Selling Your Soul- Part One

They say that Robert Johnson wasn’t much of a guitar player. Oh, he wanted to play. But if there was any talent there, it was well hidden.

His friend and mentor, fellow blues man Son House, tells about how Robert would be in the next room, trying to coax the blues out of his old guitar and their friend Willie Brown would tell him, “Why don’t y’all go in there and get that guitar from that boy!”

Not long after that, Johnson left Robinsonville, Mississippi for Hazelhurst. There he met a woman and probably got married.

When he returned a few months later, something was different. Sounds came out of that guitar that no one else had ever heard before. Eighty years later he’s still an important influence on guitarists all over the world.

Johnson played all around the Delta, and maybe into the Midwest. He only recorded twice that we know of. They say he was very protective of his guitar style; sometimes he’d play with his back turned to other guitar players so they couldn’t see his technique.

We aren’t sure when the stories about Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for his guitar talent began, but they say he met the Devil one night at the crossroads of Routes 61 and 49 in Clarksdale. The Devil tuned his guitar for him, and when he handed it back, Robert could play the blues.

John Hammond heard a recording of Johnson and went to Mississippi to find him in 1938. He wanted him to play as part of a “Spirituals to Swing” show he was putting together for Carnegie Hall. But he was too late. Johnson had died in August. He was 27.

Like most of his life, how Robert Johnson died is mysterious. Some say it involved a jealous woman, or a jealous husband. Most say he was poisoned, but some say he was stabbed. Some say the Devil was just collecting his debt.

Now, do I think that Robert Johnson’s blues came from the Devil? Not really. But among the few songs that survive are

Me and the Devil Blues,

Crossroads Blues, and

Hellhound On My Trail.

One way of the other, it makes a heck of a story.

And it makes a pretty good illustration of a point I’d like to make about relationships with vendors.

For all my fans who wonder where I’ve been for the past few months (thanks, Mom, for noticing I hadn’t posted for a while), I’ve been a little distracted trying to help a hospital organization navigate some rough waters. During that time, I’ve seen an ugly phenomenon that I fear is more prevalent than many would like to admit; organizations that, whether motivated by a desire for integration or a misguided urge to “outsource”, have essentially sold their souls to their IT vendor.


Before we talk about this unhealthy, unbalanced vendor/customer dynamic, I’ll share a little of my philosophy of what the relationship between a health care provider organization and its IT vendors should look like…

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