William Johnson was born in Brenham, Texas, on January 22, 1897. It was said his mother died when he was still quite young, and his father quickly remarried. The legend says when Willie was just seven years old, his father caught his step-mother going out with other men, and a fight erupted. It is said the step-mother threw lye into Willie's face, blinding him. From that time forward, he would be known as Blind Willie Johnson. From an early age, Willie wanted to be a preacher, and learned to play the guitar to promote his preaching. His approach was an interesting one, playing Blues on the guitar while singing religious songs, lifting his voice to his Lord as only Willie could. As far as anyone could figure, he lived in Texas all his life. He was married at least twice. On the recordings below, it is thought to be his first wife, Willie B. (Harris) Johnson, who is singing with him. This first song is "It's Nobody's Fault But Mine", recorded in 1927. It was in the tradition of much Gospel music, a warning that if one get's too entwined with the earthly world, while forgetting about God and the heavenly plane, it is not God nor his angels that are to blame.
That song, like most Blind Willie preformed, was a traditional spiritual song given a different twist with Johnson playing the Blues guitar. The same could be said for "God Don't Never Change", recorded in 1929. Once again, Blind Willie is lifting his voice to praise God, and to remind everyone that while you may leave God, the reverse will never be said.
He also recorded the song "Let Your Light Shine On Me" in 1929. It so reminds me of the classic songs "This Little Light of Mine", written about 1920. Both songs encourage everyone to share the light that God has brought into their lives.
In the 1940s, Johnson was thought to have had his own House of Prayer in Beaumont, Texas. It is said to have burnt down in the early summer of 1945, but Willie continued to live there, despite there being no walls to spare him from the elements. He got very sick and died on September 18, 1945. It is said his widow brought him to a hospital, but he was refused service, either because he was blind, or because of his race. According to his death certificate, the cause of death was listed as malarial fever, with syphilis and blindness as contributing factors. He was thought to be buried in an unmarked grave in Blanchette Cemetery. His music has been covered by countless musicians, including Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Bruce Springsteen. You can find all these songs and more on 'Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed', available on iTunes and Amazon.