Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Robert Johnson was born on May 8th 1911.
Robert Johnson stands at the crossroads of American music, much as a popular folk legend has it he once stood at Mississippi crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar-playing prowess. He became the first modern bluesman, evolving the country blues of the Mississippi Delta. Johnson was a songwriter of searing depth and a guitar player with a commanding ability that inspired no less an admirer than Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones to exclaim, “When I first heard [him], I was hearing two guitars, and it took me a long time to realize he was actually doing it all by himself.”
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Though he recorded only 29 songs in his brief career – 24 of which appeared on 78 rpm singles released on the Vocalion label, including his first and most popular, “Terraplane Blues” – Johnson nonetheless altered the course of American music. In the words of biographer Stephen C. LaVere, “Robert Johnson is the most influential bluesman of all time and the person most responsible for the shape popular music has taken in the last five decades.” Such classics as “Cross Road Blues,” “Love In Vain” and “Sweet Home Chicago” are the bedrock upon which modern blues and rock and roll were built.
Or, as Eric Clapton put it in the liner notes to the Johnson boxed-set, “Robert Johnson to me is the most important blues musician who ever lived….I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice, really.”