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mosesandtherubberducky 12-21-2005 01:24 PM

The Robert Johnson Appreciation Thread
Robert Johnson was born on May 8, 1911 to Julia Major Dodds and Noah Johnson in Hazelhurst, Mississippi. Until his late adolescence, his name was Robert Spencer after his stepfather, who had to change his name from Dodds to Spencer when he ran from Mississipi after a personal vandetta with the Marchetti Brothers (Lavere 7). Johnson took the name of his natural father as a teenager, even though he had not met him.

Music was a long-time interest for Johnson, and his first instruments were the Jew's harp and the harmonica. Before he became seriously involved with the guitar, he married Virginia Travis in February 1929, and the young couple soon became expectant parents. But tragedy struck when Virginia, only sixteen years old, died in childbirth in 1930.

Around June of 1930, blues musician Son House came to Mississippi. His music deeply affected Johnson, for it was the "rawest, most direct pure emotion Robert had ever heard, and he followed House and [Willie] Brown wherever they went" (Lavere 11). But Johnson did not appear to be gifted with a musician's talent for guitar, as Son House asserts, " Such another racket you never heard! It'd make people mad, you know. They'd come out and say, "Why don't y'all go in there and get that guitar from that boy!" (Cobb 289).

Unhappy and unwilling to be caught in the sharecropper's world of backbreaking work with little reward, Johnson left the regular scene around Robinsonville, Mississippi and went to Hazelhurst, MS. There he played at the "jook joints of the road gangs and lumber camps," and found a "kind and loving woman more than ten years his senior" named Calletta "Callie" Craft (Lavere 11). The couple was married in May 1931, but they kept the marriage a secret.

This time in Southern Mississippi was very important for Johnson, because his musical talent came to fruition. When he returned to Robunsonville, Son House and Willie Brown were astounded by his development (Lavere 13). Rumors began about Johnson trading his soul to the devil in exchange for the guitar expertise. His career took off.

In performance, Johnson played his own songs as well as those of other bluesmen and generally popular music by performers such as Bing Crosby. When he made up his mind to record, in 1936, he approached H. C. Speirs, a white record store owner in Jackson, MS. Speirs sent him to Ernie Oertle, an ARC scout. Oertle and Johnson went to San Antonio late in November 1936, where, in 5 days, he recorded Kindhearted Woman Blues, I Believe I'll Dust My Broom, Sweet Home Chicago, Rambling 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, Walking Blues, Last Fair Deal Gone Down, Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil), and If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day. When he was done, he returned home to Mississippi.

Johnson returned to recording in June of 1937, this time in Dallas. He did two takes each of Hellhound On My Trail, Little Queen of Spades, Malted Milk, Drunken Hearted Man, Me and the Devil Blues, Stop Breakin' Down Blues, Traveling Riverside Blues, and Honeymoon Blues, and three takes of Milkcow's Calf Blues, and four takes of Love in Vain.

During the next year, Johnson traveled to such places as St. Louis, Memphis, and back home to the Delta. On Saturday night, August 13, 1938 at a jook joint named Three Forks, Johnson played his last gig. Of the many rumors concerning Johnson's death in 1938 (stabbing, poison, the devil catching up with him), poisoning is the most prevalent and most substantiated. His death certificate was found in 1968, verifying his death in Greenwood, Mississippi. He is buried at a small church in Morgan City, MS, which is near Greenwood. It was soon after Johnson's death, but before the news was wide-spread, that John Hammond began looking for Johnson to perform at Carnegie Hall in a "From Spirituals to Swing" concert.

In 1990, Columbia reissued Johnson's recordings in their Roots 'n' Blues series. Johnson was featured on a U.S. Post Office stamp in 19XX. Johnson's songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as Lee Roy Parnell and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Johnson's poetry is currently being taught at the University level, in particular, Victor Cabas' "Mississippi in Story and Song" at the University of Virginia.

This was taken from

Speak of anything regarding this man.

boris jawaka 12-21-2005 04:23 PM

a genius.

without him, there would be no zeppelin, no clapton and the world would be a much worse place than it already is

Kashmir86 12-28-2005 08:23 AM

agreed^ Johnson is a legend, unfortunately a legend that most people don't even know of.

Black_Jack_Davey 12-28-2005 10:55 PM

You would think more people would know more of RJ's music, after all he only has 41 recorded songs, and most of them are doubles. Get his complete recordings. Now.

3KingsFan 01-02-2006 07:24 PM


Originally Posted by Kashmir86
agreed^ Johnson is a legend, unfortunately a legend that most people don't even know of.

Actually, he is the most well known pre-WW II bluesman there is. His music has been covered by Clapton, Peter Green, The Rolling Stones, Foghat, just to name a few of the rock acts that have covered him. "Sweet Home Chicago" has been covered by half(if not more) of the blues artists on the planet. I believe "Complete Recordings" was the first blues recording to sell over a million copies. Next to Muddy Waters and possibly Howlin Wolf, RJ is the closest thing the blues has to a "rock star".

jazzfromhell 01-02-2006 10:51 PM

Yeah, but like like you said, he's just the closest thing they've got to a rock star. Doesn't mean he is a rock star. Although I agree that he's probably the best known bluesman, other than Muddy Waters or B.B. King (I'd definitely agree he's the best known Delta bluesman), doesn't mean he's well known. Just more well known than the rest.

Kashmir86 01-03-2006 10:31 AM

It's just sad how huge of an influence he was on so many artists to follow, yet the average clapton or zeppelin fan would be like robert who?

fidelityfiend 01-06-2006 06:54 AM

Keep in mind that outside of Clapton and maybe Keb Mo, it usually takes TWO guitarists playing together to duplicate RJ's arrangements accurately. Brutha could fn play!!

Black_Jack_Davey 01-10-2006 01:08 PM

What's yer guys' favorite Johnson song? Cross Road Blues is an obvious favorite, but mine has to be Stop Breaking Down Blues.

Music Man 01-10-2006 05:46 PM


Originally Posted by Black_Jack_Davey
You would think more people would know more of RJ's music, after all he only has 41 recorded songs, and most of them are doubles. Get his complete recordings. Now.

He recorded 29 different songs, and recorded alternate takes of 13 of those 29, for a total of 42 recordings.

Unfortunately, the sound quality wasn't good back then, so you can't fully appreciate just how good his music was by those recordings. But I still recommend that interested individuals buy his complete recordings. Even with the sub-par sound quality, his music is still a treat.

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