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Country Blues and the Mississippi Delta

  • The most fertile area for the development of country blues was the Mississippi Delta region, 250 miles of land stretching north to south from Memphis, Tennessee down to Vicksburg, Mississippi

  • Life in the Delta was characterized by hard work, oppressive heat, poverty, and racial terror

  • Some of the most legendary figures of the blues have emerged from the Delta

  • The Delta Blues style often features slide guitar playing

  • Delta Blues typically has haunting vocals, often speaking of superstition, jealousy, and trouble

Early Delta Blues Musicians

  • The first Delta bluesman to achieve fame was Charley Patton (1891 – 1934)

  • Son House (1902 – 1988) was one of the main influences on both Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson

  • The most famous and legendary Delta Blues musician was Robert Johnson (1911 – 1938)

Robert Johnson (1911 – 1938)

  • Among the most famous Delta Blues musicians

  • Considered by some to be the “Grandfather of Rock-and-Roll”

  • His landmark recordings from 1936-37 display a remarkable combination of singing, guitar skills, and tremendous songwriting talent that have influenced generations of musicians

  • Johnson’s shadowy, poorly documented life and violent death at age 27 have given rise to much legend

  • Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi on May 8, 1911

  • Began playing the guitar under the tutelage of his half-brother while living in Memphis

  • Also played jaw harp and harmonica

  • Marriages

    • Virginia Travis (1929) died in childbirth the following year

    • Calleta “Callie” Craft (1931)

  • Recorded 29 songs in 1936-37

The Legend

  • According to Blues folklore, Robert Johnson was a young black man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi

  • Branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician, he was instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight

  • There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar from Johnson, tuned it, and handed it back to him

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