Robert Johnson has all the trappings of a classic rock star. He made a deal with the devil, died at 27, inspired a Ralph Macchio movie, all between a remarkable two-year span. Look at all the classics; “Cross Road Blues,” “From Four Until Late,” “Kind Hearted Woman Blues,” “Love in Vain,” “They’re Red Hot,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and the list goes on. If it wasn’t for Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton wouldn’t be God. He wouldn’t even be a demi-god. Led Zeppelin wouldn’t have the “Led” and The Rolling Stones would be gathering moss.
Sadly, Robert Johnson only recorded 29 songs before kicking the bucket from drinking poisoned whiskey. Hell, there’s like, two pictures of him in existence. Yet he lives on thanks to compilations like 1961’s King of the Delta Blues. Compiled from sixteen mono recordings between two sessions in 1936 and 1937, King of the Delta Blues has built its legacy as one of the greatest collection of blues songs ever assembled.
There’s no denying the age of these recordings shows. Numerous tracks have crackles and fuzz, but that’s the charm. There’s a gritty, ghostly presence to Robert Johnson, playing with as much passion as any man to ever strum on a six-string. My favorite moments are when Johnson plays slide. The tinny slide of Johnson’s strings are unmatched. “Traveling Riverside Blues” being my favorite example. Robert Johnson’s guitar was no more a guitar than an extension of his personal pain, and you can feel every note.
I can see how it’s easy for people to overlook Robert Johnson. His songs are simple, the recordings are old, there’s not a great deal of variety in the numbers. What those people fail to notice is how ahead of his time Johnson was. Few artists of the era were as passionate. Few are that passionate today. Robert Johnson was the real deal. When he sang about crossing the country, drinking and looking for women, you know it was real. I think that’s lost in most modern blues. You can’t play the blues unless you are the blues. Robert Johnson was the blues. Robert Johnson still is the blues. Hail to the King of the Delta.
Favorite Tracks: “Cross Road Blues,” “Kind Hearted Woman,” “Traveling Riverside Blues”