While Willy Brown and his headstone is making headlines, there is a continual search to find physical evidence of the blues era’s men . There are no known photos of Willie, but it would make sense given the times, the vagabonding lifestyle these men lived and the likely chance anyone in the audience was carrying a Canon… that being said, the past few years have surprisingly brought to light 2 new photographs purported to be that of 27 Club founder, Robert Johnson.
The first was featured in the November 2008 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. An avid guitar collector, Zeke Schein, claims he now owns the third known photograph of Johnson, and that he bought it off of eBay.
The seller advertised the photo as that of a “young BB King” but Schein was convinced otherwise. $2200 had the item shipped and delivered. Upon closer scrutiny, Schein believed the man to the left of “Robert” to be, none other than that of Johnny Shines, well-known traveler and companion of Johnson during their heydays. The hands and facial features certainly suggest an affinity for Johnson’s own, but to date, the certainty is still less than 100%.
A second photo, eerily similar to the much heralded cigarette photo booth shot, came to light in early 2007 when the owner asked for a whopping $795,000 at opening auction. Crazy, right?!? Maybe not so when you figure this in… In the summer of 2006, what was dubbed, the “Holy Grail” of musical instruments popped up: the guitar said to be held by Robert Johnson in his infamous cross-legged portrait. For a mere $6 million, the guitar went up for grabs across the web. There was little proof other than some photo comparisons, but risk seems to be less important than an opportunity to own music history.
Whether or not these artifacts do in fact hold clues about the lives of Robert, Johnny, or even Willie does not really matter. The quest to authenticate Robert or Willie’s life will continue to enthuse and inspire music fans across the globe. And, who knows, maybe the ole’ thrift store down the road holds the proof of Willie’s mug, Robert’s additional threads or links in the chain to a history we can’t get enough of. Cheers!