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Eric Clapton Takes on Robert Johnson's Blues

Eric Clapton once wrote that Robert Johnson's best songs have "never been covered by anyone else, at least not very successfully -- because how are you going to do them?" Now the rock guitarist has recorded Me and Mr. Johnson, a CD of the legendary bluesman's works that Clapton calls a labor of love.

Clapton is among several artists and bands who have been influenced by the Mississippi-born musician who died in 1938 at age 27.

Clapton remembers first hearing Johnson's music as a teenager. "I was definitely overwhelmed, but I was also a bit repelled by the intensity of it," he tells NPR's Bob Edwards. "I kind of got hooked on it because it was so much more powerful than anything else I had heard or was listening to. Amongst all of his peers I felt he was the one that was talking from his soul without really compromising for anybody."

Clapton has been playing Robert Johnson for nearly 40 years and has recorded a few of Johnson's songs previously. Me and Mr. Johnson includes Clapton's version of nearly half the 29 songs recorded by Johnson in 1936 and 1937 in San Antonio and Dallas, Texas, including "Traveling Riverside Blues," "Milkcow's Calf Blues" and "Come on in My Kitchen."

"In one way or another, he's been in my life since I was a kid," Clapton says. He says the project "has been in the back of my head to do for so long. It was about time that I took my hat off to him."

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