A Blast from the Past: Robert Johnson
March 8, 2012
The background crackle in “Sweet Home Chicago,” the twangy acoustic strings bending repeatedly in impossible riffs, and Robert Johnson’s (also known as Mississippi Delta Blues) whiney complaints of Home, baby, don’t you want to go? Are all reasons why my spine tingles at the sound of Johnson’s soulful music. Hitting the scene only for a short period from 1937 to 1938, Robert Johnson’s mournful yet upbeat tones intrigued all listeners, whether black or white. Even after a short-lived career and his death at 27, Johnson continues to heavily influence serious musicians in the modern music industry. Johnson’s soul is brought out in guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page when listening to Led Zeppelin’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine, and Clapton’s cover of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads. The Mississippi Delta Blues master decided to turn his back on the ordinary life of a farmer and husband, centering his career around guitar playing. While secular music meant selling one’s soul to the devil, Johnson was looked down upon by friends and family members due to his devotion to the blues. However Johnson confirmed this satanic rumor when he was suddenly granted with remarkable guitar technique. Although the blues musician’s life is still somewhat of a mystery, Johnson was known to frequently play in joints and on street corners for money but would randomly depart, living his life mostly on the road. Along with neighboring blues gods like Leadbelly and Son House, the perplexing guitarist always compels me to sway, shiver and deeply wonder about the music behind the man’s skilled hands and cryptic mind.