No figure in blues or perhaps popular music has been the subject of as much mystery, lore, and legend as blues singer/guitarist Robert Johnson (1911 – 1938). The Faustian story of Johnson gaining musical prowess by selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads (the intersection of Highways 49 and 61) has made its way thoroughly into popular consciousness and culture. The story goes that a young Robert Johnson attempted to play a set while Son House was taking a break. His guitar playing was so bad, he was laughed out of the club. He disappeared for a year, returned, and left everyone astounded by his guitar abilities. Thus arose the legend that Johnson made a deal with the devil. Johnson’s songs “Crossroad Blues,” “Hellhound on my Trail,” and “Me and the Devil Blues” helped to fuel this imaginative fire. After dying a sudden and tragic death in 1938, rumors continued: was he poisoned by a jealous husband or lover, or had the devil come to claim his own?
Details in the search for Robert Johnson’s death certificate as well as the discovery of a previously unseen second side to the certificate can be found in Gayle Dean Wardlow’s Chasin’ that Devil Music, 1998.