15 Mar Robert Johnson // The Legend Uncovered
By NOISYHYPE TEAM, March 17, 2020
When we talk about the blues, many iconic artists come to mind: BB King, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Sugar Ray Vaughn – but no one quite played the blues like Robert Johnson.
Who was Robert Johnson?
Johnson came from a background filled with despair, heartache and hopelessness. It was a time when ‘men of colour’ were rarely allowed to express themselves if at all – where living a ‘normal’ life seemed impossible in a country which was heavily disillusioned by its past and future predicaments – a time when slavery was the norm.
But amid all that negative energy and desperate times, Johnson’s story is also one which laid the foundation of not only blues but Rock’n’Roll as we call it today. With that said, it’s also a story that’s surrounded by a fair amount of mystery.
For several decades, the myths revolving around Robert Johnson’s shady past heavily overshadowed his invaluable contributions to the world of blues and rock, not just as a gifted guitar player, but also as a singer and songwriter.
From the legend that is still talked about today – that he sold his soul to Satan at the crossroads – to the mystery involved in his early death at 27, the truths about this gem of an artist have remained untold for the most part.
The rise and untimely fall of a Blues Legend
Even an honest attempt to track down the facts gets off to a somewhat rocky start. One fact widely known is that Robert Johnson was born Robert Leroy Johnson in May 1911 in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, although the date is as good a guess as any. The fact that he never got a birth certificate is synonymous with a man who emerged into the light from dark and troubled times.
From an early age, Johnson’s life was plagued by discrimination and hardships. Legend has it that he got his education in Memphis where he found a natural liking toward music. Around the same time his mother remarried, and he was sent off to work on a plantation. However, being the youthful and ambitious boy he was, complete with an undying passion for music, he would sing the field’s songs rather than get down on all fours and labour all day long.
The oppression he faced in the cotton fields of slavery set the tone for his love for blues at the tender age of 18. A short while later on in his life, he married Virginia Travis, and the two set off to her grandmother’s when she got pregnant.
Unfortunately, his jubilance was short-lived as after having returned from a couple of gigs he managed to land, he discovered that both his wife and child had died in labour. Amid criticism from his in-laws that “the devils’ music” was to blame for his wife and child not surviving, Johnson pursued his passion for the blues with renewed fury and fire.
The guitarist and singer/songwriter enjoyed an illustrious though short-lived career, coming up with such iconic hits as “Crossroad”.
Johnson’s songs were full of fear of the supernatural, obsession for sex and wanderlust, among other things. It is believed that his infatuation with drinking and women is what lead to his sudden death – that a jealous girlfriend took his life either with a knife or by administering poison.
If you want to enjoy an amazing documentary about his legend you should what on Netflix: Remastered: Devil at the Crossroads