“he Is The Original Rock’n’roll Guy”


I wrote the bulk of my Musician story on the eve of Columbia Records’ September 1990 release of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (if ever a music-biz product deserved the adjective long-awaited, this was it). If the interviews were intended to introduce Robert Johnson to today’s record-buying public, I needn’t have worried: The Complete Recordings became 1990's surprise best seller, leapfrogging merrily up Billboard ’s Top 200 chart and winning a Grammy (the record industry’s equivalent of the Oscar) for best historical recording. By April 1991 sales had climbed past 350,000 copies—and an album of old Mississippi folk music had, no matter how improbably, invaded the glossy realms of pop.

Robert Johnson is no longer the property of rock stars and cognoscenti. An unlikely star, fifty-two years dead, has arrived.