Yesterday would have been Robert Johnson’s 100th birthday, a landmark which has not gone unnoticed — even my mom called me over the weekend to tell me about this “great NPR story” she heard on the legend of ol’ RJ. And it’s only right that we commemorate him here as well. Robert Johnson’s fame would be enough to celebrate as an arbiter of musical change, the roots of blues and rock music, America’s only indigenous sound. But what truly makes him special is the least true part about him: the myth. We’ve all heard the story: a young Robert Johnson approached the crossroads in the Mississippi Delta at midnight, met up with the Devil himself, and sold his soul for the ability to play sizzling blues guitar. He later became member of the even more mysterious 27 club. And this legend launched a century of rock ‘n’ roll lore.
I got a chance this semester to visit Johnson’s crossroads myself, and to meet with some folks that knew him. Yes, literally knew him. It seems like forever ago to us, for whom rock music has been as naturalized as The Simpsons and public libraries, that he could have been walking around, strumming those blues — but that’s part of the legend. Read More »