Crossroads: The Devil and Robert Johnson

260 – Crossroads: The Devil And Robert Johnson

While he was an obscure and impoverished traveling musician while he was alive, the larger-than-life legends and posthumously released music of guitarist and singer Robert Johnson has turned him into the “King of the Delta Blues” venerated by some of the world’s greatest rock guitarists, from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones to Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

One of the only two confirmed pictures of Robert Johnson

The 81st anniversary of Robert Johnson’s death was this last Friday, August 16th, and we talked about Robert Johnson in our very first podcast episode about musicians who sold their soul to the Devil. After all, the legend that he sacrificed his soul for musical talent at the Crossroads is probably even more famous than his music. They did make a film with The Karate Kid about it!

With songs like “The Crossroads Blues” and “Hellhound On My Trail”, Johnson certainly wasn’t afraid to use some of that occult imagery in his own music and in this episode, we delve much deeper into the truth behind the Robet Johnson legend. We cover his massive influence on the musicians that would cover him and use their own occult imagery to sell records and create a mystique around their songs.

Scott Markus from WhatsYourGhostStory.com joins Wendy and I as we cover these topics:

  • The real musician who told people he sold his soul to the Devil
  • The tragedies of Robert Johnson’s first two wives
  • The trickster god who lives at the Crossroads and the reason people mistake him for the Christian Devil
  • Were there two Robert Johnson’s touring the south in the 1930s and that’s why he has multiple gravestones?
  • Where he really learned his guitar tricks that made him a legend
  • The similarities between Robert Johnson and another flamboyant musician who was rumored to have made a deal with Satan, Paganini

We also talk about our appearance at the Michigan Paracon in Ste. St. Marie this weekend and we hope to see YOU there!

For the song this week, we knew that we wanted to do something bluesy but with a dark twinge. I just finished reading The Thicket by joe R. Lansdale and there’s a quote in there that really struck me:

Robert Johnson’s upbringing in the deeply religious South and the fact that anyone playing non-religious songs was playing “The Devil’s Music” reminded me of the fierce faith of the early Twentieth Century East Texan main character in The Thicket, so like Led Zeppelin borrowing from Robert Johnson, we thought we’d grab a great line from Joe Lansdale and then form a song around it.

When Johnson embraced his legend and the hardened life of women and booze of the juke joint circuit, the terrifying “Hellhound on his trail” instread becomes his faithful companion, so we inverted the idea of his song a little to make “Man’s Best Friend”.

Look back behind my shoulder 
I’m always on the run 
Look back behind my shoulder 
Is there some kind of phantom 
But Lord don’t strike me down 
I was just having fun. 

Ain’t no one keeping score 
for a broken promise 
Ain’t nobody keeping score 
for just a little weakness 
God’s a good idea 
but the Devil is us 

And every night 
in every town 
I get lost and I get found 
I tried so hard to shake this hellhound 
but he’s my best friend. 

Ain’t no one keeping score 
for a broken promise 
Ain’t nobody keeping score 
for just a little weakness 
God’s a good idea 
but the Devil is us 

And every night 
in every town 
I get lost and I get found 
I tried so hard to shake this hellhound 
but he’s my best friend.

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