On Friday, February 11 at 8 p.m., Symphony Center Presents will host a tribute concert, Blues at the Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concert. This multimedia celebration of the 100th anniversary of legendary blues artist Robert Johnson’s birth features performances by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Delta blues legends David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Hubert Sumlin, and young blues stars Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm. For ticket information, visit CSO.org.
Robert Johnson is considered the King of the Delta blues. Despite his short life, living only a short 27 years, Johnson’s music inspired countless musicians and is an early influence of Rock and Roll. His life story is wrapped in mystery and legend, but his beloved songs, such as “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Come on in My Kitchen,” and “Crossroad Blues,” are timeless classics. His music and artistry have inspired countless musicians, from Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, and Bonnie Raitt to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, where he was inducted in 1986, has good biography:
Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in 1911, Johnson was ill-suited for sharecropping and gravitated instead toward the itinerant life of the musician. He picked up the guitar in his teens and numbered among his tutors such esteemed blues figures as Charley Patton and Son House. During the Depression years of the early Thirties, Johnson lit out with his guitar and earned his keep as an entertainer – not only as a master of the blues but of the popular tunes and styles of the day. His travels took him throughout the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, where he performed at jook joints, country suppers and levee camps. He also saw the big cities, traveling with fellow bluesman Johnny Shines to perform in St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere. The entirety of his recorded output was cut in three days worth of sessions in November 1936 and two days in June 1937. His life came to a premature end when he was poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman he began seeing during a stint at the Three Forks juke joint in Greenwood, Mississippi. The poisoning occurred on the night of August 13, 1938, and Johnson died three nights later at the home of a friend.
If you’ve never heard Robert Johnson before, then here is a taste:
More about the performers
BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS—Todd Park Moore, Brian Nevin, Rob Squires, and Jeremy Lawton—has been winning fans with its emotional blues-rock since Moore, Nevin, and Squires founded the band while in high school. They spent spent seven years developing their chemistry and amassing a following, boosted significantly by the independent releases Another Mayberry (1989) and Midnight Radio (1990), before being “discovered” with 1993’s Sister Sweetly. After a major-label stint (Sister Sweetly, 1994’s Stratagem, and 1997’s Beautiful World), they reclaimed their independent status with 2001’s Riviera. Their forthcoming album, 100 Years of Robert Johnson, plays tribute to the legendary blues guitarist and features collaborations with David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Cedric Burnside, and Lightnin’ Malcolm (all on the Blues at the Crossroads concert), as well as B.B. King, Ruthie Foster, and Charlie Musselwhite.
DAVID “HONEYBOY” EDWARDS was born in 1915 in Shaw, Mississippi. He is one of the last living links to Robert Johnson, and one of the last original acoustic Delta blues players. His life has been intertwined with almost every major blues legend, including Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Big Joe Williams, Howlin’ Wolf, Peetie Wheatstraw, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and more. In 1942, Alan Lomax recorded Honeyboy for the Library of Congress, making a total of 15 sides of Honeyboy’s music. Honeyboy did not record again commercially until 1951, when he recorded “Who May Your Regular Be” for ARC Records. He’s also recorded for Chess and Earwig records. Honeyboy’s early Library of Congress performances and more recent recordings were combined on Delta Bluesman, released by Earwig in 1992. Honeyboy has written several blues hits, including “Long Tall Woman Blues,” “Gamblin Man,” and “Just Like Jesse James.” He continues to perform up and down the Blues Highway, traveling from juke joint to nightclub to festival, playing real Delta blues to adoring fans everywhere.
Born in Greenwood, Mississippi , legendary blues guitarist HUBERT SUMLIN grew up playing his guitar with harmonica great James Cotton. In 1949, at 18, he became Howlin’ Wolf’s lead guitarist, a position he held down for the next twenty-five years, except for a brief six-month stint in Muddy Waters’ band. He has played with Pinetop Perkins, Willie Dixon, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, and countless others. He counts among his biggest fans Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, and John Mayer, as well as Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, both of whom play on his album About Them Shoes. Recently, he has shared the stage the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, Aerosmith, the Allman Brothers, and the Derek Trucks Band, not to mention his work with friends and fellow legends James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Smith, and Bob Margolin as the “Legends of Chicago Blues.”
CEDRIC BURNSIDE, grandson of the legendary R.L. Burnside and son of drummer great Calvin Jackson, is widely regarded as one of the best drummers in the world. He was born in 1978 near Holly Springs, Mississippi and has been playing music all his life, developing a relentless, highly rhythmic charged style with strong hip-hop and funk influences. Growing up at his grandfather’s side, he began touring at age 13, playing drums for “Big Daddy” on stages around the globe. In addition to “Big Daddy,” Cedric has also played with, among countless others, Junior Kimbrough, Kenny Brown, North Mississippi Allstars, Burnside Exploration, Bobby Rush, and Widespread Panic. In 2006, he was featured in the critically acclaimed feature film, Black Snake Moan, playing drums alongside Samuel L. Jackson. (The film is a tribute to R.L. Burnside, and gives many nods to the late bluesman.) Burnside has teamed up with guitarist Lightnin’ Malcolm and is proving to be a powerful vocalist and great songwriter. He is a special talent that has brought new life and energy to the blues, and is loved by fans around the world.
Bluesman LIGHTNIN’ MALCOLM is one of the leading younger generation artists on the scene today. Born in rural Missouri, Malcolm enjoyed the freedom of country life, quickly learning to entertain himself and others around him. Malcolm—a reckless live performer—has lived and breathed music his whole life, traveling and playing in a slashing, rhythmic style, with deep soulful vocals. Malcolm has played over the years with many of the best Mississippi blues artists, such as Cedell Davis, R.L. Burnside, Hubert Sumlin, Jessie Mae Hemphill, T Model Ford, Junior Kimbrough, Robert Belfour, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, and Otha Turner. Skilled on guitar, bass, and drums, Malcolm is an in demand session player with a telepathic sense of how to follow the older archaic styles and is especially noted for his old-fashioned, church “shout” style on drums.