Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Goodnight, Robert Johnson

©2011 Breton Littlehales

Robert Johnson, blues singer, composer, guitarist and enigma, died on August 16th in 1938, seventy- three years ago, in Greenwood, Mississippi. Many people believe he is buried in a pretty little cemetery just outside Greenwood proper, on the Money Road.

A river runs near his plot, and a large tree shelters it. Fans leave flowers and coins, mostly pennies, on the gravestone. The stone has a reproduction of a note he wrote to his sister before he died. The note says, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jerusalem, I know that my redeemer liveth and that He will call me from the grave."

This from a man who wrote songs in which he walked with the devil.

Whether Johnson is under the earth at this cemetery, or in any of the three other spots purporting to host his remains, is immaterial, really. What is important is that he did exist, that he wrote these songs which gained in popularity throughout the years, songs that arguably became the prototype for the Chicago blues movement and subsequently the birth of Rock music. "Dust My Broom", Sweet Home Chicago" and "Crossroads" among others, are probably being played in some roadhouse or bar in the world even as I write this. I visited an Amsterdam coffee house and heard his recording of "Hot Tamales" in the midst of hashish menus and faux Moroccan decor.

I felt right at home.

In an earlier blog I wished him a happy 100th birthday. Next year I'll wish him a happy 101. As long as I can listen to those incredible performances of those incredible songs, then I'll remain grateful that he was able to live those scant 26 years.


Bret Littlehales said...

Fr/ Tall Richard, Cape Cod, Mass:
So...was Robert Johnson 26 or 27? According to the gravestone pic he was 27. But your article closed saying he was 26.
If he indeed was 27...then he may have started the dread 27 club of which Amy Winehouse is the latest member. Which if the Devil story really were true might have far reaching consequences that no one has ever even contemplated. I mean maybe the pact wasn't just between RJ and D but encompassed future generational stars..might be old RJ would a agreed to any terms. Hmmmm....

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