Robert Johnson was born May 8th, 1911. Johnson, who grew up poverty-stricken would become known as the King of the Delta Blues Singers and his music influenced the cream of the crop of musicians from the Rolling Stones to the Allman Brothers and Bob Dylan to name a few.
Johnson released 29 songs between 1936 and 1937 for the American Record Corporation. Eleven 78 rpm records were released on the Vocalion label during his lifetime.
Johnson married Virginia Travis, who was sixteen years old in February 1929 and she died in 1930 tragically giving birth. It was during this time that he first experienced blues guitar from musicians Son House and Willie Brown. He always had been interested in music and had asked the two men to teach him to play guitar, but didn’t seem to be able to play very well. Son said “Such another racket you never heard! It’d make people mad, you know. They’d come out and say ‘why don’t you all go in there and get that guitar from that boy!’” Johnson did not like the life of a sharecropper and left Robinsville to go play guitar in juke joints and lumber camps in Hazelhurst, Mississippi.
When Johnson returned to Robinsville Son House and Willie Brown were amazed by his guitar playing ability, it was now astounding! It was said that Johnson received these newfound abilities after making a deal with the Devil. There are many versions of the story and many debates the exact crossroads in North Mississippi where the deal was made. It’s said Johnson was told to go to the crossroads on a dark and moonless night at midnight. It’s there that he with his broken up guitar and a bottle of whiskey went to the crossroads. At midnight he heard an owl hoot and then he heard rustling from behind him and then a voice. Johnson reportedly met a very tall man wearing a top hat and was dressed in black. The man said, “Why, good evenin’ Robert boy, You come to make yo’ bargain?” Johnson took his guitar and handed it to the man who then tuned it and then gave him back the guitar, then had him sign a parchment sealing the deal, but he added while looking at Johnson’s feet, “Need yo’ shoes too, boy, take ‘em off.” Johnson asked why he needed his shoes and the man said “Don’t you worry ‘bout them boy, you get ‘em back in hell” and then the man disappeared. Johnson believed he had already lost his soul when his first wife had died and after the deal was made Johnson traveled throughout the south playing his guitar and as far as the Midwest.
The last time Johnson performed was August 13th, 1938, just one day before he died. There were and are many theories on how and why Johnson died from being poisoned by a jealous girlfriend or girlfriend’s husband or the deal with the Devil’s time was up! There were rumors after his death that people saw him in terrible pain the day before he died and also saw him on his hands and knees crawling around and barking like a dog on the day he died. It’s thought that he may have been given passagreen, an odorless and tastes backwoods poison that comes from mothballs. People who are poisoned by passagreen have said to have been witnessed doing those very things.
The ghost story
A voodoo man and his mentor loved Robert Johnson and were big fans. They took a road trip to the crossroads where it was believed the pact with the devil was made. The voodoo man’s mentor said while on their trip that some hoodoo conjurers in Mississippi believed Robert Johnson’s ghost haunts many of the country intersections in that area.
He also gave a warning that if you were a musician passing through the country crossroads in Mississippi during the witching hour that you need to beware or Robert Johnson’s ghost will come take you by the hand and lead you down to hell. He added he would take you to the Devil and try to trade your soul to get out of the bargain he had made with the Devil. The voodoo man added that the Devil is picky though and only accepts souls of musicians with real talent. So if you fit that bill be careful when on the backroads of Mississippi because you may just meet Robert Johnson’s ghost.