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.