Posts Tagged ‘Ike Zimmerman’

Tommy Johnson, the Crossroads, and Robert Johnson.

You all know the Crossroads story. Robert Johnson goes to the crossroads and sells his soul to the devil to become the greatest guitar player in the world. Thanks to a lot of misinformation this myth abounds. Only the original myth wasn’t about Robert Johnson at all! It was about Tommy Johnson (a fact that the movie O Brother Where Art Thou amazingly got correct!).

A quick note before I go on: How to sell your soul at the Crossroads:
Go to the crossroads (and it really is ANY crossroads, not a specific one) and stand in the middle of the intersection at midnight and play your best guitar. Someone (the devil) will come up to you from behind as you play. He will tap you on the shoulder. Without looking you hand your guitar to him over your back. He plays a few notes on the guitar and then hands it back to you. Congrats, you have sold your soul to the devil. Oh, and you still aren’t great. You have to continue to practice, but you will excel at an unbelievable rate, blah blah blah.

Anyway, around 1911 or so at about 15 years old Tommy Johnson wasn’t a great guitar player at all. He left his home in Mississippi and traveled. In his travels he met Charlie Patton and Willie Brown, who tutored him on the guitar. When he finally went back to Miss. he was not only significantly better on the guitar thanks to the tutiledge of Charlie Patton, but he also no longer sang religious songs, but sang the Blues (aka The Devil’s Music). He also drank a lot too. All of this together made for a very different person than the boy who left Miss., and led to the rumors of him selling his soul to the devil for his new skills on the guitar, and the reason for him now playing “The Devils Music”. So that’s the Crossroads story.  The story of selling your soul to the devil for riches, etc. is an old Hoodoo tale and can be traced back all the way to Africa.

Robert Johnson: Born in Miss. and moved to Memphis when he was 3. He stayed there till he was about 18 or so, and met Charlie Patton and Willie Brown when they travelled there, as well as Blind Lemon Jefferson when he traveled to Memphis, and met him again in Texas when he (Johnson) traveled there too. They taught him music.  In 1930, Robert’s wife and baby died during childbirth.  It was a few months later when Son House and Willie Brown came to Robinsonville, where Johnson was living.  Robert followed Son House and Willie Brown around wanting to play with them, but he was really bad, and so they wouldn’t let him play with them.  They did give him lessons here and there every now and then.  In 1931 he moves back to Hazlehurst, MIss., reportedly to try to find his father.  In Hazlehurst he meets a guitar player named Ike Zimmerman (or Zinnerman, either spelling seems to be OK).  For about a year Ike gives Robert Lessons, and he practices night and day, all the time.  At night he hangs out in a local cemetary and plays in the graveyard so that he doesn’t disturb anyone else with his playing in the middle of the night.  He then returns to the Clarksdale and Robinsonville areas in 1993 a MUCH better musician.  This was surprising to everyone, to say the least, often mystifying.  How could a kid who was so aweful dissapear for a year and then come back and play BETTER than his former teachers?

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