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The early years of singer and slide guitarist Willie Johnson’s life are largely unrecorded. He was born near Temple, Texas, probably in 1902, and moved with his father to Marlin at a very early age. He was blinded before he was seven years old by his stepmother, either accidentally but probably deliberately, when she threw lye, a strong alkaline washing solution, into the young boys face following an argument with his father. He was self taught on a home made guitar and used to play at church meetings and picnics in his locality. When he was old enough, probably when he was in his early teens, he went on the streets to earn his living, performing for tips. When he was in his mid twenties he married, and moved with his new wife to Dallas. Always close to the Baptist church, Johnson also became a preacher and he made his professional debut as a gospel artist, using the blues, with his gruff, coarse-throated voice, to convey his religious message.

In 1927 and for the next three years, he recorded for the Columbia label and many of the songs from these sessions became gospel-blues standards, including classics such as "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed", "Motherless Children Have a Hard Time", “Nobody's Fault but Mine”, and the peerless “Dark Was The Night, Cold The Ground”. After arriving in Dallas he broke up with his wife and married again, this time to a young singer named Angeline, who’s younger brother was also a blues guitarist, L. C. "Good Rockin'" Robinson. On occasions she would accompany Johnson, both in the studio and when he hammered out his gospel messages on the streets. He didn’t record anymore after 1930 but continued as a street singer during the 1930’s and 1940’s, performing mainly in Beaumont, Texas where he then lived. Willie Johnson died from pneumonia around the end of the 1940’s, when apparently his house caught fire and he slept out in the open in the burnt out ruins to protect his belongings.

    When The War Was On (with wife Angeline)