|May 8, 2011, marks the 100th birthday of Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, who, according to legend, sold his soul down at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in a midnight bargain that has haunted the music world for three-quarters of a century. The ‘deal’ brought forth Johnson’s 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 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.
As recently as this year, John Mayer was nominated for a Grammy Award® for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, for his cover of “Crossroads” on his Battle Studies album, Columbia, 2009. “Cross Road Blues,” of course, gives Eric Clapton’s annual Chicago music festival its title.