Low Down Shakin’ Chill (Robert Johnson)

Dimensions 103 cm x 115 cm x 25 cm
Materials Sandblasted carved glass, cast glass, bronze, wood
Collection Tom and Ruth Kelley, Highland Park, IL

The year 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Leroy Johnson. This Mississippi delta bluesman was a major influence on each of the succeeding generations of musicians working in rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, and rap. Legend has it that Son House berated him as a poor guitarist when he was 18 or 19 years old and he went to the crossroads of US 49 and US 61 in the delta town of Clarksdale and sold his soul to the devil in order to become the greatest blues guitarist. The 29 recordings he made in his lifetime in 1937 and 1938 prove this to be the case. His career was spent playing in the juke joints of the deep south and shortly after these recordings were completed, he was poisoned by strychnine laced corn whiskey in one of these clubs by a jealous husband and he died, after lingering for three days, at the age of 27. Thus, began the myth of the 27 club which includes Jimmy Hendrixs Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Curt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse all of whome died at that age.

In Walter Mosley’s book “RL’s Dream” it was the fictional blues musician Atwater
“Soupspoon” Wise, who was playing with Johnson at the time of his death. In reality, it was David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Mississippi delta and Chicago blues guitarist and singer, who joined him on stage in that Greenwood, Mississippi nightspot. Honeyboy performed right up until his death on August 29 2011 at the age of 96. This piece is dedicated to his memory. The title of the sculpture and the text are from Robert Johnson’s tune “Preachin’ Blues” (Up Jumped the Devil) with thanks to Son House for his song “Death Letter”