Robert Johnson and the Devil

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson and the Devil

“If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and your go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ‘ fore 12 that night so you know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself…A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want.”

Tommy Johnson

The tale of a troubled man selling his soul to the Devil has been one of fascination throughout the centuries. However, none have been more so compelling than that of bluesman, Robert Johnson. The Crossroads is a place notorious with superstitions and in the days where the only form of transport was horse, mule or on foot, traveling was often very slow, which gave time for the imagination to work overtime, particularly at night.
Robert Johnson’s first instrument was harmonica, but in his teens he took to playing the guitar. He was desperate to get away from his almost certain future of working in the fields and he was sure that music was the path to follow. It offered excitement, travel and women.

In his early days of learning to play his guitar, Robert Johnson would sneak off to the local juke joint to sit at the feet of Son House and his accompanist Willie Brown.

When a break came in the performance Robert Johnson would pick up the guitar and start playing. In the Living Blues, Son House recalled, “And such a racket you never heard! It’d make the people mad, you know. They’d come out and say, ‘Why don’t y’all go in and get that guitar away from that boy! He’s running people crazy with it!’ I’d come back in, and I’d scold him about it, ‘ Don’t do that Robert. You drive the people nuts. You can’t play nothing. Why don’t you play that harmonica for’em.’ But he didn’t want to blow that. Still, he didn’t care how I’d get after him about it. He’d do it anyway.”

Cross Roads

Cross Roads

Son House was alleged to have said that Robert Johnson disappeared for a few weeks shortly after, and no one heard anything of his whereabouts. When he eventually returned, he had a supreme command and wizardry of the blues guitar!

Me and the Devil was walkin’ side by side’

And so it was, the latest re-incarnation of guy down on his luck meets the Devil and sells him his soul for some magic in return. It didn’t take long for the Devil to collect his side of the bargain. Robert Johnson was dead by the time he was 27, have made all of his recordings in the previous year.

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1 Response

  1. It’s an interesting story. I’ve seen other sources that say House’s contempt has been exaggerated. The most interesting take I’ve seen on the song was that it was about being black in the deep south, out after dark. Dangerous place in those times.

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