he’s so cool he was in the 27 club before it was even a club
Out of all the musicians in the morbid “27 Club,” the figure perhaps the most mythologized is Robert Johnson. On 16 August 1938 he died under mysterious circumstances – and this murky haze surrounding his death hasn’t become any clearer with time. The legends about his life and his music, however, grew strong and became immersed in the American blues musical consciousness.
Johnson is the man that supposedly sold his soul to the devil down at the crossroads. In return, the devil taught him how to play the guitar. Real bluesy like. The crossroads Johnson apparently made his Faustian bargain at was located in the Mississippi Delta.
(And as every good fiddle player knows, Faustian legends from the American south don’t always stick to the guitar.)
The blues that sprang from the Delta came out of the extreme poverty of the black community in the region. Johnson played the blues during the Great Depression and he certainly didn’t become a rich and glamorous celebrity. But many of his white imitators have.
Eric Clapton certainly hasn’t hid his appreciation for Robert Johnson, which might seem funny to people that remember his comments at a concert in 1976 where he called for the audience to help “keep Britain white” and support anti-immigration politician Enoch Powell. Clapton must have been ok with black culture still getting through though.
Along with broader social trends, Clapton’s comments helped galvanize other artists to band together in the “Rock against Racism” movement. (Moore & Roberts, 274)
John Mayer likes covering “Crossroads” too. Which might also seem funny to people that remember the Playboy article where he said “my dick is sort of like a white supremacist.” Good thing his guitar isn’t, or he’d be very poor and would have a lot more trouble getting a date.
Other people have managed to ripoff/pay homage to Johnson without helping to spark social movements or having to apologize for racist comments. See if you recognize these songs:
Right. So Johnson died mysteriously after he’d been playing at a country dance near the town of Greenwood, Mississippi. He fell ill one evening and died a few days later in A LOT of pain. Rumor has it that he’d flirted a little too much with a married woman, and the husband laced a whisky bottle Johnson drank from with Strychnine. Whether or not Johnson succumbed to Strychnine poisoning is still debated, but in any case his painful death – which apparently left him delirious and raving – helped fuel the legend that the devil had come to collect on his bargain.
Things weren’t cleared up after Johnson’s death with a medical examination or autopsy – the death certificate simply reads “no doctor.” Heck, they aren’t even sure where Johnson is buried (there’s a few gravestones with his name on ’em).
So anyways, Johnson passed away but his music and legend lived on – and influenced many of the musicians that would later join the 27 club.
He was such an innovator that he joined the club before there even was one.