the post title is still a pretty shitty one for an obit thread
...Wolf's first recording session for Sun Records in 1951. The songs were "Moanin' at Midnight" and "How Many More Years" with Ike Turner playing piano and Willie Johnson on guitar. The songs became big hits on the rhythm 'n' blues charts.
Well-known last name/legacy + good alliterative sound when combined with the first name = keeper
it didn't seem to be any impediment to Sandra Bullock's success in Hollywood
Most all the musicians of my acquaintance know the legend of Robert Johnson, the great Delta bluesman. At a crossroads at midnight, Robert meets the devil (or Eshu or Papa Legba) and, in exchange for his immortal soul, comes away with supernatural skills as a singer and guitarist. Many versions of this Faustian story put the crossroads at Clarksdale, Miss., where Highway 49 meets Highway 61.
The crossroads ritual is currently best known in popular American culture through the recent acceptance of a spurious legend that the famous 1930s blues singer Robert Johnson claimed that he had learned how to play guitar by selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads, somewhere in Mississippi. In truth, the blues singer who publicly made this claim was Robert's rather less-well-known contemporary and friend Tommy Johnson, not related to Robert. Tommy Johnson is remembered for his classic recording of "Maggie Campbell Blues." LeDell Johnson, Tommy Johnson's brother, spoke with the blues scholar David Evans about Tommy's sudden guitar playing skill and Tommy's claims about it. His account of the ritual is typical of others collected throughout the South. Note that LeDell did not say that Tommy Johnson called the crossroads spirit "the devil" and he did not mention selling his soul. "If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there, be sure to get there just a little 'fore 12 that night so you know you'll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself...A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he'll tune it. And then he'll play a piece and hand it back to you. That's the way I learned to play anything I want." from "Tommy Johnson" by David Evans (London: Studio Vista, 1971). [Thanks to Debbie Sexton (Ginger5904@aol.com) for sourcing this material.] Robert Johnson, shown here, did record a song called "Crossroads," but it is about hitch-hiking, not magic. In other songs he made it clear that he was familiar with and practiced hoodoo: In "Hellhound on My Trail" he mentions Hot Foot Powder, in "Come On In My Kitchen" he refers to a woman's nation sack, and in "Little Queen of Spades" he describes how his lover uses a mojo bag to gain good luck in gambling. But hoodoo is an entire system of belief and the ritual whereby one learns skills at a crossroads is only one of thousands of practices that are part of the hoodoo tradition. Robert Johnson worked hoodoo and believed in it, but he himself apparently did not claim that he used the crossroads ritual to gain mastery of the guitar. This is not to say that he did not do so -- for many, many people have done it, and not only because they wanted to learn to play the guitar, but to become proficient on other musical instruments, to improve their skills as dancers, to become good at throwing dice, and to learn how to lay tricks (cast spells). However, in the interest of accuracy, i must repeat that Robert Johnson never claimed he worked the crossroads ritual. Tommy Johnson did, however.
As far as I have been able to determine it was a writer named Robert Palmer who bears the responsibility for transferring Tommy Johnson's crossroads story to Robert Johnson, probably because Robert Johnson was so much better known and Palmer thought it made a better story.
Unfortunately, Palmer and the other European-American writers who propagated his fictional story, were unfamiliar with the teacher at the crossroads and they conflated Tommy Johnson's "big black man" with Goethe's Mephistopheles in "Faust," and then painted false "spooky" images of those who received the gift of learning. It particular, they took their cue from "Faust" to cast Robert Johnson into the role of a tormented and tortured soul doomed to suffer the wrath of God. Needless to say, Palmer's take on the black man at the crossroads does not accord with oral histories collected in the South in the 1930s, the time in which Robert and Tommy Johnson were friends.
"If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there, be sure to get there just a little 'fore 12 that night so you know you'll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself...A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he'll tune it. And then he'll play a piece and hand it back to you. That's the way I learned to play anything I want."
from "Tommy Johnson" by David Evans (London: Studio Vista, 1971). [Thanks to Debbie Sexton (Ginger5904@aol.com) for sourcing this material.]
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