Johnson's enduring legacy has been recognised by musicians and music enthusiasts across genres and generations. From blues to rock and roll, his profound influence has shaped the sound of modern music, with iconic artists such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Eric Clapton citing him as an inspiration. This section delves into the ripple effects of Johnson's work across the musical landscape, demonstrating how his haunting melodies and compelling storytelling continue to inspire and resonate.
The Enigmatic Charisma of Robert Johnson: A Journey Through his Life and Legacy
Emerging from the rich tapestry of Black Southern folklore, the tale of the talented Robert Johnson is as fascinating as the lore of meeting the Trickster deity Legba at the crossroads at midnight. This narrative, deeply rooted in West-African Yoruba tradition, was transposed into Christian parlance as an encounter with the Devil himself, leading many to believe Robert Johnson had traded his soul for his unparalleled musical prowess.
Upon his return to Clarksdale after a brief stint playing in cotton towns along the Mississippi and Arkansas, Johnson's evolved guitar-playing and songwriting abilities immediately caught attention. While some attributed this extraordinary talent to a pact with the Devil, it's more plausible that Johnson was tutored by an obscure figure named Zinneman, who reportedly honed his skills in a graveyard. Johnson's unique style, characterised by an innovative blend of slide, chording, and unconventional tunings, reshaped the conventional approach to Blues.
Both takes of 'Love in Vain', and both existing images of Robert
The significance of Johnson's musical genius was not restricted to his performances alone. His influence extended to his 'step-son' Robert Jr. Lockwood, and young Blues players like Elmore James and Johnny Shines. Johnson was an itinerant performer, gathering crowds in lumber camps, taverns, sidewalks, and even on radio broadcasts in Ontario, Canada. His charisma, particularly with women, was noted by many, including close friend Shines, who remarked, "His sound affected women in a way I could never understand."
Johnson's body of work, though limited to a few recording sessions, has imprinted an indelible mark on Blues history. His legacy is embodied in classics like 'Crossroads', 'Love in Vain', 'Dust My Broom', and 'Sweet Home Chicago.' With darker undertones featuring prominently in songs like 'Me and the Devil' and 'Hellhound on my Trail,' Johnson's oeuvre explores the eternal struggle between good and evil, inadvertently fuelling the myth of his alleged deal with the Devil.
"THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS" by Robert Johnson is a crucial collection for any Blues enthusiast, encapsulating the profound influence Johnson had on the genre. Known for his complex and polyrhythmic guitar work, Johnson's perceived pact with the Devil for his extraordinary talent has become part of Blues legend. His entire recorded work, confined to two Texas sessions in 1936 and 1937, comprises of 29 songs. With alternate versions included, there are 42 tracks in total in this collection, which many consider the most influential music of the 20th century.
Tragedy struck when Johnson, at the age of 27, was poisoned by strychnine-laced whisky in 1938. This incident led to the establishment of the uncanny '27 Club,' comprising musicians who met untimely deaths at the same age. However, even after his death, Robert Johnson's Blues continues to thrive, proving that while the Devil may have claimed his soul, his music resonates eternally.
Son House gives his first-hand account of Robert’s transformation
The enduring legacy of Robert Johnson's music reaches far beyond the realm of Blues. His influence, undeniably profound, has resonated across generations and genres, echoing in the works of countless musicians. His life, shrouded in mystery, straddled the realms of reality and legend, adding to his enigmatic allure. While his untimely death at the age of 27 sparked the genesis of the '27 Club,' his sound and storytelling live on, inspiring and captivating listeners to this day. Tragic as his life was, it's the power of his music that forms his true legacy, a testament to his extraordinary talent. From the crossroads of Mississippi to the world stage, Robert Johnson's journey serves as an enduring symbol of the transformative power of music and its ability to transcend time and space.
The 27 Club
The decade beginning with 1970 witnessed an unprecedented string of tragic losses in the world of rock music. Al Wilson of Canned Heat and Jimi Hendrix, both just 27 years old, lost their lives due to drug-related incidents in Los Angeles and London respectively. The irreplaceable Janis Joplin also succumbed to a similar fate, passing away in LA just a fortnight later. In 1971, Jim Morrison's life was tragically cut short in Paris. This string of premature deaths was not confined to this period: Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones had already succumbed in 1969, and the trend continued with Kurt Kobain in 1994, and most recently, Amy Winehouse, with vodka being the deciding factor. However, this so-called '27 Club' can be traced back to Robert Johnson, who met his untimely demise in 1938 after consuming whisky laced with strychnine.