Personalities | Robert Johnson | Roots of Rock

(Guitar, vocals, 1911–38)

Despite recording only 29 songs in his short life, bluesman Johnson is an almost mythical figure and one of the most influential guitarists in the history of music. Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in 1911, Johnson learned guitar from players like Charley Patton and Son House and supported himself on the road from the Mississippi and Arkansas deltas to the big towns of St Louis, Detroit, Chicago, and elsewhere.

Johnson’s myth includes stories that he sold his soul to the devil and that he was tormented by nightmares of hellhounds until his untimely death from pneumonia after being poisoned by a jealous husband. But Johnson’s true power came from an intense desire to excel and a ferocious work ethic. His first hit ‘Terraplane Blues’ floored listeners with its haunting vocals and guitar technique. Subsequent hits, like ‘Cross Road Blues’, ‘Love In Vain’ and ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, have influenced guitarists everywhere and been regularly remade by modern bands.

Styles & Forms | Roots of Rock
Personalities | Louis Jordan | Roots of Rock

Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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