Folklore whispers that blues guitarist Robert Johnson met the devil at a set of Mississippi Delta crossroads to set up a trade: his soul for the incredible singing and playing talent that made the man a blues legend. One of the initial inductees to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Johnson recorded 29 songs, and his hard life was reflected in his lyrics. After passing away at 27 years old in 1938, Johnson is still remembered as the "Grandaddy of Rock and Roll" and as a blues pioneer. Eric Clapton considers him "the most important blues musician who ever lived." While is it often argued whether he was original compared to his contemporaries, one cannot ignore his influence. Many homages and referencesare made to Johnson in today's pop culture. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", for instance, featured a character, Tommy Johnson, who was largely a tribute to Robert Johnson. It is difficult for me to ignore his recordings, as I love the emotion that is conveyed in the sliding of notes in both his voice and his guitar. Small selections of his songs can be heard here. I recognize that this style isn't for everyone, but I really enjoy it.
Trip Recap: December 9, 2006
It seemed like a long drive from Arkansas to Mississippi during our trip, and John and Lydia took turns napping while I tried to take in the changes of terrain and scenery. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy a little "Prairie Home Companion" on NPR while traveling along. As we approached Greenwood, Brother John mentioned that blues legend Robert Johnson was from this area and is believed to be buried at the small church that we'll pass directly before the Smith home (our destination that evening.) I was very excited to hear this, as I have been greatly influenced by my father in loving blues and jazz. And, I could not wait to see as much as possible of the area during our short time there.
This church (Mount Zion), small cemetery, and Robert Johnson tribute marker are situated less than one mile before the the turn to the Smiths' house. I was thrilled that we were able to visit this site during our visit. You may also see a small glimpse of how flat the land is. We could see for miles all around us.
Click on the pictures for a larger view of the memorial's panels.
If you are in Greenwood, visiting Three Deuces, the place where B.B. King first performed on the radio and the home of the Greenwood Blues Heritage Museum & Gallery, is said to be worth one's time. The museum's primary focus is, of course, the life and music of Robert Johnson. (Be sure to play the short movie on the site to see inside and enjoy some blues.) If you would like to discover more about Robert Johnson, please consider taking the Delta Blues Tour. Or, you may choose to find the documentary, "The Search for Robert Johnson" and the book, Escaping the Delta. I cannot wait for my next trip back to Mississippi so I can do some more exploring.... and some more listening to great music.