Robert Johnson: The man who sold his soul to the Devil

Robert Johnson: The man who sold his soul to the Devil

One of the greatest Blues musicians to walk the face of this earth, he was a true pioneer, but we know very little of the King of the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson. His death remains a mystery and his songs such as, ‘Me And The Devil Blues’ feel eerie in their lyrical essence, making us question whether Johnson truly sold his soul to the Devil.

Robert Johnson was born in Mississippi on May 8th, 1911, and some recall he was relatively well educated, considering his background. He often moved between cities and performed his music to crowds, but he never achieved much fame, most of it was achieved posthumously. As far as we know, Johnson could’ve been a ladies man with his apparent charismatic charm, which could justify his death. Some have claimed that he could’ve been poisoned by a jealous husband/boyfriend of a woman that he had flirted with earlier, others believe that he could’ve died of syphilis.

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There may be certain things we will never know about this young man that suddenly died only at the age of 27. But there is a theory, which is that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil. His music certainly does make us lean towards this theory, although we can only lean on to it to a limited extent, because they are just lyrics after all. The myth goes that Johnson was so determined to become a successful Blues musician, that he took his guitar to a crossroads near Dockery Plantation at midnight. At these crossroads he met a big black man (the Devil) who tuned the guitar and played a couple of songs on it before he gave it back to Robert Johnson.

In the song ‘Me And The Devil Blues’ he says:

“And I said hello Satan

I believe it’s time to go.”

There is a lot of space for interpretation here, and he might’ve not literally sold his soul to the Devil as some might like to believe. Blues historians have argued that perhaps he was referring to himself as the child of Satan, since he was a Blues musicians and the Blues were the work of the Devil. Others have argued that this was due to his roots as an African- American, where ‘selling’ your soul to the Devil, was actually making some sort of pact with trickster African God Legba, who just like the Devil is also associated with crossroads. The fact that Johnson mastered the guitar in such a short amount of time with scarce resources to do so, indicates us towards this theory, however, it is a weak one.

“Me and the Devil 

Was walkin’ side by side” 

Perhaps the most believable theory that I stand by (although the theory of him literally selling his soul to the Devil sounds the most interesting) is the fact that when he mentions the ‘Devil’ he is actually talking about white people. Evidently there was racial segregation in the 1930s, and Johnson would not be allowed to directly say that he doesn’t like white people, therefore they were the ‘Devil’. It makes the most sense to go with this theory.In fact, it is probably safe to say that the reason he didn’t reach much fame during his lifetime was because he was black.

We will never know the true circumstances regarding Robert Johnson’s sudden death. Could it have been poison? Syphilis? Legba? Or… the Devil himself coming to claim Johnson and send him for an eternity to the promised land, Hell?

“It must-a be that old evil spirit

So deep down in the ground

You may bury my body

Down by the highway side

Baby, I don’t care where you bury my body

when I’m dead and gone”

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What it’s like being an all-girl punk band in conservative Spain

Up until the year 1975 Spain was ruled by Fascist dictator, Franco. This transition period that soon followed was coined as La Movida in Madrid, and it resembled the British new wave with its outrageous aesthetic that made you think of the New Romantics in the U.K. This was a time of freedom, rebellion, and most of all, loads of punk rock! Meanwhile La Movida was happening in Madrid, the Basques started their own thing, and it was more hardcore than the stuff they were doing in Madrid.

Within the arrival of punk as a definitive form of expression for the youth, we had the first all-girl punk bands emerging. Of course, you were already bound to get into trouble as a punk, because Spain still had a conservative mentality and continued to mourn Franco’s death. Bands like Eskorbuto, La Polla Records, and Cicatriz grew in popularity. Eskorbuto were certainly one of the most controversial, as they sang songs such as the legendary ‘Ya no quedan más cojones, Eskorbuto a las elecciones’, which translates to, ‘there’s no more balls, Eskorbuto to the elections’ (a very rough translation). That song literally criticised the Spanish government and how it has no balls, stating that Eskorbuto should run for president instead, because they’d make some changes for sure. Despite its sexist connotations (one of the lyrics in the song basically says that he’d like to find a female cop and “fuck” her all the time- using it as a metaphor to go against the hand of authority, but in my opinion it’s an unnecessary metaphor), it’s a brilliant song, but there was a lot of political trouble that soon followed the band due to this song and a couple of other ones. With these dominating male punk bands that were getting crowds super hyped up and ready for anarchy, it was a tough panorama if you were an all-girl punk band.

In the summer of 1982 Las Vulpess formed, and they were bound to shock Spain out of its misogyny and conservative politics. Hailing from Barakaldo in the Basque Country, they roared onto the TV programme Caja De Ritmos with their ‘Me Gusta Ser Una Zorra’ (Which translates to: I like to be a bitch/whore/slut). The song was a cover of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, and they pulled it off spectacularly. As you would expect, there was a huge uproar following their performance, which actually lead to a court case. Their short but sweet career really made a jolt of a start since then. They released ‘Me Gusta Ser Una Zorra’ straight after that scandal. In the documentary Rock Radikal Vasco: La Gran Martxa de Los 80 one of the girls from Las Vulpess recalls their experience in gigs and touring. She recalls how people used to call them ‘whores’, ‘bitches’,’sluts’, and even spit at them. It got to the point where they couldn’t bring their partners to their gigs because they couldn’t stand seeing them being treated in that manner and lack of respect. Some would say they were asking for it by releasing such ‘outrageous’ songs, but I think they weren’t asking for it, they were just expressing themselves as young women, and as human beings. They had the ‘cojones’ to actually tell everyone what they really thought, and I find that aspect most inspiring. If it weren’t for girl bands such as Las Vulpess (who in hindsight remind me a bit of L7, another band I completely worship) I think I’d still be in my shell and continue being that shy girl I used to be when I was younger. I’m glad I discovered these Riot Grrrls, and I’m happy to be one too.

Here is the ‘outrageous’ performance from 1983.

Sadly they only have one album out there, but it’s a memorable one for sure. Their fierce approach to the lyrics is something that is worth admiring, even to this day, they were really ahead of their time, and extremely underrated.

Have a listen to the whole album over here: