The infamous story goes like this: Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Miss., in order to get "magical" guitar-playing skill. He was a rudimentary player when he disappeared for about six months, but blew everybody away upon his return. House speculated on the devil thing -- possibly in jest -- in the 1965 interview. Although Johnson colleague Johnny Shines had disputed the myth, it caught on and spread like a virus in books, documentaries and movies such as 1986's "Crossroads."
While talking to Wald, a 45-year-old author and musician, by phone from his Cambridge, Mass., home, I own up to writing stories romanticizing this part of Johnson's life and story. Wald laughs. "We all did!" he says. "My position isn't that there's anything wrong with that myth. I mean, cultures need myths. There's something exciting about the Robert Johnson myth. I just think it's important to say it's basically a myth of Rolling Stones fans -- not of black Mississippians."
"Robert came up under people like Son House and Willie Brown, and he matched them, but he also added his own style," Lockwood says. "He got this from listening to players like Le Roy Carr on the piano, and what he did was to translate the right and left hand sounds of a piano to guitar. When people ask me about if I believe all that stuff about the devil, I say 'Hell No!' It is stupid. How can an adult sell his soul to the devil? If it does happen, it happens when you are born."
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