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Robert Johnson At 100: Legacy, Legend

Iconic Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson’s life was brief (he died at 27) and his recorded output was modest (just 29 songs), but his legacy looms larger than ever in the centennial year of his birth.

In anticipation of the May 8 milestone, the music world is honoring the man behind a powerful legend — Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar-playing prowess — with festivals, tribute records and expansive repackaging of his recordings.


Salutes Mark Bluesman Robert Johnson’s Centennial

When bluesman Robert Johnson died broke and all but unknown in a tiny Mississippi crossroads town, he was buried in a homemade coffin and an unmarked grave. Yet, a century after he came into this world, his eerie blues still influence artists from Eric Clapton to John Mayer, and his legacy continues to be celebrated.

“I’m amazed by it after all these years,” Steven Johnson said of his grandfather’s musical legacy. “It seems like it just passed down from generation to generation.”

Steven Johnson will be part of a big party that begins Thursday in Greenwood, the small Mississippi Delta town, where Johnson had been playing his music on a street corner shortly before his death.

The free celebration will feature an art exhibit, tours of Johnson’s haunts and other historic blues sites, as well as live music Friday and Saturday from Bobby Rush, The Cedric Burnside Project, Keb’ Mo’, Alvin Youngblood Hart and others. The event is sponsored by the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Read more at The Associated Press.

‘Cross Road Blues’ Music Video Premiere

Today’s premiere commemorates the 100th birthday of late bluesman Robert Johnson. The film, which features illustrations from Brooklyn artist Christopher Darling, centers on the urban myth of the singer-guitarist selling his soul to the devil, a tale fueled by his itinerant lifestyle, otherworldly talent and renowned prowess as a ladies’ man. In celebration of the May 8 anniversary, Sony has released a new box set of Johnson’s late 1930s recordings, The Complete Original Masters: Centennial Edition, which includes a double-disc CD, a DVD of the 1997 documentary The Life and Music of Robert Johnson: Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? and 12 vinyl reproductions of his original records.


At The Crossroads As Robert Johnson Centennial Nears

Robert Johnson remains the man most broadly considered the preeminent bluesman of all time, a reputation that grows only more solid as the 100th anniversary of his birth in Hazlehurst, Miss., approaches on May 8.

Before Johnson came along, others were playing the Delta blues. Artists such as Patton, Brown and House were major influences on him. But Johnson’s hauntingly expressive, high-pitched voice, the sophistication of themes and lyrics in his songs and a technical mastery of the acoustic guitar that still has musicians scratching their heads in wonder all helped elevate him above his musical predecessors, peers and descendants.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

‘Hellhound On My Ale’ Brew Coming In Early May

Release The Hellhounds! Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Celebrates 100th Birthday of Mississippi Delta Blues Legend Robert Johnson with “Hellhound On My Ale”- A Newly Created Limited Edition Commemorative Brew – Coming in Early May

Robert Johnson: The Centennial Collection Available Now from Legacy Recordings

NEW YORK — May 8, 2011 marks the 100th birthday of singer/songwriter/guitarist Robert Johnson — the archetypal Mississippi Delta bluesman who purportedly sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in exchange for uncanny musical prowess. In honor of the Robert Johnson centennial, Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has created “Hellhound On My Ale,” a super-hoppy brew inspired by the otherworldly soul and complexity of Johnson’s music.

Hellhound On My Ale

Produced in a small-quantity-limited run, “Hellhound On My Ale,” is 100% dry-hopped with Centennial Hops with sublime citrus notes courtesy of dried organic lemon peel and flesh added pre-fermentation (a taste-bud tribute to Johnson’s musical mentor, Blind Lemon Jefferson). “Just as Johnson’s unique style was a hybrid of Delta blues, country and even vaudeville,” said Dogfish founder and president Sam Calagione, “Centennial Hops are a recently developed variety that is a hybrid of Brewer’s Gold, Golding, and Fuggles hop varieties. Centennial Hops grow in the Northwest United States and have wonderful floral and citrus notes.” Rounding off the centennial spirit of the ale, Hellhound is brewed at 10.0 abv.

Coming in early May, Dogfish Head’s “Hellhound” will be available in Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The newly crafted Robert Johnson ale was created, according to Calagione, as a way to “celebrate his artistry and his centennial simultaneously. Johnson’s playing was so complex and full that his one guitar sounded like two. His voice and lyrics were as distinct as his guitar playing, and stood out as distinct beyond the other blues musicians of the day. Beyond that you have the legend of Johnson selling his soul to the devil in return for mastery of the guitar. We wanted to make an ale that paid tribute to all that.”

“Robert Johnson is an American treasure,” said Adam Block, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Legacy Recordings, “and his musical legacy and remarkable folklore are well worth celebrating. In this spirit, Sam and Dogfish Head have brewed an appropriately wonderful and delicious tribute to Johnson and his music.”

