Born May, 8, 1911, in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, Robert Johnson's legend radiates from his 29 compositions. In Johnson's hometown on May 5, 2007, a blues festival will take place on the famous Ragsdale Street to honor Johnson. This weekend marks the 96th birthday of the blues legend. A diverse line-up that includes gospel, blues, and rock & roll groups will soon be announced.
Johnson's legend revolves around his mythical deal with the Devil at the crossroads. The old Son House quote about Johnson, "He had to sell his soul to the Devil to play like that," fueled the eternal speculation. Johnson traveled extensively through Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. He also played music in Texas, Chicago, St. Louis, New York City, Detroit, and even Canada.
In the summer of 1938, Johnson returned to his home state. He played his last gig on August 13 at a country roadhouse outside of Greenwood, Mississippi, called Three Forks when he was given poison whiskey by a jealous husband. Columbia Records' Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings contains 41 tracks--including alternate takes of the 29 songs recorded in 1936 and 1937--like "Hellhound On My Trail", "Last Fair Deal Gone Down", "Come On In My Kitchen", and "Love In Vain".
Before his death, Johnson operated at then apex of his musical powers. For many rock musicians (including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers Band, and Led Zeppelin), his haunted lyrics and mercurial guitar style cast a spooky resonance. Robert Johnson's voice sounds like that of some tormented soul when you hear him sing the sinister lyrics on "Me And the Devil Blues": "Early this mornin' when you knocked upon my door, I said Hello Satan, I believe it's time to go." James Calemine