• Kyle Petronio

The Influence of Robert Johnson on Blues

The blues could be described as less of a genre and more of a feeling or sentiment toward a past many of us have heard of but didn’t personally experience. Or maybe the blues was an early coping mechanism for many living through hard times in the early to mid 1900s. As with other forms of music with a historically black origin, there are many pioneers that have been forgotten, and I think it is important to mention them in order to understand why music has arrived at its current intersection of a genre-less approach.

You may know about a song called “Crossroads” by Cream, which could have been the reason why Eric Clapton decided to name a festival after it. You may also know that the final song on the infamous album Blood Sugar Sex Magik is “They’re Red Hot” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Except for the fact that neither of these songs were originally composed by Cream or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were created by Robert Leroy Johnson. He lived only for 27 years in the Mississippi Delta region, but like many other greats from his time, his work went largely unrecognized until years after his death.

Many view him as an early influencer to the British Blues movement that blossomed in the fifties and sixties with artists like Muddy Waters and bands like Cream and The Yardbirds. There is a legend that Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a local crossroads in order to achieve the musical success that he did in his short but impactful life. Whether this is true or not, one thing is for sure. We would not have the musical maturity and familiar ideas in blues without the recordings of those songs he made. Robert was elected in 1986 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is one of the most influential black musicians that I can think of who may often be overlooked.

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