Looking Back On Robert Johnson For His 100th Birthday

(Gibson) If timelessness is the mark of true musical greatness, then Robert Johnson deserves to be canonized on the same level as Bach and Beethoven. His popularity has continued to grow since his death in 1938, as evidenced by the continuous stream of Johnson reissues and tribute albums, and the festivals and symposia organized to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth this May 8.

Over the decades, the Mississippi guitar innovator's music has been covered and coveted by a huge range of artists: Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Big Head Todd, Rory Block, Led Zeppelin, Juliana Hatfield, Peter Green and the Rolling Stones among them. And the latest and best reissue package of Johnson's own 41 recorded versions of 29 songs all he left behind besides a few suits and his Gibson L-1 acoustic guitar has just been released by Sony's Legacy label. Robert Johnson: The Centennial Collection includes those tracks, superbly mastered, plus two perspective-granting discs of his contemporaries ranging from Sleepy John Estes to the Light Crust Doughboys. It also includes the DVD biography of Johnson and his work; Can't You Hear The Wind Howl?

There's still much speculation about how Johnson became the Delta's undisputed master of guitar. All that's known is he left the region as a fumble fingered youth and came back so cutting that he literally frightened Muddy Waters when Waters encountered him performing on a street corner. All the junk about selling his soul to the Devil aside, it stands to reason that Johnson achieved his status through a mix of innate talent, instruction and practice. And that's still what it takes to play like Robert Johnson. That and some soul.

Assuming you've got the ability and the feeling, here are a few tips you might consider when approaching the technical aspects. more on this story

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