Free Essay on Robert Johnson's Life and Music

Published: 2022-03-24
Free Essay on Robert Johnson's Life and Music
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Music Biography
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 895 words
8 min read

Robert Johnson was a blues singer who was born on 8th May 1911 in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. His parents were Julia Major Dodds and Noah Johnson. He left Hazlehurst with his mother and went to live in Mississippi Delta, but after two years he was sent to Memphis to live with his father. In 1920, he went back to his mother where he joined school from 1924 to 1927. In school, he was recognized for playing harmonica and jaw harp. After school, he started using his biological father's name. He married Virginia Travis in February 1929 who died during delivery. At this time, he was good at playing harmonica but a very poor guitarist (Wald 51). He moved to Martinville where he perfected the guitar style and learned other forms from Isaiah Zimmerman. Consequently, he gained a new technique of playing the guitar which blues researcher perceived to be demonic (Wells 19). His passion for music was so strong that he decided to trade his soul in exchange excellent guitar skills (Wells 22). In 1932, he left Mississippi Delta for a career as a roving musician in different cities until 1938 (Wald 56). He performed in places such as Chicago, Texas, New York, Canada, Kentucky and St. Luis where he was accompanied by other blues musicians (Gussow 12). He used different names in every location making people ignorant of his past work. Researchers have summarized his character as well-bred and calm. In every location, he performed in the streets for rewards (Lomax 34). He pleased his audience by fulfilling their expectations and not focusing on his original compositions. He portrayed interest in jazz and country music. In August 1938, he performed his last show. During his performance, he tried to restart a past relationship with a married woman. The jealous husband offered a bottle of poisoned whiskey. Robert died three days later out of poisoning and was buried at an unlabelled grave. He died while still in his career as an itinerant musician at the age of 27 years. He had performed a total of 29 songs most of which were recorded in Texas.

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Recording of his music started in 1936 when he met Don Law in San Antonio, Texas. During the three-days recording, he played sixteen songs and recorded different takes for several songs. A shy and reserved character was revealed when he recorded facing the wall. Some of the songs recorded were: "Come On in My Kitchen," "kind-hearted woman Blues," "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" and "Cross Road Blues." His most selling hit across the region was "Terraplane Blues." "Kind-hearted Woman" was the first song to be recorded (Sitsky 78). The second recording session took place in Dallas, Texas in 1937 with Don Law. Here, he recorded eleven songs in two takes providing a platform for more straightforward comparison of his performances with other blues artists. These songs were to be released a year after the recording.

Robert emulated Lonnie Johnson, a Delta recording star and sometimes identified himself as his brother. He derived a unique music style from various artists including Scrapper Blackwell, Kokomo Arnold, Skip James and Son House. Ike Zimmerman's music profoundly influenced Robert's Carrer. After one year guidance from Zimmerman, Robert acquired unique multiple styles and skills of construction of songs and perfected in playing his instruments (Sitsky 82). He adopted the boogie bass line from piano players which he used to play all the types of music that his audiences wanted. His desire to travel to many places inspired him to perform in different places as an itinerant musician. The life of Robert Johnson has inspired many artists in their career as blues performers. It has been used in shaping the different legions of blues, rock, pop, and R&Bs. He has provided a significant influence on the modern music in these genres. The first collection of Robert's songs was released in the mid-60s by the Columbia records comprising of pure blues music known as "King of Delta Blues Singers." In the 70s, the second collection was released including other takes. It gave the audience a chance to listen to the first-hand music as opposed to the English version that they received from other stars. It also stirred an influence on not only blues musicians but also classic and rock artists who also emulated his style in their music (Lomax 36). Blues artists have tried to adopt the emotion and honesty in his music as they perceive it to be the source of his success. Together with other artists, his music is the base and foundation which blues music has been built.

In conclusion, Robert's life and demise revolved around much mystery. He was born in 1911 and died at the age of 27 years when his music career had stating peaking. Also, his exceptional guitar skills were allegedly acquired from the devil whom he sold his soul. Despite these mysteries, he has inspired many in the blues music, and he has left a legacy to be followed throughout the years.

Works cited

Gussow, Adam. Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition. UNC Press Books, 2017.

Lomax, Allan. The land where the blues began. Pantheon, 1993

Sitsky, Larry. Music of the 20th-century avant-garde: A biocritical sourcebook. ABC-CLIO, 2002.

Wald, Elija. Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the invention of the blues. Harper Collins, 2012.

Wells, John D. "Me and the devil blues: A study of Robert Johnson and the music of the rolling stones." Popular music & society, 9.3(1983): 17-24

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