The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

1998: Robert Johnson

Hellhound on My Trail:

Robert Johnson and the Blues


The consummate country bluesman, Robert Johnson was the honoree for the 3rd annual American Music Masters Series.  Johnson recorded only 29 songs in his short life.  But each of them from "Cross Road Blues" and "Come on in My Kitchen," to "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom," "Walking Blues" and "Hellhound on My Trail," epitomizes the most enduring element of the blues, namely the uncensored exploration of human emotion.  You might say that 29 songs were all Johnson needed to record.  Johnson's recording catelogue is meager when compared to those of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins - all protégés of Johnson in one regard or another.  Yet most blues scholars agree that Johnson was a certified blues genius, whose influence stretches far beyond the blues, into jazz, rock, folk and country music.


Tribute Concert at Severance Hall

Sunday, September 27

  • The Allman Brothers Band
  • John Hammond
  • Keb’Mo’
  • Taj Mahal
  • Jimmy Vaughan
  • Joe Louis Walker
  • Rob Wasserman
  • Bob Weir
  • Cassandra Wilson


Tribute Concert at the Odeon

Saturday, September 26

  • Billy Branch
  • Government Mule
  • Peter Green
  • Alvin Youngblood Hart
  • Jorma Kaukonen
  • Sonny Landreth
  • G. Love & Special Sauce
  • Bill Morrisey
  • Chris Whitley


Conferenceat Case Western Reserve University

On Saturday, September 26, scholars, artists and fans gathered to explore the life and legacy of Robert Johnson and his music.  Participants included Grammy nominated producers Larry Cohn and Barry Lee Pearson; RCA Victor producer Frank Driggs; CWRU Jazz Studies Director Paul Ferguson; blues writer Tom Freeland; CWRU anthropology professor Atwood Gaines; biographer and documentarian Robert Gordon; jazz musician and author Mark Gridley; scholar Peter Guralnick; Kent State University professor William Kenney; Music Librarian and Director of the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi Edward Komara; Rock Hall curator Howard Kramer; CWRU professor Ellen Landau; filmmakers Peter Meyer, Bob Mugge and Alan Greenberg; Chicago-based magazin Living Blues editors David Nelson and Jim O'Neal; producer Bob Porter; Duke University professor Richard Powell; BMI Director David Sanjek and others.

Performance at Cuyahoga Community College

Thursday, September 24

  • Rory Block
  • Guy Davis
  • David Honeyboy Edwards
  • Robert Lockwood Jr.
  • Henry Townsend


Selected Song List

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Additional Resources


Johnson's tortured vocal wail sits somewhere between sin and salvation, joy and pain, and hope and fear.
- American Music Masters Program Notes 1998