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Black History Month: Robert Johnson

By Howard B. Owens

Robert Johnson was barely known in his lifetime. He was 27 when he died, leaving behind only 59 recordings of 29 songs.

He remained largely unknown until 1961 when Columbia Records released King of the Delta Blues Singers.

Young kids like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and many other early rock and roll guitarists heard the album and were transfixed.

Johnson became one of the most influential guitar players in history though he died in obscurity.

That obscurity helped foment many legends, some that started in his lifetime, such as meeting the devil at the crossroads and trading his sole for talent.

The roots of that legend is that Johnson used to show up at juke joints and could barely play. Then he went away for six months and came back as a transformed musician.

That's likely due to taking lessons from another accomplished player, but he was so much better, other musicians couldn't believe how good he became.

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