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Robert Johnson

Courtesy of the Robert Johnson Estate

Johnson is the undisputed king of the Mississippi Delta blues
singers and one of the most original and influential voices in
American music. He was a virtuoso player whose spiritual
descendants include Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jack White.
Johnson's recorded legacy — a mere twenty-nine songs cut in
1936 and '37 — is the foundation of all modern blues and
rock. He either wrote or adapted from traditional sources many of
the most popular blues songs of all time, including "Cross Road
Blues," "Sweet Home Chicago" and "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom."
Johnson, the illegitimate son of a Mississippi sharecropper, poured
every ounce of his own poverty, wandering and womanizing into his
work — documenting black life in the Deep South beneath the
long shadow of slavery with haunted intensity. "It was almost as if
he felt things so acutely he found it almost unbearable," Clapton
said of Johnson's music. Legend has it that Johnson made a deal
with the devil to acquire his guitar gifts. There was certainly a
lot of daredevilry in his flouting of standard tempos and
harmonics; his records are breathtaking displays of melodic
development and acute brawn. Johnson died in 1938 at twenty-seven,
poisoned by a jealous husband. Fifty-eight years later, a box set
of his recordings was certified platinum. "Hell Hound on My Trail,"
Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (1990)