Home » blog » Blind Willie Johnson’s Hard Life

Blind Willie Johnson’s Hard Life

Last week, I did a post on the passing of Samuel Charters, a very important researcher and blues archivist. The post featured an interview with Charters, who discussed his search for Blind Willie Johnson.

Johnson was born in Texas in 1897. He mother died and his father remarried when he was young.

The Wikipedia profile said that he drew from both sacred and blues traditions. The profile tells the story of how Johnson went blind, as told to Charters. Lye supposedly was thrown in his face by his father when he caught his stepmother with another man. He threw the lye out of spite.

The end of his life was very sad. Johnson was living and preaching in Beaumont, Texas. His house burned down. He was broke and lived in the ruins. According to Wikipedia, Johnson slept “on a wet bed in the August/September Texas heat.” He died in 1945.

I could find no video of Johnson, though what apparently is a recreation of him playing at a small store from a Martin Scorsese documentary had me fooled. I was disappointed when I found out it was not real.

Above is “John the Revelator,” a song associated with Son House. It’s done in call and response style with a female singer.

Below is “The Soul of a Man.” Here are some of the lyrics, as posted at MetroLyrics. Of course, as a blues it probably wasn’t written by Johnson. It’s great in any case:

Won’t somebody tell me, answer if you can
Want somebody tell me, what is the soul of a man?
I’m going to ask the question, answer if you can
If anybody here can tell me, what is the soul of a man?
I’ve traveled in different countries, I’ve traveled foreign lands
I’ve found nobody to tell me, what is the soul of a man?

Wikipedia and MetroLyrics were used to write this post.