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Robert Johnson: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time

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    Robert Johnson: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time

    Robert Johnson (b. c. 1911, Hazlehurst, Miss., U.S.—d. Aug. 16, 1938, near Greenwood, Miss.) was an American blues composer, guitarist, and singer whose eerie falsetto singing voice and masterful, rhythmic slide guitar influenced both his contemporaries and many later blues and rock musicians.

    Robert Johnson was the product of a confusing childhood, with three men serving as his father before he reached age seven. Little is known about his biological father (Noah Johnson, whom his mother never married), and the boy and his mother lived on various plantations in the Mississippi Delta region before settling briefly in Memphis, Tenn., with her first husband (Robert Dodds, who had changed his surname to Spencer).

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    The bulk of Johnson’s youth, however, was spent in Robinsonville, Miss., with his mother and her second husband (Dusty Willis). There, Johnson learned to play the Jew’s harp and harmonica before taking up the guitar. In 1929, he married 16-year-old Virginia Travis, whose death in childbirth (along with that of their baby) in April 1930 devastated Johnson.

    In Robinsonville he came in contact with well-known Mississippi Delta bluesmen Willie Brown, Charley Patton, and Son House—all of whom influenced his playing and none of whom was particularly impressed by his talent. They were dazzled by his musical ability, however, when he returned to town after spending as much as a year away. That time away is central to Johnson’s mythic status.

    According to legend, during that period Johnson made a deal with Satan at a crossroads, acquiring his prodigious talent as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter in exchange for the stipulation that he would have only eight more years to live. (A similar story circulated in regard to another Mississippi bluesman, Tommy Johnson.)

    Music historian Robert Palmer, in is highly regarded book Deep Blues (1981), instead ascribes Robert Johnson’s remarkable musical attainments to the time he had to hone his skills as a guitarist under the instruction of Ike Zinneman as a result of the financial support he received from the older woman he married near Hazlehurst, Miss. (Johnson’s birthplace), and to the wide variety of music to which he was exposed during his hiatus from Robinsonville, including the singlestring picking styles of Lonnie Johnson and Scrapper Blackwell.

    After returning briefly to Robinsonville, Johnson settled in Helena, Ark., where he played with Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and Howlin’ Wolf, among others. He also became involved with Estella Coleman and informally adopted her son, Robert Lockwood, Jr., who later became a notable blues musician under the name Robert Jr. Lockwood. Johnson traveled widely throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee and as far north as Chicago and New York, playing at house parties, juke joints, and lumber camps and on the street.

    In 1936–37 he made a series of recordings in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, and a warehouse in Dallas. His repertoire included several blues songs by House and others, but Johnson’s original numbers, such as “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Ramblin’ on My Mind,” and “Love in Vain” are his most compelling pieces. Unlike the songs of many of his contemporaries—which tended to unspool loosely, employing combinations of traditional and improvised lyrics—Johnson’s songs were tightly composed, and his song structure and lyrics were praised by Bob Dylan.

    Despite the limited number of his recordings, Johnson had a major impact on other musicians, including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones. Johnson died of poisoning after drinking strychnine-laced whiskey in a juke joint.

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    Track List:

    00:00 “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” Robert Johnson 02:58 “Phonograph Blues” Robert Johnson 05:33 “Phonograph Blues (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson 08:08 “Ramblin’ On My Mind” Robert Johnson 11:01 “Ramblin’ On My Mind (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson 13:23 “Kindhearted Woman Blues” Robert Johnson 16:14 “Kindhearted Woman Blues (Alt. Version Take 2)” Robert Johnson 18:46 “Terraplane Blues” Robert Johnson

    21:46 “I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man” Robert Johnson 24:24 “Walking Blues” Robert Johnson 26:53 “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” Robert Johnson 29:32 “Dead Shrimp Blues” Robert Johnson 32:09 “Sweet Home Chicago” Robert Johnson 35:11 “32-20 Blues” Robert Johnson 38:02 “Come On In My Kitchen” Robert Johnson 40:52 “Come On In My Kitchen (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson

    43:30 “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” Robert Johnson 46:04 “Me And The Devil Blues” Robert Johnson 48:36 “Me And The Devil Blues (Alt. Version – Take 1)” Robert Johnson 51:12 “Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)” Robert Johnson 54:05 “Stones In My Passway” Robert Johnson