues’ takes on a more sinister meaning when it is understood that the .32-20 is a Winchester rifle cartridge (“Take my 32-20, now, and cut her half in two”).  ‘They’re Red Hot’ is Johnson at his most humorous, adopting a silly nasal voice to bawl out the lyrics like a carnival barker.  ‘If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day’ is part religious Armageddon and part love gone wrong (“Lord, the little woman I’m lovin’ wouldn’t have no right to pray”) with Johnson’s fingers just about flying off the top of the fretboard.  ‘Malted Milk’ is, contrary to the title, about alcohol: ‘Written – or at least recorded – in 1937, a few years after prohibition ended, it seems likely that Robert Johnson’s “Malted Milk” refers to some other malt-based beverages better known than milk for making heads feel “funny, funny”…’  ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ opens with Johnson warning, “If your man gets personal..” and leads to him saying, “Now you can squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg.”  In ‘Honeymoon Blues’, Robert Johnson vows, “Bettie Mae, Bettie Mae, you shall be my wife some day.”  ‘Bettie Mae’ does not seem to match up with any of the singer’s well known lovers so she is either fictitious – or the one who got away…

Robert Johnson’s status as a recording artist brings him additional fame and fortune.  ‘He is able to go nearly anywhere and find an eager, expectant crowd.’  There is a downside.  ‘He becomes erratic, often moody, but always ambitious.’  Robert Johnson also wonders about his natural father, Noah Johnson: ‘In adulthood, he vacillates between contemptuous disinterest in him and a distempered desire to locate him.’

Fittingly, for a man whose ‘life is shrouded in mystery’, Robert Johnson’s end is also riddled with contradictions.

On a Saturday night in July 1938 Robert Johnson plays a show at the Three Forks Store & Jook House in Greenwood, Mississippi.  The story goes that Johnson is ‘friends’ with the wife of the man who runs the jook house and is rather indiscreet in conducting a liaison with that woman.  The proprietor then doses Johnson’s drink – he would ‘guzzle any form of white lightning or grain alcohol’ – and the singer becomes incapacitated, ‘displaying definite signs of poisoning.’  (In alternate versions of the legend: ‘Johnson is poisoned by a jealous girlfriend’; Johnson was ‘attempting to rekindle a relationship with the owner’s wife’; Johnson ‘got himself pie-eyed…and flirted with his employer’s wife’; the singer consumes a ‘bottle of whiskey poisoned by [the jealous] husband’; and it is ‘tainted rye’ that lays him low.)

The end does not come immediately.  Robert Johnson is ‘young and virile enough to withstand the poisoning.’  He lies ‘deathly ill for weeks.’  Johnson is given around the clock care by a couple of female fans of his at their home, Star of the West, a cotton plantation just across the Tallahatchie River.  Despite all this, Robert Johnson passes away on Tuesday, 16 August 1958.  He was 27 years old.  It is claimed that Johnson ‘lingered on in agony for several days before expiring.’  Another account has it that he took three days to die in a ‘convulsive state of severe pain.’  Most commonly, the form of poison is thought to be strychnine – but the symptoms and duration do not seem consistent with strychnine.  In one version of the legend, Johnson ‘successfully sweats the poison out of his system, but catches pneumonia’ in his weakened state – and there is no cure for pneumonia prior to 1946.  The owner of the plantation where the singer expires reports that Robert Johnson ‘died of syphilis.’  Perhaps the only thing to say is the ‘cause of death is still unknown.’  Robert Johnson’s alleged dying words are, “I pray that my redeemer will come and take me from my grave.”

After Vocalion issues ‘Love In Vain Blues’ b/w ‘Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)’ in 1939, Robert Johnson’s work goes out of print.  He becomes a favourite among blues aficionados, but fades from a wider public awareness.  Although he is considered ‘the single most important influence on the Chicago blues of the 1950s and 1960s’, this boom period is centred on electric guitar, not the acoustic tones of Johnson’s instrument.

Columbia Records issues ‘King Of The Delta Blues Singers’ (1961).  This is Robert Johnson’s most significant album.  It collects his work on a standard format 33 1/3 rpm album for the first time and brings him to the attention of a whole new generation.  It is successful enough to spawn a second volume, ‘King Of The Delta Blues Singers Vol. II’ (1970).  Each of these discs holds sixteen tracks.  It may be realised that this adds up to thirty-two songs…yet Johnson’s body of work consists of only twenty-nine songs.  The discrepancy is accounted for by three songs appearing on both discs (‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues’, ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’ and ‘Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)’).  This also means that the five tracks unreleased by Vocalion are finally officially available.

Rock artists record cover versions of Robert Johnson’s songs, enhancing his reputation for newer listeners.  Two of the more famous covers are ‘Crossroads’ by Cream (from ‘Wheels Of Fire’ (1968)) and ‘Stop Breaking Down’ by The Rolling Stones (on ‘Exile On Main Street’ (1972)).  It should also be noted that the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Lemon Song’ (on ‘Led Zeppelin II’ (1969)) borrow liberally from ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’.

Robert Johnson’s catalogue is repackaged again as ‘Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings’ (1990) and ‘Robert Johnson – The Centennial Collection’ (2011).

Robert Johnson anticipated many characteristics of rock ‘n’ roll in both his life and music.  In life, he was a touring musician who loved his women and his alcohol and died tragically at a young age.  Musically, Johnson’s songs embraced such familiar rock music themes as the supernatural, thwarted love, alcohol and life on the road – as well as adding a generous dollop of sexual innuendo.  Whether Robert Johnson’s talent was really the result of a deal with the devil, his music has exhibited a staying power and fascination that seems almost otherworldly.  Robert Johnson ‘stirred controversy, excited fans and inspired legions of other musicians.’  He was ‘the most celebrated figure in the history of the blues.’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 3 June 2015
  2. wikipedia.org as at 13 May 2015
  3. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 90, 93, 96, 97
  4. ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ (video documentary) by Marty Singh, Aiden Prewett (DevilBlueFilms, 27 July 2014?)
  5. biography.com – Robert Johnson – no author credited – as at 3 June 2015
  6. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 3 June 2013
  7. rollingstone.com – Robert Johnson biography – no author credited – as at 3 June 2015
  8. ‘Robert Johnson – The Centennial Collection’ – ‘A Biography Reassessed and Amended upon the 100th Anniversary of his Birth’ by Stephen C. La Vere (Sony Music Corporation, 2011) p. 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19
  9. allmusic.com, ‘Robert Johnson’ by Cub Koda as at 3 June 2015
  10. famousfix.com as at 3 June 2015
  11. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 34, 35
  12. ‘Robert Johnson – The Centennial Collection’ – ‘A History of the Recorded Masters’ by Stephen C. La Vere (Sony Music Corporation, 2011) p. 20
  13. ‘Robert Johnson – The Centennial Collection’ – ‘Robert Johnson: A Century and Beyond’ by Ted Gioia (Sony Music Corporation, 2011) p. 3, 4
  14. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 70
  15. jstor.org – ‘Black Music Research Journal’ Vol. 32 No. 1 (Spring 2012) – Board of Trustees, University of Illinois – David Brackett – ‘Preaching Blues’
  16. foodculture.com – no author credited – 8 November 2010
  17. songlyrics.com as at 5 June 2015

Song lyrics copyright The Bicycle Music Company with the exceptions of ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ and ‘Honeymoon Blues’ (both Handlebar Music O.B.O Standing Ovation Music)

Last revised 16 June 2015

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