This article was written by Samuel Phineas Upham
Robert Johnson would become the King of the Delta Blues well after his death in 1938. What actually happened to him remains a mystery. He was enigmatic, often playing in front of a wall or away from the audience to hide his style of playing guitar. He was also a known womanizer, which may have had some hand in his death. The trouble is that it’s next to impossible to confirm anything about him.
One story puts Johnson at a club in Greenwood Mississippi. He was enjoying a few weeks of success playing there, when he met a woman who happened to be married. He began courting her and trying to carry on a relationship with her, when her husband passed Johnson a poisoned bottle of liquor. Johnson drank from the bottle, considering it a gift from his lover, and suffered for a few days before his death.
The other story puts the bottle of whiskey at Johnson’s side. This one was told by Honeyboy Edwards, who was a close personal friend of Johnson’s. He claimed that Johnson’s weakness for women was rivaled only by his fondness for whiskey. The jealous boyfriend or husband took advantage and poisoned Johnson on stage in front of a crowd.
One thing is for sure, as Honeyboy Edwards puts it: “some women you got to leave alone.” Johnson has influenced the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. His legend inspired “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and he is purported to have sold his soul for his ability to play so well. Johnson was 27 when he died.