Robert Johnson went down to the crossroad . . .

Robert Johnson . . . where they say he struck a deal with the Devil. Fellow bluesman Tommy Johnson (no relation) said, "If you want to learn how to play anything you want to play and learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where a road crosses that way, where a crossroad is. Get there, be sure to get there just a little 'fore 12:00 that night so you'll know you'll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself. . . . A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar, and he'll tune it. And then he'll play a piece and hand it back to you. That's the way I learned to play anything I want." (As told by LeDell Johnson to David Evans and quoted from Peter Guralnick's Searching for Robert Johnson, copyright © 1982, 1989.)

In 1936 and 1937, Robert Johnson recorded such immortal blues classics as I Believe I'll Dust My Broom, Sweet Home Chicago, Come On In My Kitchen, Cross Road Blues, Traveling Riverside Blues, Love In Vain, Hellhound On My Trail, and Me And The Devil Blues. Johnson was born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, in 1911 and died under still-mysterious circumstances near Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1938.

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Mississippi John Hurt This is Mississippi John Hurt, and he was far from the devilish sort; there probably never was a more lovable bluesman. Soft-spoken, mild-mannered John Hurt was born in Teoc, Mississippi, in 1893, and lived most of his life in neighboring Avalon. He recorded 13 songs for the OKeh label in 1928, including Avalon Blues, Frankie, Ain't No Tellin', Stack O' Lee Blues, Candy Man Blues, and Spike Driver Blues -- a ballad he learned during a brief stint as a railroad worker in 1916. Hurt fell into obscurity until his rediscovery in the early 1960s, when he began to play the coffeehouse and folk-festival circuit, including the 1963 through 1965 Newport Folk Festivals. John Hurt died in Grenada, Mississippi, in 1966.

Bessie Smith John Hurt preceded Bessie Smith in this world by less than a year. Born in a Chattanooga, Tennessee, slum in 1894, Bessie was orphaned in her early teens and was forced to eke out a living singing and dancing on Chattanooga street corners. She was soon befriended by the legendary Ma Rainey, and her career began to flourish in the early 1920s. In the following decade, she recorded such blues classics as Taint Nobody's Bizness If I Do, Poor Man's Blues, St. Louis Blues, and Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out. Bessie Smith was killed in an auto accident near Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1937. Some have suggested that Smith died after being refused treatment at a whites-only hospital. This is now considered to be untrue.

Muddy Waters Born McKinley Morganfield in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, in 1915, Muddy Waters was the first of the great Chicago bluesmen. Raised by his grandmother on the Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi, Waters' professional career began when folklorist Alan Lomax recorded him for the Library of Congress in 1941. He was off to Chicago two years later, where he distinguished himself as a pioneer of electric blues. His first hits were I Can't Be Satisfied and Feel Like Going Home in 1948, which he followed with Long Distance Call, Mannish Boy, Got My Mojo Workin', Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want To Make Love To You, and I'm Ready, all certifiable blues classics. Muddy Waters died in Chicago in 1983.

B.B. King The King, the Ambassador, the Elder Statesman. B.B. King, the most popular bluesman ever, has given the blues its place in popular Western culture. His heartfelt rendering of the timeless classic The Thrill Is Gone remains the most recognizable blues tune in the world. B.B. King was born Riley B. King in Indianola, Mississippi, in 1925. His recording career began in earnest at Sam Phillips' Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1951. His first hit, Three O'Clock Blues, was soon followed by a string of bestsellers, including You Know I Love You, Everyday I Have The Blues, and Sweet Little Angel. King recorded The Thrill Is Gone in 1970, which launched him into international stardom. He celebrates his birthday on September 16.

Buddy Guy If there can be a successor to B.B. King, the consensus today is that Buddy Guy fits the bill. Born in Lettsworth, Louisiana, in 1936, Buddy was a relative latecomer on the Chicago blues scene. He found his career path as a session guitarist at Chess Records in 1960, where he recorded Stone Crazy in 1962. But it wasn't until 1967, while with the Vanguard label, that he was truly able to pursue his calling. Buddy began a long-standing working relationship with harpist Junior Wells at Vanguard. Now with Silvertone, Buddy has established himself as the bluesman of the '90s with his best-selling albums Damn Right, I've Got The Blues; Feels Like Rain; and Slippin' In. All three earned him Grammy Awards, in 1992, 1994 and 1995, respectively. Buddy owns the Chicago blues club Legends and continues to tour with a vengeance.

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