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Robert Johnson was Known as Robert Spencer

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    Robert Johnson.

                Robert Johnson was an American artist born in Hazlehurst in 8th of May, 1911 to Noah Johnson and Julia Major Dodds and his career ended in 16th August when he died. He was specifically known for singing American blues. He was a man who possessed great skills in the art of music something that made him a blues virtuoso. Music was his long time ambition and at first he became interested in playing musical instruments such as harmonica and harp before focusing more on the guitar. His remarkable skills in music are portrayed in his elaborate style of writing music. The manner and the pattern he used in playing guitar something that greatly influenced other musicians who emerged after his era. This research paper is mainly going to look at what unique that Robert Johnson added in the blues’ musical scene.

                Originally Robert Johnson was known as Robert Spencer but he dropped Spencer and took his father’s name Johnson. He had a difficult childhood in that his family was not stable and kept on migrating from one region to the other in the South. It is while in Memphis that his music interest started taking its shape when his older half brother taught him how to play the harmonica and the Jew’s harp[1]. His music career not developed because of the effort that he received from his family but because of the appreciation that people showed towards his music. In fact his stepfather unlike his half-brother was unsupportive and somehow discouraged him but he would instead sneak out and go to the streets to play his new music to his colleagues. “Robert Johnson was a brilliant, tortured musician whose intensity and passion for the blues has never been matched. He was an innovator of extreme significance, and his influence on all of blues music is immeasurable”[2]. He had the capacity to play the songs that people in the streets requested even though they were not his own compilations. By doing this, he earned his living in that he would get a lot of tips from people who wanted him to play the songs they requested[3].

                Though short-lived, Robert Johnson is the most celebrated blues artist in America. He is a legendary who bridged the gap between the Mississippi’s country blues with the modern post Second World War era’s city blues and is thus considered as the father of the Delta blues. Most of his predecessors such as Son House and Charlie Patton used to play what was known as the country blues[4]. These were the kind of songs that in most cases reflected the South’s life experiences and particularly after the emancipation period. At this time, these artists would move from community to community expressing their feelings in songs about problems in their lives, about love, about sex and also about freedom. With time, country blues gave birth into another blues genre referred to as the classic blues. This transformation was largely due to the migration of many people from rural areas to urban centers thereby turning this music into an urban thing. After the World War II, blues even took a more different twist as it moved into big cities like Chicago. Technology also ventured in where the music played on the guitar would be amplified and would use drums more with the emergence of artists like Muddy waters and Buddy Guy[5]. Johnson’s strong interest in blues music was not deterred by the fact that the Mississippi community detested this music genre in that they believed that it had a devilish character. These people believed that blues artists would  go under the cover of the moon to meet Satan so that their guitars would be fine tuned, become famous, win women and make easy money in exchange of their souls[6]. Although information about the life of Johnson is scanty, the little that is available shows that at first other bluesmen would not agree to share with him the same stage as he was poor but due to his relentless effort and his undying enthusiasm to be like them, he was able to master the art of playing the guitar within a very short time something that astonished his critics. It is due to his quick mastery of the guitar that some tended to believe that he also followed the same path by going to a crossroad somewhere around the Dockery’s plantation for the fine tuning of his guitar “Seemingly overnight, Johnson had gone from fledgling bluesman to guitar genius, which fueled rumors about a supposed deal at the crossroads…[7]” It is presumed that here he met the devil who fine-tuned his guitar.

                Just like it was the case with other artists to have been influenced by other artists, the case was the same with Johnson whose music influence came from blues artists such as Son House, Willie Brown and Charley Patton. Johnson also influenced artists like the Allman brothers and Keith Richard who in particular said that he would hear the sounds of two guitars only to understand later that all was from that one guitar. His unique music style has found its way into the modern blues and rock music through the works of other artists such as Elmore James, John Hammond, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zippelin[8].

                Charley Patton who was one of the greatest Delta singers and whose influence on Johnson cannot be measured is believed to be the one who set the blueprint for how the life of bluesmen should be and if this is the case, then it is Johnson himself who put life into the plan. Johnson’s music simply talked about the life he had gone through in fact it comprised of bits he collected from his adventures.  By putting these bits together, he was able to come up with beautiful blues songs such as ‘I Believe I’ll Dust my Broom’, ‘Crossroad Blues’, ‘Terraplane Blues’ and Come in my Kitchen’ in 1936[9].

