The art of a musical myth has always been something that fascinated me. Stories behind the music, legends that exist, rumours and conjecture. As I come across these little tidbits of lore, I felt that they should be shared. Usually they crop up during some of my many musical conversations and have become stories that I share with others. How Ozzy Osbourne accidentally bit the head off a bat in a now-infamous stage performance (unintentional, he claims he thought it was rubber), however, the biting off of a dove’s head was actually intentional (although he was completely trashed at the time). How The Verve never actually made any money off of their biggest hit, “Bittersweet Symphony” (thanks to the Rolling Stones). Even the incidents in current news that will one day be legend: the onslaught of performers puking on stage (a la the Biebs and Lady Gaga), for example.
What started my desire to chronicle these stories happened months ago. A story told to me about a man who allegedly sold his soul to the devil for success and fame (told by an excellent storyteller, one I don’t tire of hearing).
Robert Johnson was, arguably, one of the most influential blues musicians. During his lifetime, however, he was a mediocre success. As legend has it, Johnson met the Devil at a crossroads (or a graveyard, depending on the teller of this legend), where the Devil gave him mastery of his guitar. In exchange for his soul, the Devil gave Johnson the ability to be a famous musician.
Interestingly enough, Johnson’s success didn’t come until well after his death. Ironic. Be careful what you wish for. Also interesting is how Johnson died (it is claimed he was murdered by a jealous husband of a woman he flirted with – murder by poison and Johnson suffered a painful drawn-out death). And, also note, that the exact location of his grave is unknown. All adding to the weight of the myth.
This is the legend that started my talk of musical myth. A mystery and myth all rolled into one very great story of an amazing musician. Go read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Johnson#Devil_legend
Even better, go find some Robert Johnson music and give it a listen. Because a myth without music is just boring fodder. May I suggest listening to both “Crossroad” and “Me and the Devil Blues” to start.