Now, today is the 91st birthday of Sir David Attenborough, who for the last seven decades has been at the forefront of his field, revealing the biggest mysteries of nature and the planet earth, giving all of humankind a further understanding and appreciation for the world we live in. He’s an icon of modern history and an inspiration to many. However, today also marks the birth date of a man that may have had even more impact than Attenborough, and that really is saying a lot.
For those of you that don’t know, Robert Johnson was an innovator and one of the originators and innovators of the genre of music we now call the blues. Born on this day in 1911 in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, Johnson would go on to learn guitar and harmonica as well as developing a style of singing, that once put alongside his playing would become the blues. The story goes, Johnson went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil for his talent and success. Do we believe this? Not really, but we’ve probably all heard this blues myth before and now you know, it was this guy that made it famous. However, Johnson never did get much commercial success and aside from a huge collection of recordings in the mid to late 1930’s, he had very little to leave behind. Two reasons for this were, of course, the lack of technological advancement back in these days making it hard to gain exposure and spread the word, no Facebook or Snapchat in those days you know. Not only that but his untimely death in 1938 at the young age of 27, cut short a career and a life that could have been extraordinary. Another thing you may not have known, long before Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison or Amy Winehouse, Robert Johnson was the original inductee into the ever tragic 27 club.
But here’s the real point, and what’s equally sad is that he’d have never known it, but the influence Robert Johnson and his style of playing would go on to have a hand in shaping the blues world, which was a primary factor in the inception of rock n roll, which would turn into punk and metal, and then indie and most other genres of music we now enjoy today. His grainy, dark recordings from the mid 30’s album entitled the ‘King Of The Delta Blues Singers’ was re-released in 1961 which became one of the most popular works involved in the blues revival that drew a lot of the older blues players back to the stage to find their former success and even more. Unfortunately Johnson wouldn’t be around to enjoy it but we would inspire legends and icons in the music world such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan & more. Now you can look and find blues players that influenced Robert Johnson, for example, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Son House, even contemporaries like Sonny Boy Williamson, but the difference in style is obvious and the jump from primitive to something new are even more apparent. So 106 years after his birth and 79 years after his death by murder through jealousy, we remember the King of the delta blues, for one reason more than any, because you have to know where you’ve been to really know where you’re going, and in music, this has always been important. Treat yourself, throw some blues on tonight, listen to Robert Johnson’s classics like ‘Love In Vain’, ‘They’re Red Hot’ ‘Stop Breakin Down Blues’ and ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ but don’t stop there, go back and listen to Leadbelly, listen to Blind Willie Johnson, and then jump forward and discover their influences on The Stones, Nirvana and more. Get lost in music. In a world of corrupt politics and superficial crap on social media, immerse yourself in something real. The blues. Music. Real life.
Words by Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)