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 Robert Leroy Johnson
Robert Johnson
16 August 1938
Age 27
Poisoned 
  
Photo of Gravesite  
BIOGRAPHY  
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Editor's Pick: The Complete Recordings
  
 
  
Robert Johnson's Grave, photo by Stuart Davis
There are two Robert Johnson tombstones in MS: at Payne Chapel in Quito and at the Mt. Zion Church near Morgan City.  Both are south of Itta Bena (birthplace of both B.B. King and Marion Barry) off Highway 7.
Other blues legends gravesites: Fixin' To Die Blues by Stuart Davis

 
BIOGRAPHY
 
 
 
            born: Robert Leroy Johnson, 8 May 1911 (sources for this date vary), Hazlehurst, 
            Mississippi, USA, d. 13 August 1938, Greenwood, Mississippi, USA. For a 
            subject upon which it is dangerous to generalize, it hardly strains credulity to 
            suggest that Johnson was the fulcrum upon which post-war Chicago blues 
            turned. The techniques that he had distilled from others' examples, including 
            Charley Patton, House, Son and the unrecorded Ike Zinnerman, in turn 
            became the template for influential musicians such as Waters, Muddy, 
            James, Elmore and those that followed them. Credited by some writers with 
            more originality than was in fact the case, it was as an interpreter that 
            Johnson excelled, raising a simple music form to the level of performance art 
            at a time when others were content to iterate the conventions. He was one of 
            the first of his generation to make creative use of others' recorded efforts, 
            adapting and augmenting their ideas to such extent as to impart originality to 
            the compositions they inspired. Tempering hindsight with perspective, it 
            should be noted that only his first record, 'Terraplane Blues', sold in any 
            quantity; even close friends and family remained unaware of his recorded work 
            until decades later, when researchers such as Gayle Dean Wardlow and 
            Mack McCormick contacted them. In all, Johnson recorded 29 compositions 
            at five sessions held between 23 November 1936 and 20 June 1937; a further 
            'bawdy' song recorded at the engineers' request is as yet unlocated. It has 
            never been established which, if any, of his recordings were specifically 
            created for the studio and what proportion were regularly performed, although 
            associate Shines, Johnny attested to the effect that 'Come On In My 
            Kitchen' had upon audiences. Similarly, the image of shy, retiring genius has 
            been fabricated out of his habit of turning away from the engineers and singing 
            into the corners of the room, which Cooder, Ry identifies as 'corner loading', 
            a means of enhancing vocal power. That power and the precision of his guitar 
            playing are evident from the first take of 'Kind-hearted Women Blues', which, 
            like 'I Believe I'll Dust My Broom' and 'Sweet Home Chicago', is performed 
            without bottleneck embellishment. All eight titles from the first session in San 
            Antonio, Texas, exhibit the attenuated rhythm patterns, adapted from a 
            boogie pianist's left-hand 'walking basses', that became synonymous with 
            post-war Chicago blues and Jimmy Reed in particular. Several alternate 
            takes survive and reveal how refined Johnson's performances were, only 
            'Come On In My Kitchen' being played at two contrasting tempos. Eight more 
            titles were recorded over two days, including 'Walkin Blues', learned from 
            House, Son, and 'Cross Road Blues', the song an echo of the legend that 
            Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil to achieve his musical skill. 'Preachin' 
            Blues' and 'If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day' were both impassioned 
            performances that show his ability was consummate. The balance of his 
            repertoire was recorded over a weekend some seven months later in Dallas. 
            These 11 songs run the gamut of emotions, self-pity, tenderness and frank 
            sexual innuendo giving way to representations of demonic possession, 
            paranoia and despair. Fanciful commentators have taken 'Hellhound On My 
            Trail' and 'Me And The Devil' to be literal statements rather than the dramatic 
            enactment of feeling expressed in the lyrics. Johnson's ability to project 
            emotion, when combined with the considered way in which he lifted melodies 
            and mannerisms from his contemporaries, gainsay a romantic view of his 
            achievements. Nevertheless, the drama in his music surely reflected the 
            drama in his lifestyle, that of an itinerant with a ready facility to impress his 
            female audience. One such dalliance brought about his end a year after his 
            last session, poisoned by a jealous husband while performing in a jook joint at 
            Three Forks, outside Greenwood, Mississippi. At about that time, Columbia 
            A&R man John Hammond was seeking out Johnson to represent country 
            blues at a concert, entitled 'From Spirituals To Swing', that took place at New 
            York's Carnegie Hall on 23 December 1938. Broonzy, Big Bill took 
            Johnson's place. Robert Johnson possessed unique abilities, unparalleled 
            among his contemporaries and those that followed him. The importance of his 
            effect on subsequent musical developments cannot be diminished but neither 
            should it be seen in isolation. His name was kept alive in the 80s by a 
            comprehensive reissue project, while in the 90s he was included as part of the 
            US stamp series celebrating the classic blues artists. Even in his absence he 
            managed to provide controversy - when a cigarette was removed from the 
            original painting, the decision was described by tobacco baron Philip Morris 
            as 'an insult to America's 50 million smokers'. ~Music Central '96
 
 
  
 
 
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Follow links to hear these sample Robert Johnson tunes: 
Hell Hound On My Trail  
They're Red Hot   
Last Fair Deal Gone Down 
Terraplane Blues  
Cross Road Blues 
Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) 
 
 
 
 
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