Robert was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, probably on May 8, 1911 or 1912. There are many myths surrounding his virtuosic talent and speed of its acquisition. He first learned the harmonica then began playing guitar in his teens. At the time, the blues was an opportunity for someone of his colour to do something than just work as a field hand. He started clearly as a novice in his teens when one of his early inspirations, Son House, recalls:
“And such a racket you never heard! It’d make the people mad, you know. They’d come out and say, ‘Why don’t y’all go in and get that guitar away from that boy! He’s running people crazy with it!’ I’d come back in, and I’d scold him about it, ‘ Don’t do that Robert. You drive the people nuts. You can’t play nothing. Why don’t you play that harmonica for’em.’ But he didn’t want to blow that. Still, he didn’t care how I’d get after him about it. He’d do it anyway.”
He began following Son House and Willie Brown requesting to play with them but he was so bad they wouldn’t allow it. He goes back to Hazlehurst and begins religiously practising the blues guitar with a guitar player named Ike Zimmerman. They would practise in the graveyard upon the stones and tombs so not to disturb anyone and allow them to play through the night. He soon disappeared and returned shortly after as the guitar master we know him as today. How was he able to perform such a feat? It is considered that Johnson made a pact with the devil himself.
“If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ‘fore 12 that night so you know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself…A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want.”
Many believe that he did visit the crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight and met the large black man there. His lyrics do little to dispel the rumours as he consistently references Satan and his Hellhounds. Did he truly make a Faustian Pact with the Devil? We will never know but it provides ample reason and intrigue to listen to the master of the Blues himself and the best guitar player ever to have lived, Robert Johnson.
Did you notice the face at the top right of the first photo?
Nice little video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MCHI23FTP8