100 Years Out: Robert Johnson
In the dim early part of the last century, a bluesman named Robert Johnson claimed he sold his soul to the devil, as if to explain his otherworldly skills in writing, singing and playing the blues. If that really happened, right now Robert Johnson is burning in hell while we’re still talking and writing about him, and listening to his music. It means that Robert Johnson beat the devil.
Sunday will mark the 100th birthday of this mysterious figure. In this age of instant tweets and non-stop media, it’s almost impossible to know as little about an entertainer as we do about Robert Johnson. We do know that between 1932 until his death in 1938, Johnson was constantly on the move, playing juke joints and roadhouses across the South. He occasionally played gigs in places like Chicago and St. Louis, and the 42 songs we know him by today were cut during two epic sessions in San Antonio and Dallas.
The two things that have survived over the years are of course the legend of Robert Johnson and the devil, and the music. Robert Johnson’s music is terrifying in its stark realism, and the dark heart of his greatest songs form the foundation of rock and roll. No need to run down the list of artists influenced by Robert Johnson – you can hear it below.