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Robert Johnson
               King of the Delta Blues

Mississippi in the early summer of 1911...a legend born…

     On M...
Early life…family life
     Robert Leroy Johnson was born on 8th May 1911, (although this date is disputed,
as is the form...
‘Selling                  of the          Soul’
      Around 1929 Robert moved to Martinsville, near to his birthplace Haz...
Death
      On August 16th 1938, in Greenwood, Mississippi, Robert died, possibly killed. There are
varying stories surrou...
“Robert Johnson’s songs are the bedrock upon which modern blues and rock ‘n’
 roll were built.” (Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fam...
www.Wikipedia.com, and through Creative Commons
Non ICT source: Escaping the Delta (Amistad books)




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An article about the musician Robert Johnson by Steven Clements

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Robert johnson final

  1. 1. Robert Johnson King of the Delta Blues Mississippi in the early summer of 1911...a legend born… On May 8th 1911, in the town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, USA, a boy by the name of Robert Leroy Johnson was born. After a relatively settled start in life, he would quickly become accustomed to a life of constant travel, at first with his mother, then later, by himself. This boy would grow to be a celebrated blues musician, and recognised the world over as the founding father of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Born: 8th May 1911 Hazlehurst, Mississippi, US A Died: 16th August 1938 Greenwood, Mississippi, USA Active career: 1929-1938 Landmark 1936-1937 recordings: Instrument: Gibson L1 acoustic Education: Indian Creek school, Tunicia 1924 and 1927 Alias’: Robert Spencer Little Robert Dusty Steven Clements
  2. 2. Early life…family life Robert Leroy Johnson was born on 8th May 1911, (although this date is disputed, as is the formal documentation of his birth). Born to Julia Major Dodds (b. Oct 1874) and Noah Johnson (b. Dec 1884). Robert was their only child, and, the reason for the lack of information surrounding his early life may be attributed to the fact that Julia was married to Charles Dodds (b. Feb 1865) who was a relatively successful furniture maker and land owner, and also fathered ten children with her. Following a dispute with white landowners Charles was forced by lynch mob to leave Hazlehurst. Julia herself left with baby Robert, but at the age of two would send him to live in Memphis with Charles, who had changed his name to Charles Spencer. Robert would move back with his mother in Tunicia, Mississippi, in 1919. By this time Julia had remarried, with a man named Dusty Willis. He was 24 years her junior. In 1924 and 1927 Robert would attend the Indian Creek School in Tunicia. Although he was listed as ‘Robert Spencer’ most people referred to him as ‘Little Robert Dusty’. The quality of Robert’s penmanship on his marriage certificate, suggests that for someone of his up-bringing, and considering he only attended school for two years, he had a very good education. Upon leaving school he would start to use his real father’s name, and signed himself as Robert Johnson on his marriage certificate. In February 1929, he married his first wife Virginia Travis who was only 16 at the time. Shortly after she, along with his first child, would die in childbirth. Virginia’s family said this was divine punishment to Robert for singing secular songs and music, known by African Americans as ‘selling your soul to the devil’. Robert would accept this term, and saw it as his chance to leave the settled life, which he never enjoyed anyway, to lead a nomadic lifestyle as a travelling blues musician. Steven Clements
  3. 3. ‘Selling of the Soul’ Around 1929 Robert moved to Martinsville, near to his birthplace Hazlehurst. This is where he would first ply his trade as a musician, and would later perfect the styles of his mentors, Son House, Willie Brown, and brothers’ Ike and Herman Zimmerman. At first it would be on street corners and then in whichever juke joints would let him play. He was regarded as a competent harmonica player, but a very bad guitar player. “He’d sit at our feet and play during the break, and such another racket you never hear’d. He’d make the audiences mad with his racket. They would say ‘Why don’t you go in there and make that boy put that thing down, He’s runnin’ us crazy”. (Son house) While he was still living in Martinsville, Robert fathered a child with Vergie Mae Smith, but would marry his second wife Caletta Craft in May 1931. The following year Robert and Caletta moved to Clarksdale in the Delta of the Mississippi. Shortly after Caletta fell ill, and Robert, perhaps feeling he was cursed, abandoned her and would continue on his path as a ‘walking musician’. Between 1932 and 1938, Robert’s