As Black Lives Matter protests continue on across the United States in order to stand up against systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans, primarily young black males, we at Radio Country Hits are reminded that there is no America without black people, and especially none of the music we love today. It’s why so many people today are writing great songs celebrating the Black Lives Matter movement and the lives of some of the best musicians to ever exist, who just so happen to have been black.
Robert Johnson, for instance, was known as King of the Delta Blues. From songs like “Come On in My Kitchen” and “Me and the Devil Blues” to “Rambling on the Mind” and fun-time songs like “Hot Tamales,” this man shaped the southern blues scene in innumerous ways. While Johnson sang a lifetime’s worth of blues, few people know that he was only 27 years old when he passed away. Well, more accurately, he was poisoned by a man whose wife was sleeping with Johnson, and the man wanted revenge.
Legend has it, Johnson came to a crossroads and met the Devil, and bargained his soul for the ability to pick his guitar and sing the blues like no other. What makes this story so believable to some is that as merely a young man, Johnson was already a better picker and blues singer than basically anyone else around. How can someone so young be tapped into the blues at such a high level? Some people can live 90 years and never be able to flesh out their experiences like Johnson.
So, as we remember all of the contributions that black Americans made to our society and continue to make, and the fight for equality that’s still ongoing, we should take a moment to reflect on a true legend. A legend who, by the way, was not a legend because he was black, but because he was that damn good!
As country music songwriters seeking success, we can learn a lot about music from Johnson. Well, as long as we’re not selling our souls, maybe.
Would You Sell Your Soul for a Hit?
Follow along with us for just a second. We want to run a thought experiment. Say that, as a country music songwriter, your goal in this world is to write a smash radio country hit that everyone loves. To what lengths would you go to make that happen? If the devil appeared to you one night, while out on a stroll, would you bargain?
A lot of people would actually say yes. For fame, riches, glory, this question has been asked many times, and more people than you might realize do say yes. But allow us to tell you why your answer should be no! Forget the fact that you’d probably also die shortly after that deal, so the Devil could claim your soul. There’s no guarantee that you’d be the one writing that music. You might just be a vessel for the Devil, or a vassal to it. What makes country music so great is that it is borne of personal experiences and pain and love. There is no force, physical or metaphysical, that can fake that sort of passion. Your songs may be artificially prompted up the charts, but would they be good? Would they be yours?
The “Devil” here is more metaphorical. What we’re telling you is that you shouldn’t bargain with anyone or anything to write better music. If you need help, there are songwriting classes and forums out there you can participate in. If you truly want to be a great songwriter, then you need to just keep writing more. For every one hit song someone has, there’s another few hundred that will never chart. That’s the nature of the beast.
Always keep your soul intact. It’s yours, and it’s what makes your music yours! We can celebrate Robert Johnson while realizing that he was talented because he worked at it, not because the Devil did it for him.