Born: May 8, 1911, in Hazlehurst, Mississippi
Died: August 16, 1938, in Greenwood, Mississippi
Robert Johnson lived and died in relative obscurity. He was a rootless, restless, sly, street-smart, womanizing, whisky-drinking hobo with a guitar and a gifted ability to pick up and synthesize the music he heard in juke joints and from records and radio. He played mills and barrooms and is only known to have recorded 29 tracks over two recording sessions, yet his music helped father rock & roll.
A 1961 release titled King of The Delta Blues Singers bore the painting of a faceless man hunched over his guitar—none of the two known photographs of Robert Johnson had surfaced (not until 1986 and 1989). Robert Johnson sounded primal, sang with lived passion about dark meetings at crossroads, love in vain and hellhounds on his trail, and died from poisoning under strange circumstances. Robert Johnson is an enigma and an amalgam elevated by white rockers to the pantheon as a mysterious folkloric hero. When alive, Robert Johnson was never the King of The Delta—just a talented minstrel—but his influence makes him the grandfather of rock.
An assorted collection of artists who have covered the songs of Robert Johnson include (in no particular order) The Rolling Stones, Canned Heat, Cream, the Blues Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ry Cooder, Eric Clapton, Cowboy Junkies, John Hammond, Peter Green, Cassandra Wilson, the Radiators, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, Freddie King, Elmore James, Asylum Street Spankers, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Keb ‘Mo’, Walter Trout Band, Lucinda Williams, Rocky Lawrence, Rory Block, Pyeng Threadgill, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Chris Thomas King, the Jeff Healy Band, Pussy Galore, White Stripes, Foghat, Status Quo, Johnny Shines, Roy Rogers, Led Zeppelin, Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Grateful Dead, and Widespread Panic.