A true original with cult status, Robert Johnson was arguably the most influential bluesman of them all. Lovingly remastered to give exceptional clarity, this Rough Guide breathes new life into the work of a legend, who defined the blues and planted the seed of rock and roll.
'He seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armour,' Bob Dylan recalled of the moment he first heard the voice of the most exotic and mysterious bluesman of them all. Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi in 1911, Robert Johnson grew up in and around Memphis. In the mid 1920s he lived on a plantation and began to play the Jew's harp, the harmonica, and eventually, the guitar, which he played with the harmonica, fixed around his neck on a rack made with baling wire. Local musicians Willie Brown and Ernest 'Whiskey Red' Brown gave him tuition, while he made his living sharecropping.
He was only 17, when he married his first wife, who died in childbirth the following year. During the summer of 1930, Son House came to live in Robinsonville and Johnson became a disciple of his intense Delta blues style. He later hoboed his way 200 miles south to his town of birth, where he discovered a new mentor in bluesman Ike Zinnerman. When Johnson returned to Robinsonville in the mid-1930s after deserting his second wife, it was obvious to all that he had become a superlative bluesman, and Son House may have inadvertently started the diabolic rumours about him by joking that he must have signed a pact with the devil. He continued to play with such musicians as Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James. He also moved in with another woman, Estella Coleman, and taught her son Robert Lockwood Jr to play the blues.
In 1936 he auditioned for the blues label ARC, which led to two recording sessions in Texas, producing among others 'Terraplane Blues', the bestselling release in his lifetime. The restless Johnson took to the road again, and only got back in Mississippi in the summer of 1938. One night he was playing at a juke joint in Greenwood, when he was poisoned by the club's jealous owner, whose wife he had been seeing. He died in a few weeks later, leaving a mysterious life and a total of 48 recordings behind. Following the release of the King Of The Delta Blues Singers LP in 1961, the Johnson cult went into overdrive and his songs were recorded by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton.
The bonus disc highlights his influence on other blues performers who knew, worked, played and travelled with him, or simply followed in his giant footsteps, including Skip James, Howlin' Wolf, Bukka White, Kokomo Arnold and many more...