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Blind Willie Johnson biography

Born: 1902, Marlin, Texas

Died: 1947, Beaumont, Texas

Blind Willie Johnson was a deeply religious man who played gospel music, much of it blues-based, as a way to preach. His passionate performance style featured powerful, rough vocals designed to reach the masses from Texas street corners. Johnson was a talented songwriter as well as a superb slide guitarist. He would pick the melody while accompanying himself with a bass line he’d play with his thumb, and he reportedly played slide with a pocketknife rather than the customary bottleneck. During the 1930s Johnson did some recording for Columbia. A number of his songs became classics, and have been covered by many artists, including Eric Clapton, Peter, Paul and Mary and Ry Cooder.

Essential listening: “Motherless Children Have a Hard Time,” “Let Your Light Shine on Me,” “Dark Was the Night — Cold Was the Ground,” “If I Had My Way”