For Robert Johnson

entry picture

The King of the Delta Blues


The hellhounds always trailed him –

for that’s the drift of legends.

Fuelling spooks with shots

of malt, he wailed out blues

across the Delta.


Between us now the record

crackles bleakly, his scratchy voice,

a conjured ghost, sings clear

as barrelhouse belles who fleeced him

strut across my sight.


In the rattling dives he played

to write-offs, whores and gamblers

I love that simmering dark,

yet more than this

admire his need for style –


the months he spent alone

trying out a bottle neck

until, in a few brief takes,

the chords sliding down his frets

were a train’s thunder on tracks.



◄ Aretha Franklin

John Martyn ►


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