                Below are some of Robert Johnson’s Albums: Crossroad Blues and the King of Delta Blues, Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnson, the Road to Robert Johnson and the Hellhound on my Trial accessed at Amazon.com.

                Johnson is known for his unique style of playing guitar even while making his recordings. It is through his frequent visits he made to the Delta that he picked some rhythmic and melodic ideas form other bluesmen and with this help he came to be acquainted with a unique style of playing and tuning his guitar, a method that was unfamiliar to what other Robinsonville associates did[10]. Sources available show that he would play his guitar while facing on the wall something that left many baffled. His behavior was often misinterpreted with some thinking that he was doing so to protect his style from being copied by his competitors while others thought that he was doing to hide his shy face. When some persistent inquiries about why he did so were made, it is said that sometimes he would simply walk away for days or even months. His friends say that he would wake up at night to pick his guitar and he would do it silently. If they happened to wake up he would quickly stop playing, probably to protect his unique style[11].

                It is claimed that the note selections and chordal movements that Johnson made are impossible to achieve if you possess normal size fingers. Those who hold this belief point the fact that Johnson had extraordinarily big fingers that enabled him to do so.  Through his ingenuity, he was able to introduce new playing tactics in blues for example, the introduction of walking bass notes into the music something that left many puzzled over where he learnt this style. Much of the credit as far the evolvement of the blues into what it has become goes to Robert Johnson. It is through his unique method of playing guitar that other artists such as Elvis Presley and Rolling Stones were able to come up with even more complicated playing style leading to the emergence of another music genre known as the hard rock[12].

                Robert Johnson is one of the American historic figures whose memory will remain green in people’s minds forever. He is particularly remembered for his outstanding skills in playing the guitar. He had a very unique way of doing it something that left many amazed. Many did not get a chance to know how he did it because while performing he would pick his guitar while facing the wall. People could not understand why he did so but some thought it was because of his shyness while others thought it was his way of protecting his unique guitar playing style. He set a stage for other music genres such as the hard rock something that exhibited his influence.

                            Works Cited.

    Dicaire D. Blues Singers. Biographies of 50 legendary artists of the early 20th century. McFarland. 1999.

    Jamplay.com. The History of Blues guitar, 2004. Retrieved at     http://www.abclearnguitar.com/blues-guitar.html

    Rock and Roll Hall of fame + Museum. Robert Johnson. 1986. Accessed at              http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/robert-johnson

    Schroeder, Patricia. Robert Johnson, Mythmaking, and Contemporary American     Culture. University of Illinois Press, 2004.

    [1] Rock and Roll Hall of fame + Museum. Robert Johnson. 1986. Accessed at                http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/robert-johnson
    [2] Dicaire D. Blues Singers. Biographies of 50 legendary artists of the early 20th century.  McFarland. 1999;  27.
    [3] Ibid 25
    [4] Jamplay.com. The History of Blues guitar, 2004. Retrieved at http://www.abclearnguitar.com/blues-guitar.html

    [5] Rock and Roll Hall of fame + Museum. Robert Johnson. 1986. Accessed at                 http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/robert-johnson
    [6] Schroeder, Patricia. Robert Johnson, Mythmaking, and Contemporary American Culture. University of Illinois                Press, 2004; 25
    [7] Dicaire D. Blues Singers. Biographies of 50 legendary artists of the early 20th century.  McFarland. 1999; 27.
    [8] Jamplay.com. The History of Blues guitar, 2004. Retrieved at http://www.abclearnguitar.com/blues-guitar.html
    [9] Dicaire D. Blues Singers. Biographies of 50 legendary artists of the early 20th century.  McFarland. 1999; 27
    [10] Rock and Roll Hall of fame + Museum. Robert Johnson. 1986. Accessed at               http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/robert-johnson
    [11] Schroeder, Patricia. Robert Johnson, Mythmaking, and Contemporary American                Culture. University of           Illinois Press, 2004; 28
    [12] Ibid; 29

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