29 September 2014
Robert Johnson laid the foundation for blues rock. After Eric Clapton, world-renowned guitarist, heard Robert Johnson for the first time he said, "I realized that, on some level, I had found the master, and that following this man's example would be my life's work." It isn't only Clapton that believes Johnson to be one of the best guitarists of all time. Spin magazine, Rolling Stone, and Guitar.com all rate Robert Johnson as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. He has inspired legendary musicians such as Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix and others (4). If, in today's world of hip-hop and heavy metal, a person knows of only one country blues artist, odd are it is Robert Johnson (3). Let's explore how this young man's life impacted blues and rock music.
Robert Johnson was born on May 8, 1911. Although there are differing dates on documents, this is the date that is most commonly believed to be correct (1). He was born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi and spent much of his early life in levee camps and on plantations. In 1918 his stepfather sent him to a plantation by Robinsonville, Mississippi. This is where he started playing harmonica and meeting older blues musicians such as Willie Brown, Charley Patton and Son House. He eventually moved back to Hazelhurst and met his wife but she died rather quickly after getting married (5). After his wife passed he went back to Robinsonville and met back up with his old blues musicians and friends. They dared him to play and afterwards one of them said, "And man! He was so good! When he finished, all our mouths were standing open. I said, 'well ain't that fast! He's gone now!'" (1). He went and traveled all over playing music in all sorts of places. He recorded twice in Texas once in 1936 and once in 1937. He later died in 1938 by getting poisoned because he flirted with a man's wife in Mississippi.
Robert Johnson had many influences that shaped his style of music. He was known to be able to play whatever the audiences asked for but he is mainly known for his recorded Delta Blues music. Johnson's main influences came from Scrapper Blackwell, Skip James, Kokomo Arnold, Charley Patton, Son House and Tommy Johnson. His slide style is attributed to watching Charley Patton and Son House who were local musicians. His style was heavily influenced by recordings and radio music. Although all of these musicians influenced his style and inspired him, there may be no one who influenced him more than Ike Zinnerman. Ike was a bluesman from Alabama who doesn't have any...