The 27 Club is a romanticized but tragic group of talented musicians whose lives ended at the age of 27, usually due to drug or alcohol-related overdoses. Robert Johnson, a man credited with inventing the Delta blues sound, is the rare member of that club who also makes the list of people who made deals with the Devil.
Robert Johnson's mysterious death came after he allegedly went to the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61 in Clarkesdale, MS, and exchanged his soul for the ability to play the guitar. A year after recording highly influential blues tracks, Johnson died, and people started speculating that the Devil had come to take what was due to him. Some believe a disease caused his death, while other believe a romantic rival murdered Johnson.
We may never know all of the facts about his death, but maybe we can find an answer to the question: did Robert Johnson make a deal with the Devil?
A Bluesman Named Henry Goodman Claims To Have Seen The Deal With The Devil In A Vision
At a diner in Rosedale, MS, writer Rolf Potts was handed a crumpled paper that contained a vision from bluesman Henry Goodman concerning Johnson selling his soul to the Devil. The waitress believed the account meant the crossroads Johnson visited were those located and the intersection of Highway 8 and Highway 1 in Rosedale; other stories claim it was the intersection of US 49 and 61 is where Johnson's infamous deal with the Devil occurred.
Goodman's vision included allusions to Johnson lyrics, with the Devil telling him to fill his stomach with tamales for the journey. Johnson had a song called "They're Red Hot" that has the lyric "Hot tamales and they're red hot, yes she got'em for sale".
In the vision, the Devil is the first one to call Johnson the King of the Delta Blues, a name that would accompany his legacy of music.
A Note On The Back Of The Death Certificate Has Syphilis As The Cause
Johnson's death certificate says "no doctor", but a note on the back of it lists his cause of death as syphilis. The note is believed to have been written by the owner of the home in which Johnson died after being taken there by friend Honeyboy Edwards.
It is not known how the homeowner would know if Johnson died from syphilis complications.
Johnson Only Recorded 29 Songs - But They Influenced Musical Legends
After returning from his alleged deal with the Devil, Johnson recorded 29 songs over two sessions held in 1936 and 1937. These would be the only songs he ever recorded, outliving the bluesman to inspire generations of musicians after his death in 1938.
Johnson's songs have been covered by Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The White Stripes, and many others. Clapton is credited as bringing Johnson into popularity, as the talented musician released an album with his versions of the bluesman's song in 2004, Sessions For Robert J.
Johnson Recorded Music Only When Facing The Corner Of The Room
In 1962, Columbia Records released King of the Delta Blues Singers - a re-release of Johnson's songs recorded in 1936-1937. Eric Clapton remembers that the liner notes talked about Johnson being so shy that he recorded the songs while facing the corner of the room.
Some people point to that peculiarity as proof of the Devil's intervention, with Johnson not able to show his face while playing what he sold his soul to gain. Others believe Johnson was merely trying to make sure his voice sounded good in the recordings, saying he understood the radio and records better than other bluesmen.