The Legendary Bluesman Robert Johnson Brought to Life in (Somewhat Creepy) Animated Image

In his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Chron­i­cles, Vol­ume 1, Bob Dylan remem­bered the day, back in the ear­ly 1960s, when he first encoun­tered the music of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Delta blues­man Robert John­son. His mem­o­ry went some­thing like this:

I had the thick acetate of the Robert John­son record in my hands and I asked Van Ronk if he ever heard of him. Dave said, nope, he hadn’t, and I put it on the record play­er so we could lis­ten to it. From the first note the vibra­tions from the loud­speak­er made my hair stand up. The stab­bing sounds from the gui­tar could almost break a win­dow. When John­son start­ed singing, he seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor. I imme­di­ate­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed between him and any­one else I had ever heard.

Dylan was­n’t alone in this thought. Ask Eric Clap­ton and he’ll tell you that John­son is “the most impor­tant blues singer that ever lived.” And one Kei­th Richards summed things up rather nice­ly, say­ing, “You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it.” With this kind of praise, you’d think that Robert John­son had lived a long life, record­ing a long list of albums. But the oppo­site is true. John­son died in 1938,  when he was only 27 years old (which puts him, of course, in the 27 Club). And he left for pos­ter­i­ty a mere 29 tracks, all record­ed between 1936 and 1937. The details of John­son’s life are sketchy at best. And the visu­al traces of his exis­tence have almost entire­ly dis­ap­peared. In the clos­ing pages of Chron­i­cles, Bob Dylan makes ref­er­ence to a video that briefly cap­tures the image of John­son:

More than thir­ty years lat­er, I would see John­son for myself in eight sec­onds’ worth of 8‑millimeter film shot in Ruleville, Mis­sis­sip­pi, on a bright­ly lit after­noon street by some Ger­mans in the late ’30s. Some peo­ple ques­tioned whether it was real­ly him, but slow­ing the eight sec­onds down so it was more like eighty sec­onds, you can see that it real­ly is Robert John­son, has to be—couldn’t be any­one else.

It’s a tan­ta­liz­ing prospect. But, when pro­fes­sion­als took a close look at the video, they fig­ured out it was a fake (see below). So we’re left with this — two pho­tographs of the musi­cian. Two sim­ple pho­tos, which now thanks to West­side Media, have been manip­u­lat­ed to bring John­son back to life, at least long enough to sing two songs: “Hell Hound on My Trail” and “Preach­ing Blues.” Watch above.

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  • Paul Tatara says:

    It’s fas­ci­nat­ing that even Dylan wants so bad­ly to believe it’s John­son. John­son is more pow­er­ful as a ghost any­way. I think if he had lived longer and there was more doc­u­men­ta­tion of his life, he’d still be con­sid­ered one of the greats, to be sure, but prob­a­bly would­n’t hold quite as much allure as he does now.

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