Robert Johnson “The Devil’s MUSIC”

Did Robert Johnson play “The Devil’s Music”

41 songs on the record and 3 known Photos of Robert Johnson from the 1930s to this very day are as important as ever. Mythology or Truth, the Story can still be one to raise the hair on your arms. His death is as much debated as his life. 

Even the true sound of his voice has been a hot topic. Regardless he and his predecessor Charlie Patton are considered to be the roots of Rock N Roll. He Created the otherworldly Blues in its sound and its stories

Listen To Preaching Blues Robert Johnson

Son House mocked him. Johnny Shines and Honeyboy Edwards traveled and lived with him out in the wilderness of the unknown. He as Shines described had the ability to “Hypnotize an Audience.” He may well have been the originator of the “27” Club in his death in 1938.

He was introduced as a 17-year-old Husband to the Human Side of the Blues as his bride and child would both die during childbirth. It’s speculated that it was the true Crossroads of his life as he lost faith and turned his back on God and religion. Sorrow and anger can fuel determination and creativity beyond the scope of peace and contentment.

The Town of Robinsonville was where Son House first encountered Robert and when Son would take a break from playing he would hear by his own ears or from the Juke joint patrons that Robert was trying to play Son’s Guitar.

”Noising the People” was his description and he did not encourage Johnson, except in the notion of putting that thing down and quit

This happened on many occasions. In my thinking it just caused Robert to be even more determined. After disappearing by House’s recollection for 6 to 8 months he returned to one of the Juke Joints and wanted to show Son what he learned to do. . What he had learned to do was simply astounding. The syncopation of rhythms working 2 at once combined with slide and single-string lead Robert Johnson sounded like at the very least two guitarists at once.

He had from seemingly nowhere Mastered the guitar and had the aspects of melody and multi-faceted chord structures that no one ever got down before and has never surpassed since.

Then there was the voice. Haunting, singing, and talking about Rambling, Violence, Hell Hounds, Satan, and Murder. Whether or not he went at midnight to the crossroads to sell his soul to the Devil at highway 49 and 61 in Clarksdale, Mississippi where the Devil returned his instrument in exchange for his soul is debatable. Did he learn from Little known Guitarist Ike Zimmerman while holding sessions in local Graveyards?  Maybe, Maybe, Maybe not.. Either way, his lyrics were either telling his own personal truth, or he was promoting his own myth. No one knows for sure but Robert, God, and The Devil himself.

 According to Johnny Shines,  Robert had the ability to hold a conversation while listening to a song at the same time and when the song was done on the radio He could play it and sing it verbatim having only heard it one time, In these Early days he used Guitars like the “Kalamazoo” By Gibson and a hard find in the guitar brand “Stella”. Later he acquired a Gibson L-1 the one prominently photographed. Considering the cost of these being $12.50 in the 30’s he was certainly saving his quarters from Busking on the streets to afford it.

In 1936 he visited a man who had ties to people in recording the other Delta players and it didn’t take long to be called to Texas by The American Recording company.

Don Law sr. got more than he bargained for from the wayward Johnson. 

The eve before the first recordings in San Antonio he secured a boarding house room and cautioned Robert to not drink too much as recording would begin early that next morning. He left him with 45 cents to buy Breakfast in preparation. Law then went to dinner with his wife and within minutes had a phone call that the Police had Robert in jail before he could even get to his place to sleep. Law left dinner long enough to talk them into Robert’s release and back to join his wife for dinner. Within another 15 minutes, he had a second interruption of dinner by Robert himself on the telephone saying he was “Lonesome” and a prostitute was there but she wanted 50 cents and he lacked a nickel.

In recent years there has been speculation that the Lathe cut versions of Johnson may have suffered a speed issue as they were dealing with bare-bones technology and many have now experimented with slowing down the recordings to hear the possible True sound of Robert Johnson. Whichever speed is proper doesn’t change the fact he still possessed a voice of Haunting authority.

CROSSROADS BLUES Slowed Down-Robert Johnson

The success of the first recordings released on the Vocalia Label prompted the second sessions with Don Law this time in Dallas.June of 1937. In total there were 29 songs involved adding in the unearthed outtakes brought things up to 41. The building at  508 Park was where the Dallas sessions took place and currently through research is being revamped to be a Historical Showcase. A place to visit the very room where the history was made.

Robert Johnson’s music has been a catalyst for an innumerable cast of recording artists and has been presented in almost every variation you can think of. Cream and Eric Clapton as a band and solo career, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones are just the surfaces.  His reach extends to bands even now. Somewhere right now there is someone on Planet earth playing one of his songs on a stage or in their living room and putting their own stamp on it. You can’t escape it, even if you don’t know it was written by Robert…you have heard his work in one form or another and no doubt this will continue on for ages to come.

Rolling Stones – Stop Breaking Down

The man we know as the greatest influence in modern music would not live to see the impact he made. His vices were too strong. He didn’t play by the rules of any man. He was a well-known womanizer, if they were Married made no difference to Robert and that poor Judgement coupled with a second mistake would be his undoing. 

Juke Joints are a place of celebration and a place of danger at all times. Especially if you have slept with the owner’s wife. The second rule beyond not sleeping with the owner’s wife was you don’t fool with an already opened bottle of liquor. It might be alright or it may be tampered with. In Johnson’s case, the Jealous Husband decided in place of just shooting or stabbing the offender he would lure him to a false sense of security and give him a Bottle of Whiskey of his own, Opened. It most likely contained the deadly “Passagreen”, an odorless, tasteless backwood poison extracted from mothballs, used in the rural South. I wrote a song about which you can buy on amazing radio to help support this site and music.

Passagreen Jimmy Fleming

During the later part of the night, Robert began to weaken and state he was not feeling well.

August 13, 1938, at “Three Forks” his decline began. It was from many accounts a slow 3-day escalation of agony. To the point of Robert crawling and Howling like a dog from the pain, he was suffering from.  Robert died on the 16th of August after writing a deathbed note in atonement for turning his back on God. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jerusalem,  I know that my redeemer liveth and that he will call me from the Grave.”

I had the fortunate opportunity to see the only man known to have ever been taught guitar by Robert Johnson. Robert jr. Lockwood Played at the Palace theater in Columbus, Ohio opening for The Late B.B. King. It was quite amazing to see that link to history. He played a wonderful set of music. Then he introduced a song few have ever heard.  He explained,” My Mother and Robert lived together for a period of time when I was a boy and he not only taught me guitar but he played many songs he wrote that were NOT recorded.”

One more Mystery from the King of the Delta Blues. From the sound of that statement potentially dozens of unheard mysteries. 

Robert Johnson Grave with A 1926 Gibson L1
One of Robert Johnson’s final resting places

In 1986 Robert Johnson was one of the first 5 artists inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.

The only thing one can be sure of in the Story of Robert Johnson is that his music inspires someone and something new every single day. Fact or fiction it is an amazing journey we never seem to tire of exploring.

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Jimmy Flemming