Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman discusses a Dallas recording session that some believe involved a deal with the devil.
You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.
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On June 19 and 20, 1937, Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson had his final recording session in Dallas. Along with the songs he had already recorded in San Antonio in November 1936, these Texas sessions make up the legendary bluesman’s entire recorded catalog. A popular myth suggests that Johnson sold his soul to the devil in order to gain his remarkable musical talent. This legend was reinforced by Johnson’s mysterious death at the age of 27 and the dark themes found in many of his songs, including “Hellhound on My Trail.”
Robert Johnson’s Texas recordings, which included such classic songs as “Crossroads” and “Sweet Home Chicago,” had an enormous influence on countless younger blues musicians, including Eric Clapton, ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a performer who was a real force of nature.