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It’s impossible to teach blues guitar without dedicating at least one class to Robert Johnson. Musicians from Eric Clapton to Robert Plant have long acknowledged Johnson’s enormous influence on their music. Every respectable top guitarists of all-time list ranks Johnson in their top 10, if not five. But the biggest challenge in teaching Robert Johnson is to cover the gaps in his life – much of which is dusty lore. Did Johnson sell is soul to the Devil in order to achieve greatness in guitar? What happened to Johnson’s lost recording takes? And, what could Johnson have done to add to his legacy had he lived past the age of 27?

Johnson Quick Facts
• Born in 1911, in Hazlehurst, Mississippi; died in 1938
• Heyday: 1930’s in the Mississippi Delta
• The 29 recordings that survived Johnson were made over just five days
• Rumored to have gone from mediocre guitarist to master, almost overnight (See “Crossroads” below)
• His guitar playing technique pushed the boundaries of the instrument, sometimes mimicking other instruments such as the piano
• Was also said to have been a skilled jaw harp and harmonica

Johnson Songs
“Sweet Home Chicago”


The legend behind “Crossroads” is that Johnson went down to a crossroads one night, at midnight, and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his own legendary musical skills. Though verifying the tale is akin to verifying the existence of the Tooth Fairy, some of Johnson’s contemporaries vouched for his sudden improvement.

“I Believe I’ll Dust my Broom”

This song makes use of the Boogie rhythm, new to the blues scene at the time. Some say the song has African roots; others say it’s simply about Johnson’s rambling lifestyle.

Johnson Resources
• Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl: The Life and Music of Robert Johnson

The Robert Johnson Foundation
10 Things you Gotta Do to Play Like Robert Johnson
• Robert Johnson’s Legacy:

Robert Johnson Tabs with Rhythm