Tox Tunes #109: I Killed Robert Johnson (The Stone Foxes)

March 5, 2017, 10:20 pm

More myths and legends are attached to the life of Robert Johnson (1911 – 1938) than surround any other American blues artist. It’s said that he sold his soul to the devil down at a Mississippi crossroads in return for the ability to play guitar with a technique that musicians like Eric Clapton are still trying to replicate. It’s said that his death at age 27 established a precedent for other great American musicians who also died at that same age, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Al “Blind Owl” Wilson. And it is said that Johnson was poisoned with strychnine in Greenwood, Mississippi after making advances on another man’s wife. This has never been proven.

The story of Robert Johnson has fascinated other musicians from the time of his death up through the present. This song, by The Stone Foxes, is from the Bears & Bulls disc. It is the imagined confession of a club owner who poisoned the musician:

Now I’m not saying he deserved it, oh for crossing the line
But I killed Robert Johnson, with strychnine

There is some dispute as to whether, if Johnson was in fact poisoned, the agent was strychnine. Some argue that the smell and taste of nux vomica is so strong and distinct that it could be hidden even if combined with whiskey. In addition, it apparently took Johnson 3 days to die after the presumed exposure. Strychnine would have acted much more rapidly.

Here is Johnson’s recording of “Sweet Home Chicago“:

And here is Eric Clapton’s cover of “Love in Vain“:


ADDENDUM [3/11/17]

In this very interesting clip, Eric Clapton talks about what makes Robert Johnson’s music so complex and difficult and then plays a great version of “Stones in My Passway“:





  1. milkshaken Says:

    If Johnson was in fact killed by drinking a bottle of poisoned whisky, given to him by a jealous husband, it would be quite likely some common pest poison. Arsenic trioxide would be a good match – it does not have much taste and the death is slow, accompanied by convulsions. Johnson reportedly fell ill the same evening, within hours, which would also fit.

  2. Leon Gussow Says:


    Thank you for the comment. The details of Robert Johnson’s death are still unclear. According to some accounts, Johnson became sick on the evening of August 13, 1938, complaining of abdominal pain. He died 3 days later, on August 16. Arsenic is a good possibility — especially given the abdominal pain — but we’ll never know the real cause. A good National Public Radio report from 2011 discusses some of the mysteries surrounding Johnson’s life and death.

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