The Legend of Robert Johnson

For decades, the myths surrounding Robert Johnson overshadowed his contributions as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. From the legend that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to mystery surrounding his untimely death at age 27, the truths of Johnson's life have remained untold. This week, Jim and Greg talk with music historian Bruce Conforth about Johnson's career, death and working to give the guitarist his identity back. They also share some of their favorite renditions of Johnson's songs.

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Bruce Conforth on the Legend of Robert Johnson

This week, Jim and Greg are tackling the music of a man whose myth is larger than life - blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Robert Johnson. The legend surrounding the "Sweet Home Chicago" singer is that he“sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads”in exchange for his signature guitar playing prowess. Born in 1911, Johnson displayed great stage presence, talent and potential, but he died suddenly at the age of 27 under suspicious circumstances. That was 81 years ago this month, and since then there have been all kinds of strange rumors and stories told about Johnson. Jim and Greg talk with an expert on Robert Johnson, Bruce Conforth. He co-wrote the book Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson with historian Gayle Dean Wardlow because they wanted to set the record straight. Throughout this long process, they realized the truth they were beginning to uncover was more fascinating than the myth.


Robert Johnson Covers

Jim and Greg thought they'd continue the Robert Johnson conversation by sharing some of their favorite covers and interpretations of his music.


Hooked On Sonics: Kevin Morby

Kevin Morby photo by John Dee Kevin Morby is a serious singer/songwriter with five solo albums under his belt. The most recent, OH MY GOD, is inspired by Nina Simone, Lou Reed and Ethiopian jazz, but he told producer Andrew Gill that the song that got him Hooked On Sonics is not as critically beloved: Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life."

Featured Songs

  1. Robert Johnson, Me and the Devil Blues, Me and the Devil Blues (Single), Vocalion, 1938
  2. Robert Johnson, Cross Road Blues, Cross Road Blues (Single), Vocalion, 1937
  3. Robert Johnson, Terraplane Blues, Terraplane Blues (Single), Vocalion, 1937
  4. Robert Johnson, Stones in My Passway, Stones in My Passway (Single), Vocalion, 1937
  5. Robert Johnson, Hellhound on My Trail, Hellhound on My Trail (Single), Vocalion, 1937
  6. Robert Johnson, Kind Hearted Woman Blues, Kind Hearted Woman Blues (Single), Vocalion, 1937
  7. Kokomo Blues, Old Original Kokomo Blues, Milk Cow Blues / Old Original Kokomo Blues, Decca, 1934
  8. Robert Johnson, Sweet Home Chicago, Sweet Home Chicago (Single), Vocalion, 1937
  9. Robert Johnson, They're Red Hot, They're Red Hot (Single), Vocalion, 1937
  10. Cream, Crossroads (Live), Wheels of Fire (Live at the Fillmore), Polydor, 1968
  11. The White Stripes, Stop Breaking Down, The White Stripes, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999
  12. Robert Johnson, Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped the Devil), Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped the Devil) (Single), Vocalion, 1939
  13. The Gun Club, Preaching the Blues, Fire of Love, Ruby, 1981
  14. Robert Johnson, Travellin' Riverside Blues, King of the Delta Blues Singers, Columbia, 1961
  15. Lucinda Williams, Ramblin' on My Mind, Ramblin', Smithsonian Folkways, 1979
  16. Robert Johnson, Walkin' Blues, Walkin' Blues (Single), Vocalion, 1937
  17. Bonnie Raitt, Walking Blues, Bonnie Raitt, Warner Bros., 1971
  18. Gil Scott-Heron, Me and the Devil, I'm New Here, XL, 2010
  19. Elmore James, Dust My Broom, (Single), Trumpet, 1952
  20. Cassandra Wilson, Dust My Broom, Loverly, Blue Note, 2008
  21. Kevin Morby, OMG Rock n Roll, Oh My God, Dead Oceans, 2019
  22. Third Eye Blind, Semi-Charmed Life, Third Eye Blind, Elektra, 1997
  23. Robyn, Show Me Love, Robyn Is Here, Ricochet, 1995
  24. The Mountain Goats, This Year, The Sunset Tree, 4AD, 2005
  25. Skyy, Call Me, Skyy Line, Salsoul, 1980
  26. Ramones, Rock ‘N’ Roll Highschool, Rock ‘N’ Roll Highschool, Sire, 1979
  27. Ramones, I Wanna Be Sedated, Road To Ruin, Sire, 1978
  28. Ramones, Howling At the Moon (Sha-La-La), Too Tough to Die, Sire, 1984
  29. Ramones, Bonzo Goes to Bitburg, Animal Boy, Sire, 1986
  30. Tom Tom Club, Genius of Love, Tom Tom Club, Island, 1981
  31. Debbie Harry, Sweet and Low, Def, Dumb & Blonde, Sire, 1989
  32. Ramones, Commando, It's Alive, Sire, 1979
  33. Tasha, Lullaby, Alone At Last, Father/Daughter, 2018