The Legend of Robert Johnson

RJ

For decades, the myths surrounding Robert Johnson overshadowed his contributions as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. From the legend that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to mystery surrounding his untimely death at age 27, the truths of Johnson’s life have remained untold. This week, Jim and Greg talk with music historian Bruce Conforth about Johnson’s career, death and working to give the guitarist his identity back. They also share some of their favorite renditions of Johnson’s songs.

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Bruce Conforth on the Legend of Robert Johnson

This week, Jim and Greg are tackling the music of a man whose myth is larger than life - blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Robert Johnson. The legend surrounding the Sweet Home Chicago singer is that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his signature guitar playing prowess. Born in 1911, Johnson displayed great stage presence, talent and potential, but he died suddenly at the age of 27 under suspicious circumstances. That was 81 years ago this month, and since then there have been all kinds of strange rumors and stories told about Johnson. Jim and Greg talk with an expert on Robert Johnson, Bruce Conforth. He co-wrote the book Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson with historian Gayle Dean Wardlow because they wanted to set the record straight. Throughout this long process, they realized the truth they were beginning to uncover was more fascinating than the myth.

Robert Johnson Covers

Jim and Greg thought they’d continue the Robert Johnson conversation by sharing some of their favorite covers and interpretations of his music.

Jim

  • The Gun Club, Preachin’ the Blues (take on Johnson’s Preachin’ Blues)
  • Lucinda Williams, Ramblin’ on My Mind (take on Johnson’s Ramblin’ on My Mind)
  • Gil Scott Heron, Me and the Devil (interpolates Johnson’s Me and the Devil Blues)

Greg

  • Hindu Love Gods, Travelin’ Riverside Blues (take on Johnson’s Travelling Riverside Blues)
  • Bonnie Raitt, Walkin’ Blues (take on Johnson’s Walkin’ Blues)
  • Cassandra Wilson, Dust My Broom (take on Elmore James’s song Dust My Broom which is a take on Johnson’s I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom)

Hooked On Sonics: Kevin Morby

Kevin Morby photo by John Dee

Kevin Morby is a serious singer/songwriter with five solo albums under his belt. The most recent, OH MY GOD, is inspired by Nina Simone, Lou Reed and Ethiopian jazz, but he told producer Andrew Gill that the song that got him Hooked On Sonics is not as critically beloved: Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life.

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