Hellhounds On My Trail: The Afterlife Of Robert Johnson

  • 2000
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary, Musical

Imagine: Legendary Mississippi blues guitarist Robert Johnson (1911-1938) was only kidding when he said he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his dazzling technique. And while it's a great story that he was poisoned by the jealous husband of one of his many lady friends, it appears equally possible that he died of pneumonia, or...read more

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Imagine: Legendary Mississippi blues guitarist Robert Johnson (1911-1938) was only kidding when he said he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his dazzling technique. And while it's a great story that he was

poisoned by the jealous husband of one of his many lady friends, it appears equally possible that he died of pneumonia, or even syphilis. These two nuggets are pretty much the only hard facts that come out of Robert Mugge's reverential documentary (and really, who honestly believed the part about

the devil?), but that's hardly his fault, given the sketchiness of Johnson's biography. Mugge has made a series of documentaries about Southern music, and this one emerged from a 1998 conference at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which brought together blues fans and experts to celebrate Johnson's

musical legacy. Though he died young and made few recordings, Johnson's virtuoso guitar licks and spare, melancholy lyrics inspired a generation of blues-based rock musicians. The best thing about the film is that Mugge captures performances of Johnson's songs by such aging bluesmen as the

guitarist's stepson Robert Lockwood Jr. and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who played juke joints with Johnson. There's also an illuminating interview with elderly Willie Coffee, who cut classes with the slightly older Johnson when they were both children; Coffee's no-nonsense recollections shine a

sliver of human light on a man who otherwise remains a phantom. The film is heavy on performance footage, much of which suggests blues music - especially the lean, razor-edged kind of blues in which Johnson specialized - is not well-served by musicians in love with their own coolness. Far too many

of the bands featured here drown Johnson's compositions in oppressive percussion and sweaty guitar solos.

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  • Released: 2000
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Imagine: Legendary Mississippi blues guitarist Robert Johnson (1911-1938) was only kidding when he said he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his dazzling technique. And while it's a great story that he was poisoned by the jealou… (more)

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