Image credits: Denis Barthel (cc by-sa3.0)
Week 2 will touch upon rhythm and blues and many of you may be familiar with the legend of Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938). He was an American blues singer and musician who is famous because of the myth about him selling his soul to the devil by the crossroads in order to obtain amazing guitar skills.
Radiolab have investigated this myth and you might enjoy this – it’s a wonderful bit of radio, told brilliantly…
Here’s the link to the show and its accompanying blurb. It’s a great bit of radio.
In this short, we go looking for the devil, and find ourselves tangled in a web of details surrounding one of the most haunting figures in music — a legendary guitarist whose shadowy life spawned a legend so powerful, it’s still being repeated… even by fans who don’t believe a word of it.
For years and years, Jad’s been fascinated by the myth of what happened to Robert Johnson at the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The story goes like this: back in the 1920s, Robert Johnson wanted to play the blues. But he really sucked. He sucked so much, that everyone who heard him told him to get lost. So he did. He disappeared for a little while, and when he came back, he was different. His music was startling — and musicians who’d laughed at him before now wanted to know how he did it. And according to the now-famous legend, Johnson had a simple answer: he went out to the crossroads just before midnight, and when the devil offered to tune his guitar in exchange for his soul, he took the deal.
Producer Pat Walters bravely escorts Jad to the scene of the supposed crime, in the middle of the night in the Mississippi Delta, to try to track down some shred of truth to all this. And Robert Johnson experts Tom Graves, Elijah Wald, David Evans, and Robert “Mack” McCormick help bring us a step closer to the real human at the heart of this tale. Plus, we hear, posthumously, from Ledell Johnson…a man of no relation to Robert, who unintentionally helped the world fall for a blues-imbued ghost story.
Tom Graves, Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson
Elijah Wald, Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues
David Evans, Tommy Johnson
Peter Guralnick, Searching for Robert Johnson