Friday Night with Guitar George: Robert Johnson Edition, Part One


You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it.

–Keith Richards

One of Chick Fil-A’s advertising slogans is “We did not invent the chicken. Just the chicken sandwich.” Robert Johnson did not invent the Delta blues. He just perfected it.

Generally regarded as one of the best and most influential blues guitarists ever, Johnson was not blessed from birth with sublime talent. According to Johnson’s idol Son House:

He’d follow me and Willie Brown around on Saturday night and every time we’d stop to rest and set the guitars over in the corner and go out to catch air, he would get the guitar and be trying to play it and be just noisin’ the people, you know. And the folks they’d come out and say “Why don’t some of y’all go in there and make that boy put that thing down, he runnin’ us crazy.” Then he was gone about six to eight months until he come back. When he come back me and Willie Brown was playin’ out there and he walked in and said “Can I hit a lick or two?” And I said, “now don’t come back with that, Robert. You know the people don’t wanna hear that racket.” He says, “Let them say what they want to say. I want you to see what I learnt.

As we now know, what Robert Johnson had “learnt” during his lengthy absence was how to play the blues guitar better than his predecessor Charley Patton, better than his contemporary Son House, and perhaps better than anyone since. Of all the possible explanations for what had happened that completely transformed Johnson’s guitar skills, the one most widely accepted is that Johnson met the devil at a crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi and sold his soul in exchange for the ability to play guitar. Johnson himself never refuted this story, and Son House unflinchingly accepted the explanation as well.

Robert Johnson’s life and music and historical significance are far too important to try to cover in one episode of FNWGG, so we will visit him again soon, and we will provide numerous links to Johnson’s songs, both as originals and as covers. As for this week’s sole video, I give you a cover of “Crossroad Blues” performed by a young Hispanic musician named Fruncho Lopez. Although technically flawed, his boldness and confidence with the guitar are impressive. And please note the incongruity of the Spongebob pillow in the background.

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  1. […] took our first look at Robert Johnson in the August 14 edition of FNWGG, in which we heard Son House’s before-and-after description of Johnson’s transformation from […]

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