There are few t-shirts in my collection that get a response as consistently as this t-shirt with the King of the Delta Blues -Robert Johnson does. The legend of Robert Johnson is well known- the real truth of Robert Johnson is shrouded in mystery. Robert Johnson is the great blues guitarist/singer/songwriter who supposedly sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in Mississippi for the ability to play the guitar like no other.
Robert Johnson may have been the first member of the 27 club. He was born in 1911 and died under mysterious conditions[probably poisoned by a jealous husband in 1938 at the age of 27} He only recorded 29 songs and 12 alternative versions of those songs during his brief life. He wasn’t a star at all. In 1961 an album of his songs was released “Robert Johnson- King of the Delta Blues Singers.” That album would be a big influence on many rock and roll guitarists including Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. In the early 1980s having read about Robert Johnson and this albums influence I bought it. Amazing. In 1990 “The Complete Recordings” was released and won a Grammy Award, sold more than a million copies and reached #80 in the album charts. Interest in Johnson was sky high.
There have only been a few pictures of Robert Johnson that have surfaced. The t-shirt above has one of those pictures on it. I bought the t-shirt on an internet site in the early 2000’s and liked it so much I ended up ordering a half dozen of the same one. When I wear the t-shirt it usually brings a smile and a comment from someone along the way. The comments are always about the person’s love for his music and how great he was. Indeed. Eric Clapton considered Johnson the most important blues musician who has ever lived. Robert Plant said “Robert Johnson, to whom we all owed our existence, in some way.” Robert Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the first year of its existence, 1986.
In the 1990’s I spent a couple days of a long vacation in Mississippi looking up famous blues sites in Mississippi. I visited the infamous ‘crossroads” near Clarksdale, the area where he was died and Johnson’s graves. Yes, I said graves, there are now three of them. No one is for sure where Johnson is buried. Research has identified those places as possible graves but it’s entirely possible he was buried in none of them! At this point I think its fair to say the mysteries of Robert Johnson are going to remain just that- mysteries. He’s been dead nearly eighty years.