Blind Willie Johnson

With a moan and howl that comes filled with pain and struggle, Blind Willie Johnson's music captures his tragic life and epitomises the soulful heartache of the blues. Born in Brenham, Texas in 1897, he was blinded as a child when his stepmother was beaten by his father, and took her revenge by throwing caustic soda into the face of seven-year-old Willie. Teaching himself the blues on a homemade cigar box guitar, Johnson's father left him to play for money on street corners and outside church and religious meetings, where he sang spiritual and gospel songs and developed a unique, gravelly voice and a distinct style of playing bottleneck, slide guitar. Between 1927-1930 he recorded for Columbia Records, but was rediscovered during the 1960s folk boom, championed by the likes of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, and his tracks If I Had My Way I'd Tear That Building Down, Motherless Children Have A Hard Time and Soul Of A Man became regarded as great landmarks of American music. Led Zeppelin even covered In My Time Of Dying, Eric Clapton claimed that It's Nobody's Fault But Mine was the "finest slide guitar playing you'll ever hear," and the lonesome, haunting Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground was sent into space in 1977 aboard the Voyager spacecraft as an example of the diversity of life on Earth. In later life Willie became a preacher in Beaumont, Texas until his church burned down and he was forced to live in poverty among the ruins and ashes. It lead to him contracting malarial fever and he died in 1945 at 48, reputedly after being refused hospital treatment due to his race and blindness.

Related Artists

Stations Featuring Blind Willie Johnson

Please enable Javascript to view this page competely.