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How often have you heard that old saw about Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at midnight on a Delta crossroads? It all started because of Johnson’s uncanny mastery of the guitar. A small-boned man with long, slightly webbed fingers, Johnson earned respect and kept fights at bay with his astonishing musicianship. Johnson may have had eidetic memory for music — the ability to hear and then recall music with unusual precision.
As Steve LaVere wrote in the Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings liner notes: “He could hear a piece just once over the radio or phonograph or from someone in person and be able to play it. He could be deep in conversation with a group of people and hear something — never stop talking — and later be able to play and sing it perfectly. It amazed some very fine musicians, and they never understood how he did it.” Guitarists are still trying to accurately suss out Johnson’s sophisticated chord voicings and unusual tunings.
Johnson also loved to read, according to my interview with his common-law stepson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, for The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu.
“Johnson lived with my mother [Estella Coleman] common law for about eight, nine years,” said Lockwood, who was born in 1915 in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, making him 90 when we talked in 2005. “He taught me to play. Can’t nobody play his stuff but me.” The family lived in Helena, Arkansas, and also spent time in Memphis and St. Louis, while Johnson performed throughout the Delta.
Read more at The Huffington Post.
The Dallas Observer has published a slideshow of images from Tuesday’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of Robert Johnson’s 508 Park sessions. View the photos at DallasObserver.com.
Members of the Ebony Emeralds Classic Theatre Company act out “On That Day,” a tribute to the 75th anniversary of Robert Johnson’s recordings at 508 Park. (Photo credit: Drew Gaines)
The first event in the revival of 508 Park Ave. takes place this Tuesday, June 19, which marks the 75th anniversary of Robert Johnson’s historic recording session. Events include a Robert Johnson look-alike/sound-alike contest, a theatrical recreation of that era called On That Day, and performances by several artists including The Light Crust Doughboys, who also recorded in the studio 75 years ago. Predictably, none of the original members remain, but the Doughboys are, by lineage and style, the same group.
June 19, often concatenated as “Juneteenth,” is celebrated as the day when slaves were freed in Texas by official declaration in Galveston in 1865. For 147 years, it has marked a day of hope and the dawn of new paradigms. Robert Johnson’s recording session, by coincidence, fell on the same day 72 years later. For 508 Park Ave, you could hardly compose a better narrative as a building so essential to Dallas’s own story starts its next act.
On June 19th, the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas is planning to celebrate the 75th @ 508 Festival, which will commemorate the 75th anniversary of Robert Johnson’s recording sessions at 508 Park Avenue, a downtown building where Johnson recorded almost half of his discography in 1937. The church purchased the building last year and plans to renovate it.
Read more at The Dallas Morning News.
Happy Birthday to Robert Johnson! Today marks the 101st anniversary of the legendary Blues guitarist’s birth. Check out this video at Music Matters and share it with friends!
Have you ordered “The Complete Original Masters: Centennial Edition” yet? Supplies are limited, so get yours today before it sells out!