Friday, August 12, 2011

Robert Johnson

Robert "Nighthawk" Johnson
17" x 17"
oil on ceramic tile, 2011

Blues is confusing if you're an archivist. As an oral tradition the authorship of most blues songs are obscure or debatable. Musicians freely combine verses from older songs, add a line or two, and call it their own. They 'borrow'  verses, songs, and even names from each other. The Robert Johnson depicted above is a different Robert Johnson than the legendary Crossroads blues man. Both were born Robert Johnson though. The Robert Johnson I'm dealing with here was born in 1917, he performed under the name Robert Nighthawk, but let's not get him confused with the better know blues musician with the same name. Robert "Nighthawk" Johnson didn't record a whole lot of records. In fact the two song on the album Sorrow Come Pass Me Around: A Survey of Rural Black Religious Music, recorded by David Evans in 1967 in Skene, MS, may well be the only two he ever recorded. In a Google search it's the only record that shows up. The first is the standard Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down in which he inserts a stanza from Amazing Grace. He performs with a 'knife' guitar. The second tune is sung by Dorothy Lee, Norma Jean, and Shirley Marie Johnson, his three teenage daughters who were part of the local church choir. The title is You Got to Give an Account and it will be part of the Top 100 2011.

The painting is done, rather unconventionally, on ceramic tile. Having no canvases available that were big and square enough, I resorted to building materials to work on. Those I have plenty of, readily available, combining the chores of fixing up the old house with the passion for painting.


  1. hello my name is orea runnels, and i am the grand daughter or robert johnson. i love the painting u did, and would love to have a copy of it. there were also more songs my grand dad recorded that r not found. my aunts thats sang on that song also background a few more that u can hear on youtube.

  2. Hi Orea,
    That is so great, thank you for your comment. "You got to give an account" is such a beautiful recording, I can't wait to hear more. I will search for it on YouTube. In the meanwhile I'll send you a copy of the painting (the original resides in New York). Hope you get this message, I could not find a direct e-mail for you. You can contact me directly: if you go to my profile there's an e-mail link. Send me your address and you will receive a full size reproduction of the painting.

  3. Hello Berry, My name is Tanorris Johnson. Robert Johnson grandson and Shirley Marie Johnson oldest son.Thanks for sharing with the world some of my grandfathers legacy. I'll love to have a copy of my grandfather's picture. Im sure my mom will love that! Email me at for we can dicuss how i can receive a copy.