Robert Jonson walked to the crossroads at midnight in the Mississippi Delta carrying a guitar, he dropped to his knees and held his guitar in the air. The devil appeared, took the guitar and tuned it. He said to Robert “If you take this guitar your soul is mine.” Robert took the guitar and left in a hurry.
There’s not a lot known about Robert Johnson, there’s only 2 photos of him in existence and no video recordings. He grew up in Mississippi, his father was a prosperous landowner who had to leave town over the fear of being lynched over a dispute with white landowners. Later Johnson married a local girl called Virginia Travis, she died in childbirth.
Around this time, the Blues musician Son House moved to Robinsonville, where his musical partner Willie Brown lived. Late in life, House remembered Johnson as a “little boy” who was a competent harmonica player but an embarrassingly bad guitarist. Johnson wanted to become a blues musician and felt rejected when they thought he wasn’t good enough. He thought to himself, I’ll show you. Soon after, Johnson left Robinsonville for the area around Martinsville, close to his birthplace, possibly searching for his natural father. Here he perfected the guitar style of House and learned other styles from Ike Zimmerman. Zimmerman taught Johnson to play guitar in graveyards because no one there would complain. This also buys into the legend of Johnson selling his soul to the devil. When Johnson next appeared in Robinsonville, he seemed to have miraculously acquired a guitar technique. The Blues musicians couldn’t believe that a year ago Johnson was a mediocre guitar player to now out playing them, which led them to believe he did sell his soul.
While living in Martinsville, Johnson fathered a child with Vergie Mae Smith. He married Caletta Craft in May 1931. In 1932, the couple moved to Clarksdale Mississippi, in the Delta. Caletta died in childbirth, and Johnson left for a career as a “walking” or itinerant musician.
Now a career Bluesman he traveled around the country playing the Blues in juke joints, drinking whiskey and kept company of a lot of women. He recorded some music in San Antonio, Texas. In his music there’s a lot of lyrics about walking with the devil and lyrics of hellhounds, because blues is considered the devils music and because of these lyrics it made the legend even stronger about his pact with the devil. Now that he had his fame and fortune it was time for the devil to collect his debt.
It’s not exactly clear how he died but the rumour goes Johnson was flirting with a married woman and she gave him a bottle of whiskey which was poisoned by the husband. When Johnson took the bottle, Williamson knocked it out of his hand, admonishing him to never drink from a bottle that he had not personally seen opened. Johnson replied, “Don’t ever knock a bottle out of my hand.” He drank from the bottle and fell ill that night and died three days later.
It’s argued that his guitar playing is supernatural that he couldn’t have gotten that good in such a short space of time. Practice makes perfect so maybe he did become that good on his own, or maybe he did sell his soul. Either way he became a great blues player and set up some early stepping stones of what became rock n roll.
Just remember if you make a deal with the devil, there’s going to be a price to pay.