life was very hard to document as he constantly travelled from place to place, usually between Arkansas, Helena, Memphis and small towns in the Mississippi Delta. Occasionally he would travel further afield, such as Chicago, Texas, New York and Canada, where he would stay with other travelling musicians or ‘woman friends’. The Legend…The Myth Tired of being told he was a no good guitarist, Robert took the advice to go to the crossroads, at the Dockery plantation in Clarksdale at midnight. There he would meet the ‘Devil’. Who in exchange for his soul would tune and play his guitar. He then handed it back to him with the ability to play like no-one had ever done before. “…So when he came back, me and Willie Brown was playing and he said, ‘Can I play a lick or two?’ I said now don’t come back with that Robert, you know people don’t want to hear that racket.” He said “Let them say what they wanna say, I want you to see what I learned.” “When he’d finished, all our mouths were standing open.”(Son House) Steven Clements
  4. 4. Death On August 16th 1938, in Greenwood, Mississippi, Robert died, possibly killed. There are varying stories surrounding the incidents prior to his death, although the widely accepted account is as follows. While playing at a country dance in a town called Three Forks, 15 miles outside of Greenwood, Robert began flirting with the wife of the juke joint owner. Shortly after Robert was offered an open bottle of whiskey which was laced with strychnine. Fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson had always warned him to never drink from an already open bottle if one was offered. Roberts’ reply was always “Never knock a bottle outta my hand.” In the early morning hours Robert had to be helped back to his room after complaining of feeling ill. Over the course of three days his condition would deteriorate, and he would die in a painful, convulsive state. These symptoms bear the hallmarks of strychnine poisoning. Legacy During his lifetime and despite his travels, Robert was little well known. In fact if you had asked blues fans of Robert Johnson up to two decades after his death, the answer would be ‘Robert who?’ (Which also extended to many other black musicians). This is down to the fact that he played mostly on street corners, juke joints and Saturday night dances. At that time he played a style of music that was little well thought of, and he also died young after only recording a handful of songs. Today he is regarded in much higher esteem, receiving many posthumous achievements and recognitions. His impact on music and musicians which came after him is enormous. His major influence being in genre’s of music that didn’t even exist until after he had died. After all he is now widely accepted as the ‘founding father’ of modern blues, rock ‘n’ roll and rock music. Quotes and Recognitions “I think he’s the greatest blues, folk guitar player, and the greatest singer, writer that ever lived.” (Eric Clapton) “You think you’ve got a handle on playing the blues, then you hear Robert Johnson and you think, woah, have I got a long way to go yet man! I was hearing two guitars, and it took me a while to realise he was doing it all by himself.” (Keith Richards) “As a musician Robert Johnson had it all.” (B.B. King) Steven Clements
  5. 5. “Robert Johnson’s songs are the bedrock upon which modern blues and rock ‘n’ roll were built.” (Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame) Inductions and A chievements YEAR ACHIEVEMENT RESULT 1980 Blues Hall of Fame Inducted 1986 Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Inducted 2000 Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame Inducted 2006 Grammy lifetime achievement Award Winner Songs of Robert Johnson’s included in the Hall of Fame’s ‘500 songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll’ YEAR RECORDED TITLE 1936 Sweet Home Chicago 1936 Crossroad Blues 1937 Hellhound on my Trail 1937 Love in Vain • Spin Magazine – Rated 1st in list of 35 guitar gods of all time (1990) • Rolling Stone Magazine – Rated 5th in list of 100 greatest guitarists (2008) • Guitar.com – Rated 9th in list of top guitarists of all time (2010) The following are used with permission through creative commons: 1. Page background-Moody raindrops in dark blue puddle-Flickr Photo Sharing (author-D. Sharon Pruitt) 2. Robert Johnson portrait-www.Wikipedia.com (author-none stated) 3. Tombstone picture-www.Wikipedia.com (author-Courtland Bresner) 4. Clarksdale Crossroads picture-www.Wikipedia.com (author-Joe Mazzola) 5. Map of Hazlehurst, Mississippi-www.Google.com (author-Google maps) Some other information sourced through Steven Clements
  6. 6. www.Wikipedia.com, and through Creative Commons Non ICT source: Escaping the Delta (Amistad books) Steven Clements

An article about the musician Robert Johnson by Steven Clements

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