TUPELO, Miss. (WJTV) – The Woodstock Music Festival began August 15, 1969, and is a significant day in music history and has some Mississippi ties. A lot of indebtedness are found especially to a couple of fellows from Copiah County.
Before we go to Copiah County, let’s start in Tupelo because Tupelo probably pops into the minds when most folks think about Mississippi music and musicians because that’s where Elvis was born and lived until he was 13 when his family moved to Memphis.
Elvis Week is going on right now in Memphis. It’s always around Elvis’s death date, August 16. I bring up Elvis because he was one of the people, like the performers at Woodstock, and the wave of musicians in the British Invasion, and pretty much everybody else you hear on the radio nowadays, or wherever you get your music, that all have something in common.
They are indebted to a couple of fellows from Copiah County, Mississippi, whose last name is Johnson, although they were not related.
Robert Johnson is the younger. By the way, he died on August 16, too, just like Elvis, but back in 1938. Robert Johnson was an early Delta Blues musician. The story goes he wasn’t all that good at first and disappeared for a while. But when he showed back up, he could out play anybody. Son House said he must have sold his soul to the devil to be able to play like that. There is a small Robert Johnson Museum in Hazlehurst.
The other Johnson who lived in Copiah County was Tommy Johnson. He’s the oldest but lived longer. His story has a “selling-his-soul” to the devil chapter, too. And going back to Woodstock, the rock group Canned Heat, who played there, took their name from a Tommy Johnson song, “Canned Heat Blues.” One of their hits was “Going Up The Country” and was a Tommy Johnson song.
We started with Elvis because these two fellows, Robert and Tommy Johnson, laid the foundation for rock and R&B and soul and even country music. In all likelihood, there wouldn’t have been no Elvis nor Elvis Week or the Beatles and many more performers like them without the influence of these two guys from Copiah County, Mississippi.