Robert Johnson Criticism - Essay

Paul Garon (essay date 1971)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Robert Johnson: A Perpetuation of A Myth," inLiving Blues, Vol. 94, 1971, pp. 34-6.

[In the following essay, Garon attempts to provide a balanced estimate of Johnson's talent and influence as a blues musician.]

"… Robert Johnson is acknowledged as perhaps the most accomplished and certainly the most influential of all bluesmen.…" This overwhelmingly biased opinion, dressed as "acknowledged" fact, not only appears in a rock magazine whose readers are in dire need of real information about the blues, but it was written by someone whose familiarity with the blues is more than superficial; someone who, indeed, should have known better.

That a...

(The entire section is 2039 words.)

Peter Guralnick (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Searching for Robert Johnson," in Living Blues, Vol. 53, 1982, pp. 27-41.

[In the following excerpt, Guralnick presents an evaluation of Johnson's achievements as a blues artist.]

The sources of [Robert Johnson's] art will … remain a mystery. The parallels to Shakespeare are in many ways striking. The, towering achievement. The shadowy presence. The critical dissent that great art cannot come from a person so uneducated. The way in which each could cannibalize tradition and create a synthesis that is certainly recognizable in its sources and yet somehow altogether and wholly original. I am not arguing that Robert Johnson's art has a Shakespearean scope, nor...

(The entire section is 2193 words.)

T. Coraghessan Boyle (essay 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Stones in My Passway, Hellhound on My Trail," in Greasy Lake & Other Stories, Penguin Books, 1985, pp. 146-52.

[The following is a short story based on Johnson's life.]

I got stones in my passway
and my road seems black as night.
I have pains in my heart,
they have taken my appetite.
—Robert Johnson (19147-1938)

Saturday night. He's playing the House Party Club in Dallas, singing his blues, picking notes with a penknife. His voice rides up to a reedy falsetto that gets the men hooting and then down to the cavernous growl that chills the women, the...

(The entire section is 2251 words.)

Sebastian Junger (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Last Fair Deal Gone Down," in Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. 30, No. 2, 1991, pp. 323-33.

[In the following essay, Junger offers an account of his research into Johnson's life in Mississippi.]

The drug dealer is my age but broke and black and missing two fingers. He wants to do business but I want to hear about growing up poor in Greenville, Mississippi; we end up just driving around town in the heat of the day. After a while he says he owes too much money to be just sittin' around talking. I don't believe him—who ever heard of a broke drug dealer?—but I take him to his old neighborhood to pay off one of the debts. The kid he owes spots him a block away...

(The entire section is 4745 words.)

Bennett Siems (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Brer Robert: The Bluesman and the African American Trickster Tale Tradition," in Southern Folk-lore, Vol. 48, No. 2, 1991, pp. 141-57.

[In the following essay, Siems discusses parallels between African-American folktales and accounts of the lives of famous blues musicians.]

Many of the African American musicians who helped to create the blues have left behind colorful tales of their lives and careers. The narratives told by a particular group of mese musicians—male "downhome," or "rural" blues artists—have received a great deal of scholarly attention, primarily because rural artists were thought to be closest to the roots of the blues. Whatever their...

(The entire section is 7546 words.)

Barry Lee Pearson (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Standing at the Crossroads Between Vinyl and Compact Discs: Reissue Blues Recordings in the 1990s," in Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 105, No. 416, 1992, pp. 215-26.

[In the following essay, Pearson discusses the "Robert Johnson myth" and examines the reception of Johnson's work as a recording artist.]

Thinking about Robert Johnson generates questions about the impact of phonograph recordings on folk tradition. After all, Robert Johnson is characterized as a bellwether—the artist who represents the transition from country-dance musicians limited to local influences to a new breed of professionals whose technique and repertoire were influenced by...

(The entire section is 2459 words.)