By: Amelia Cox
“The Devil Went Down To Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band is one of the most prolific depictions of the devil in American music, but it is not the first instance of a musical devil, by far.
Robert Johnson, a talented blues guitarist from Mississippi, is even more famous for the supposed deal with the devil he made at the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61.
The legend has it that Robert Johnson was a less than talented musician, and his gift for the blues appeared seemingly overnight, and was unexplainable if not for some supernatural help. Robert Johnson went from playing small dive bars to recording albums, becoming the inspiration for people like Eric Clapton and bands like the Rolling Stones. Though very little is known about Robert Johnson’s short life, which was cut short at the age 27 when he was poisoned by a man whose girlfriend Johnson was having an affair with; his music and its origin myth have had enduring fame, making any new information and extremely rare images hot commodities.
The legend of the crossroads have invaded popular culture, especially as part of a major story arc on Season 2 the television show Supernatural; where the Mississippi crossroads is a summoning site, created by Robert Johnson himself, for a demon who trades talent for souls, but the newly talented only has so long before the hellhounds come to collect the soul.
Another interesting layer of Robert Johnson’s story is his very early death at the age of 27. The Curse of 27 is a legend in the music industry that the most talented musicians only live to the age of 27. The most famous members of this “club” include Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and, most recently, Amy Winehouse. Robert Johnson could be the first victim of this curse, his talent for the blues making him more than qualified. And though there seems to be no other evidence, beyond the common denominator of Robert Johnson, connecting his deal with the devil to the Curse or to suggest that it led to his death at 27, maybe that just happened to be the time his contract was up. Perhaps other musicians who die at 27 simply have the same deal with the devil that Robert Johnson has. Or it’s a pretty incredible coincidence.
Robert Johnson’s legacy lives on through his music. Some of his popular songs pay homage to his alleged connection with the devil: “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Hellhound On My Trail,” and “Cross Road Blues.” And though his life and death remain largely a mystery, Robert Johnson’s influence on music and folklore live on.