Robert Johnson, the man who Eric Clapton called "the most important blues musician who ever lived," was born 107 years ago this week on May 8, 1911, in Hazlehurst, Mississippi.
Although he lived only 27 years, his haunting singing, guitar skills and compositions have influenced generations of musicians and continue to fascinate the most gifted of guitarists.
Johnson created an essential body of blues guitar music, recording 29 songs in 1936/1937 that would exert a profound influence on guys like Clapton, Elmore James, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Peter Green, Mick Taylor and many others.
"Robert was the only guitar player with a little different style than all the other guys had," "Honeyboy" Edwards, Johnson's contemporary and friend, told Guitar World in 2011. "'Cause he had the turnaround to his blues. The turnaround is when you have a solo in betwixt the verses. You stoppin' to have a solo. But all the rest of the guys, like Tommy Johnson and them, they had a little short time. Wasn't enough for you to pay attention to. So Robert had a different style than the other blues players."
Below are five great covers of songs attributed to Johnson. You'll notice I've decided to leave out Cream's uber-famous 1968 live version of "Crossroads" because, well, isn't that choice a little obvious? Yes, it's a great recording, it's 100 percent classic, it's got great guitar and bass playing by Clapton and Jack Bruce, but enough already. You've heard it 9,037 times!
If you really need a Clapton fix, check out my far-less-obvious choice below, a track from his 2004 Johnson tribute album, Mr. and Mr. Johnson.
Led Zeppelin, "Traveling Riverside Blues"
Big Joe Williams, "Hellhound on My Trail"
Eric Clapton, "Milkcow's Calf Blues"
Howlin' Wolf, "Dust My Broom"
The Rolling Stones, "Love in Vain"