Dogfish Head and its “off-centered ales for off-centered people” were the subject of “A Better Brew,” an article in The New Yorker (Nov. 24, 2008) examining the rise of extreme beer. “Beer has lagged well behind wine and organic produce in the ongoing reinvention of American cuisine. Yet the change over the past twenty years has been startling,” wrote Burkhard Bilger. “Dogfish is something of a mascot for this unruly movement. In the thirteen years since Calagione founded the brewery, it has gone from being the smallest in the country to the thirty-eighth largest. Calagione makes more beer with at least ten per cent alcohol than any other brewer, and his odd ingredients are often drawn from ancient or obscure beer traditions. It is to Budweiser what a bouillabaisse is to fish stock.”

Now sixteen years old, Dogfish Head has grown to become the country’s 24th biggest brewery.

Dogfish Head first partnered with Legacy Recordings in 2010 in the creation of a limited edition “Bitch’s Brew” celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Miles Davis’s fusion-jazz masterpiece.

Robert Johnson’s alleged contract with Satan brought forth an incandescent guitar technique and a run of 10-inch 78 rpm singles for the Vocalion, Oriole, Conqueror and Perfect labels recorded in San Antonio in 1936 and Dallas in 1937. Those songs have become a cornerstone of 20th century music, and Columbia Records’ identity, and will be celebrated on two CENTENNIAL releases from Columbia/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.

Over the years, Johnson’s influence has resounded in the music of Muddy Waters (“32-20 Blues”), Elmore James (“I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”), Junior Parker (“Sweet Home Chicago”), John Hammond Jr. (“Milk Cow’s Calf Blues”), the Rolling Stones (“Love In Vain,” “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues”), John Mayall (“Ramblin’ On My Mind”), Cream (“From Four Until Late”), Eric Clapton (“Cross Road Blues”), Johnny Winter (“When You Got a Good Friend”), Paul Butterfield and Bonnie Raitt (“Walkin’ Blues”), Fleetwood Mac and ZZ Top (“Hellhound On My Trail”), Led Zeppelin (“Traveling Riverside Blues”), Keb’ Mo’ (“Preachin’ Blues”), Cassandra Wilson (“Come On In My Kitchen”), and countless others. It is by far the most empowering body of work in American history to emerge from one solitary blues figure.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Robert Johnson’s birth, Columbia/Legacy pays homage to his spirit with ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL MASTERS – CENTENNIAL EDITION (catalog # 88697859071) a multi-faceted “box set” encompassing stand-alone vinyl, CD and DVD components. Its components include:

1) A hardbound vintage book, with sleeves housing the dozen 78rpm vinyl-disc replicas (now at 45 rpm) originally released by Johnson, including a lavish 10-inch-square booklet;

2) ROBERT JOHNSON: THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION (catalog #88697860661) a new double-CD which includes all 29 songs he recorded in 1936 and ’37, for a combined total of 42 masters and alternate takes;

3) RARITIES FROM THE VAULTS, a double-CD comprising:

CD One: Blues From The Victor Vault, a dozen rarely-collected 78s (i.e. 24 A-sides and B-sides) from the Victor archive by Frank Stokes, Tommy Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie McTell, and others, recorded between 1928 and 1932; and
CD Two: Also Playing…, 10 tracks featuring artists recorded during the same San Antonio and Dallas sessions as Robert Johnson, a musical hotpot ranging from folk and hillbilly, cowboy and Mexican to Texas Swing;

4) THE LIFE & MUSIC OF ROBERT JOHNSON: CAN’T YOU HEAR THE WIND HOWL?, a DVD of the critically-acclaimed 1997 documentary film, directed by Peter Meyer, hosted by Danny Glover, and featuring Keb’ Mo’ as Robert Johnson. The 76-minute film also includes interviews with Robert Cray, Johnny Shines, John Hammond, Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr., Henry Townsend, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.

The four components will ship together and are available exclusively at This package will not be available in stores.

THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION double-disc set shares the same genealogy as 1990’s Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings, but that package has now been updated for a new generation. The set includes a new essay by Ted Gioia alongside a new biography of Robert Johnson written by Stephen C. LaVere (completely different from his essay in the 1990 version). Also included are new illustrations, photo images, and a family tree of music originating from Robert Johnson. THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION will ship as part of the ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE MASTERS – CENTENNIAL EDITION package, but it will also be available as a stand-alone item at retail.

The Robert Johnson Blues Foundation (located in Crystal Springs, Mississippi) announced a series of national and international centennial events for “Robert Johnson – The King of Delta Blues.” Steven Johnson, the Vice President of the Foundation and grandson to Robert Johnson, explains: ” My grandfather is revered globally. This centennial celebration involves combining a unique blend of theatre, live musical performances, artistic exhibits and dialogue that highlight the complexity of his life while celebrating his genius. Our events will be following the Robert Johnson Blues Trail, which will allow us to travel to many of the cities where he shared his talents and where his music is most loved. This is important because his voice, style and musical gifts were the foundation for American popular music.” For more information about the centennial events visit

SOURCE Legacy Recordings