Some people are born to be musicians. They have music in their souls. They come out with their fingers ready to touch ivory or grip the guitar.

Regardless of what lot they have in their early life, it leads them to music, and they are motivated by song.

Many have a deep desire to make the songs they carry with them a reality for others, but few have the talent – the naturally born skill – to see it through. So they have to take desperate actions to make their dreams a reality.

It’s said that when such a talent rises out of nothing and then quickly disappears, they must have sold their soul for fame.

It’s a legend stemming back to medieval Europe but has planted its roots more firmly in the American South, where opportunities for young Black Americans in the post-slavery US were slim and hard to come by.

Therefore, it was reckoned that men who wielded incredible talent had to get it from somewhere dubious, such was the case of Robert Johnson – arguably the inventory of the Rock Star Curse and a founder of the early movement of blues and rock and roll.

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10 /10 Mississippi Blues

Robert Leroy Johnson was born in 1911, possibly in May, to Julia Dodds. He was one of ten children in a big family. Unfortunately, his family suffered discrimination.

His father, a reputable furniture salesman, was driven out of town by a lynch mob, and his family was forced to flee to Memphis under a new name.

There, young Robert’s primary education took place at the Carnes Avenue Colored School.

9 /10 Little Dusty

Robert’s mother again married a man much younger than her, an illiterate sharecropper named Will “Dusty” Willis.

After Robert’s mother separated from him in Memphis and then reunited around 1920 and took him back with her new, much younger husband, this led to Robert being called “Little Robert Dusty.”

However, he continued using the assumed name of Spencer when he registered for school.

8 /10 Born For Blues

Robert’s tumultuous life and his split family propelled him to succeed in his education and attempt to start his own family.

Unfortunately, his first marriage ended when his wife died in childbirth in 1929, shortly after getting married.

This was thought to be a divine punishment on Robert for daring to sing songs that didn’t fit hymnal scriptures.

That he’d “sold his soul to the devil” to play secular music. Rather than repent or deny it, Robert decided to embrace the idiom and turned his back to his community to be a blues musician.

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7 /10 The Devil's Apprentices

Robert wasn’t the only one inspired to take up the dark mantle of a devilish blues player. Isaiah “Ike” Zimmerman was rumored to have learned to play guitar by practicing in graveyards, which somehow likened his skills to the supernatural. Robert’s learned skill seemed similarly unique.

He was terrible at the guitar at first. Still, after briefly relocating and seeking out the legends that came before him, he returned to the scene as a guitar master, much to the suspicion of then-famous musicians such as Son House and Willie Brown.

6 /10 The Wandering Harp

Robert took up the life of a traveling musician in 1932 between Memphis and Helena and all the smaller towns throughout Mississippi and Arkansas.

When he met Johnny Shines, the two would travel even further, going as far as Chicago, Texas, Kentucky – even Canada. He played with Henry Townsend in St. Louis.

He used different names as he traveled, only known by his friends and widespread, an extensive family he stayed with as who he indeed was.

5 /10 Fiendish Engagement

Robert wasn’t just a wandering musician; he was an outright fleeting one. He never made trouble and collected plenty of money, but as soon as an opportunity sprang to leave, he would.

Even in the middle of a gig, famously, he’d be playing his heart out and then exit, going the rest of the band to play and catch up or risk losing sight of him for days – even weeks at a time.

It was assumed he was entangled in some other obligations – perhaps due to his pact with the devil for power.

4 /10 Satanic Verses

Robert never sang outright evil songs.

The superstitions surrounding his power were corroborated by other blues musicians who were familiar with the folklore, rooted in the Christian upbringing and cultural appeal first garnered by the American slaves in the 1800s.

After so long of waiting for a savior, and even after emancipation not being entirely “saved” yet, some saw a more accessible out and took it, though they ultimately suffered for it in the end.

3 /10 Devil On Demand

In 1936, Robert sought out someone to record his sound using the newly standardized and revolutionary vinyl records that were still quite a new undertaking at the time. In just three days worth of sessions,

Robert recorded 16 tracks in a hotel in San Antonio. He also did more than one take each, allowing further comparisons to be reached by researchers to determine his precise style.

Some of these recordings, such as Cross Road Blues and Sweet Home Chicago, became the classic songs of Blues for years to come.


2 /10 The Devil's Dues

Johnson died in 1938 at just 27 years old. Though this was not quickly reported. Robert’s habit of disappearing for long periods meant people thought he walked away and never returned.

It wasn’t until 30 years later that his death certificate – a simple one – was discovered by a musicologist researching the roots of Rock and Roll in the foundational members of the early Blues movement.

It was believed he died of an aortic dissection.

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1 /10 Resting In The Blues

Robert Johnson’s exact burial location was never discovered, and three grave markers are attributed to him in different parts of Mississippi.

Some researchers attribute Robert’s death to poisoning or other diseases until more conclusive research was done as late as 2006.

They noted Robert’s unnaturally long fingers and his one evil eye, signs of Marfan syndrome which may have, at the time, been mistaken for symptoms of a demonic presence.

These things were supposed to be ghastly, which he used as tools to perfect his music. Dark gifts which made sweet music. 

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