Episode 1: Did Robert Johnson Sell His Soul to the Devil?

When I debated about where to start a music history podcast, I came to one conclusion: Any podcast talking about the history of American music has to start with Robert Johnson. Johnson was far from the first to set the stage for modern American music. In my opinion, he wasn’t even close to the best of his time, either. But everything about Robert Johnson is so important to the conversation about our music.

His blues music influenced the British Invasion. So modern music probably doesn’t exist in the way we know it without Johnson. Culturally Johnson and the legend that he sold his soul to become a great blues musician is just as important as anything he recorded.

Popular music in this country has always had that “evil” connotation to it. When Elvis started making black music available to white audiences, parents all over the country were worried that their kids would all become a bunch of devil worshipers. Since then, each older generation has had this concern about popular music of the time.

As I found out in this episode, this “evil” association with popular music goes way back, starting decades before Elvis was even born.

So did Robert Johnson actually sell his soul to the devil? Where did this legend come from?

Musician and music historian Adam Gussow joins me on this episode to talk all things Johnson. Gussow lends insight into the origins of the legend and offers great insight into the life of Johnson.

Gussow has published numerous books on popular American music, including those on Johnson’s life. His most recent book on the subject is “Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition” and you can learn more about his work on his website: http://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/home.html.

Listen to Episode 1 Here: