Has Your Favorite Musician or Singer Made a Deal With the Devil?
Some artists have embraced the dark side as a powerful partner. But can you really sell your soul to the devil?
Remember when playing certain vinyl records backward would supposedly reveal a secret, satanic message?
As teens, my friends and I listened for hours, debating if the barely discernible words were really intentionally recorded into the mix or just an accidental combination of sounds, that with a lot of imagination, could be interpreted as an actual message.
Intentional or construed, the “messages” were usually obscure, alluded to the occult, and suggested some of our favorite musicians were draped in costumes cut from the same fabric as the devil’s cape.
Most of the claims of hidden messages in recorded music were either wishful thinking on the part of fans or an intentional marketing ploy by the publisher to convey the artist’s mysterious “dark” side.
Reactions to records tainted with hidden messages were divided by generational and religious differences. Parents objected, ministers protested, and the kids said, “Screw it, we’re going to listen anyway.”
It was fascinating, fun, and essentially harmless.
But there have been other musicians whose relationship with the dark side was neither fun nor harmless.
Claiming their success to be the direct result of their association with the unholy, they credited their rise to stardom directly to the devil himself, with some having admitted to receiving supernatural assistance in exchange for their eternal soul
Skeptical? Yeah, me too.
But before you dismiss these seemingly outrageous claims, check out these examples . . .
Ever heard of a blues guitarist named Robert Johnson?
He was a young guy from the south. He played in dance clubs in the 1930s. Which for Robert, was a dream come true . . . and a bit unlikely.
Robert began learning to play the guitar in his teens. But for some reason, he didn’t have the ear, coordination, or basic talent to play well. But he was determined to become a professional guitarist, so he went to club after club, offering to play for free.
That first year was difficult for Robert. His performances seldom lasted more than a few minutes before he was ridiculed and laughed off-stage. Most said his playing was terrible.
It happened so many times that club owners began banning him from their businesses, hoping to prevent Robert from spontaneously walking onstage and playing to an unsuspecting audience.
Then Robert disappeared. Without any reason or explanation, he simply vanished. Some thought he moved to a different town, hoping to find a club owner who would hire him. Others suggested he was so embarrassed by his inability to make a living as a musician that he took a more traditional job out of state, where he wouldn’t have to live down his reputation as a failure.
Neither suggestion was true.
No one really knows what happened to Robert during that year he was missing — not even Robert.
Robert’s friends said he complained of memory loss, telling them he had no recollection of his disappearance or what had happened to him while he was missing.
But he did have a strange story to tell about who was behind his “lost” year. Johnson told his friends the last thing he recalled before his disappearance was making a deal with the devil, selling his soul in return for musical talent.
And not just your average amount of talent, but enough to shoot him to the top of the business, motivating his contemporaries to bestow him with the title of, The Best Blues Guitarist Alive.
In fact, most who heard Johnson play after he returned said he sounded like two guitarists playing at the same time. Other musicians swore there was no way he could have gotten that good in a year.
The Robert Johnson story is a timeless piece of folklore, a legend retold not only through the spoken word, but in music and film, as well.
The rock group, Cream (Eric Clapton) retold the story in their 1966 release of “Crossroads.” A few years later, the Robert Johnson story was loosely told in the 1986 movie, “Crossroads,” which incidentally, culminates in one of the best guitar duals ever recorded on film.
But don’t read anything into Robert’s story. Not yet, anyway. Let’s assume its origins resulted as a way to explain a series of lucky breaks that eventually put Johnson in the spotlight.
Robert Johnson wasn’t the first guitarist to explain his sudden rise to success as the result of making a deal with the devil.
A few years before, there was another young man by the name of Tommy Johnson (no relation to Robert). And just like Robert, Tommy was another mediocre guitar player.
And then, get this . . . he disappears for two years. When he returns, he plays like a master.
After he resurfaced, he told his brother he’d struck a deal with the devil, agreeing to surrender his soul in exchange for the devil tuning his guitar.
Doesn’t sound like a fair trade, does it? Giving up your soul just to get your guitar tuned?
But continuing with our premise that a demonic soul exchange is part of the folklore surrounding these stories, the same collection of urban myths tells us that any musical instrument that’s been influenced by the devil will supposedly bestow the owner with an incredible level of talent.
It’s the origin of the phrase, “He plays like the devil.”
Robert and Tommy’s stories are similar, and on the face of their claims, we might dismiss both accounts as a marketing campaign, a not-so-white lie intended to boost recognition, popularity, and sales.
But before forming a conclusion about their true motivation, let’s travel back a decade earlier, when a musician named Ferdinand Morton was recognized as the most innovative jazz guitarist in the country. Some even attribute him to being the inventor of jazz music.
Here’s the creepy part: His godmother was a voodoo practitioner. To make sure her godchild achieved success, she offered his soul to Satan as payment for his talent and fame.
The list continues with another blues musician from the same time period — a guy named Peetie Wheatstraw — who also claimed to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for success.
And did Peetie get what he bargained for? The guy recorded for several major record labels and made a ton of money. He became the early equivalent of a superstar.
It’s easy to understand the motivation of these early, twentieth-century musicians.
By attributing their talent to an unsavory bargain with the devil, their music became something beyond the normal, a rare work of art born from a supernatural influence — even if those origins were considered a tad unholy.
So back to the bigger question . . .
Were these artists simply exploiting the public’s perpetual interest in the occult, or did they truly believe they had experienced direct contact with the old, horned one, himself?
I spent an entire afternoon doing research. What I found wasn’t conclusive. However, a significant number of reports from the artists’ family members and friends presented a strong case for demonic possession — exactly what I hoped to disprove.
Call it self-delusion or an obsession with the occult, it seems many of these artists believed they’d actually made a deal with the devil, and their success was due to his direct intervention.
I decided to look at a much larger picture.
There had to be a commonality, a generalized belief, a childhood prerequisite that would rationalize these interventions from the dark side with a far more reasonable explanation than finding the musical equivalent of Dorian Gray’s portrait in your attic.
I finally found what I was looking for . . . contemporary examples of those who believed their creative advantage was due to supernatural influence.
More importantly, I discovered a plausible common purpose and intention that explained why so many “creatives” seek inspiration and confidence from superstition, myth, and outright fantasy.
For example . . .
Fran Drescher believes she was abducted by aliens and, as a result, carries an implanted chip in her hand which enhances her ability to find potential soulmates.
Musician Marilyn Manson was given an honorary priesthood in the Church of Satan and claims to have had several personal encounters with Lucifer.
Movie star Emma Stone has admitted to personally receiving objects materializing from the “other side.”
Actress Megan Fox admitted to believing in leprechauns — saying she’s seen “magical, crazy things happen” — and has inferred her origins are also “otherworldly.”
Are these folks likely candidates for the funny farm?
Not by a longshot.
We all demonstrate similar behavior, just not to the same degree.
For example, we engage in a form of fantasized projection when we daydream. And in some instances, those detailed mental images of a different or better life are a form of rehearsal.
In a sense, we’re trying out a new persona, imagining what it would be like to be the hero, to receive the adoration of our peers, or to simply do something different.
And that makes me wonder . . .
Is our subconscious ready and willing to create a fictitious back-story to help us manifest the required courage and confidence to compete at the levels required to become successful at our craft?
More important, could a fantasized relationship with a powerful, “supernatural” entity provide the recipient with an unbeatable advantage?
Here’s the Takeaway . . .
Imagining ourselves attaining superpowers, a more attractive physical appearance, or a level of success equal to our favorite superstar are common examples of our mind treating us to a mental theater of coming attractions — without the buzz-kill of reality-based restrictions.
It’s very possible an irrational belief in the supernatural gave these artists the inspiration and confidence to take the next step, to meet the challenges that had previously kept them from rising to the top of their profession.
So you decide.
Did these artists simply take it a step further, building a launch platform supported by pure illusion? It would certainly explain their belief in a “supernatural force” to be more of a fabricated talisman than a symptom of dementia.
Think of it as a rabbit’s foot on steroids.
Effective? Based on the examples I uncovered, absolutely.
But like I said, you decide.
And while you’re at it, you may want to determine if having your own fictional board of life-directors would be beneficial to accomplishing your highest priority goals in the shortest time possible. Especially during those times when we have to reach deep, to push ourselves to keep going when everything around us is telling us to quit.
Because success isn’t always logical. It doesn’t always come from talent or ability. Sometimes it’s all about persistence, and relying on a source of strength that can’t be explained with reason or logic.
In addition to the sources cited above, the following additional sources were used in the research for this article:
Thanks for reading,
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Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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