|Actor||La Monde Byrd|
|Dates||May 8, 1911-August 16, 1938|
|Episode(s)||2.08 Crossroad Blues|
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
African-American blues singer, guitarist and songwriter. Born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, he grew up absorbing the music of Delta bluesmen, first learning the harmonica and then mastering the guitar. He left home in 1930 and traveled the country, playing and singing at parties, juke joints, barrellhouses, and other venues. In San Antonio (1936) and Dallas (1937) he recorded 29 blues songs, but a year later he was poisoned by a jealous husband. Six of Johnson's blues songs mention the devil or some form of the supernatural. Though all that remains of his legendary work are those Texas recordings, Johnson's influence has been a big influence on later blues players and on rock and rollers including Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, U2, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
It is a popular urban legend that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his talent. The Coen Brothers' film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, explores this concept with a character named Tommy Johnson. Tommy, who was actually Robert Johnson's friend, was actually the one who made that claim.
To elaborate, not only did Robert Johnson never claim to have done the ritual, but the very concept of "selling your soul to the Devil," in the Faustian-bargain sense, is an importation from European folklore: the Robert Johnson story was promulgated by white journalists who a) attached the story to the more famous Robert instead of Tommy, and b) overlaid their own European-American folklore. As the numerous Hoodoo crossroads rituals collected at Lucky Mojo attest, the crossroads spirit in African-American folklore did not behave like the European devil, and never demanded your soul as payment. However, the ritual performed on Supernatural is significantly different than the folkloric rituals; the ingredients used in the show's version are much more sinister, and presumably would call up something nastier than the Hoodoo spirit.
Robert Johnson wrote "Crossroad Blues", from which the episode took its title, as well as, "Hellhound on My Trail" which has a reference to Hot Foot Powder, an old Southern hoodoo formula used to keep the peace in a home, by driving away any troublemakers/enemies. Many blues lyrics, not just those by Robert Johnson, made references to hoodoo practices.
In Rosedale, Mississippi in 1930, Robert Johnson makes a deal with a demon at a crossroads. Johnson asks that the demon make him the best bluesman that ever lived, the Crossroads Demon agrees to his wish, and the deal is sealed with a kiss.
In August of 1938, in Greenwood Mississippi, Robert Johnson is playing blues guitar at Lloyd's Bar. During his performance he begins to hear strange noises coming from the outside. His performance comes to full stop when he starts to see shadows moving quickly in front of the windows, and the growling and barking becomes more distinct. As he leaves the bar, he comes face-to-face with a hellhound, and begins running, with the hellhound giving chase until he is able to take refuge in a house. Soon after he is found dying, mumbling about black dogs.