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Robert Johnson Profile

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Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings

Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings

Photo courtesy Sony Legacy Recordings

Born: May 8, 1911 in Hazlehurst MS

Died: August 16, 1938 in Greenwood MS

Even casual blues fans know the name of Robert Johnson, and thanks to the re-retelling of the story over the course of decades, many know the tale of Johnson allegedly making a deal with the devil at the crossroads outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi to acquire his incredible talents. The roots of the story lie in Johnson's relative inexperience when he first began performing, and the metamorphosis of his talent after a year's absence spent playing. Although we'll never know the truth of the matter, one fact remains - Robert Johnson is the cornerstone artist of the Delta blues.

Born: May 8, 1911 in Hazlehurst MS

Died: August 16, 1938 in Greenwood MS

Even casual blues fans know the name of Robert Johnson, and thanks to the re-retelling of the story over the course of decades, many know the tale of Johnson allegedly making a deal with the devil at the crossroads outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi to acquire his incredible talents. The roots of the story lie in Johnson's relative inexperience when he first began performing, and the metamorphosis of his talent after a year's absence spent playing. Although we'll never know the truth of the matter, one fact remains - Robert Johnson is the cornerstone artist of the Delta blues.

Robert Johnson Profile:

Birth Of A Blues Legend

Aside from the mythology that has grown up around Johnson, his importance as an artist grows with each passing year. His early influences are documented by oral history, and Johnson spent many nights in juke joints and at parties trying to match his then-meager skills with the likes of Son House, Charley Patton and Willie Brown.

During his prolonged absence, Johnson is said to have practiced guitar nightly in a graveyard under the guidance of obscure bluesman Ike Zinneman. When Johnson returned to the stage, his finely-honed talents made him a top draw as a performer. Often hopping a passing freight train, Johnson traveled as far away as New York City and Canada, as well as Detroit and Chicago.

Blues Standards

Johnson began recording in 1936 for the Vocalion label, and "Terraplane Blues," his first hit single, became his signature tune. Although not as prolific as other bluesmen of the period, Johnson's catalog of songs is without peer. As a songwriter, Johnson brought brilliant imagery and emotion to his lyrics, and many of his songs, like "Love In Vain" and "Sweet Home Chicago," have become blues standards.

But Johnson was also a powerful singer and a skilled guitarist. Throw in his early death (poisoned by a jealous boyfriend), and the aura of mystery that surrounds his life, and you have a bluesman ready-made to appeal to a generation of blues-influenced rockers like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Recommended Albums: Johnson's work can be heard on King of the Delta Blues Singers, the 1961 album that influenced the decade's entire blues revival. A 1990 reissue on CD as The Complete Recordings includes every known Johnson track in existence, photos and notes. Sony Legacy celebrated Johnson's 100th birthday in 2011 with the release of The Centennial Collection, a re-mastered and re-sequenced reissue of The Complete Recordings with new liner notes and rare photos.

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