Robert Johnson married Virginia Travis (possibly also known as Virgie James Smith) who is said to have given birth to his only surviving child - Claude Lee Johnson. The fact is that tragedy reared its head in the spring of 1930 when Virginia passed away during childbirth, losing the baby as well. Not long afterwards, Johnson headed back to Hazlehurst in search of his father. It is not known whether his quest was successful.
Soon he married again to a local girl called Callie Craft in the County of Copiah, Mississippi and acquired a new circle of musicians. Here he began to get noticed as an exciting player to have at the Saturday night jukes (dances). By the time he returned to Robinsonville a couple of years later, Son House and Willie Brown were stunned, leaving House to comment years later on how Johnson sat down and played as they stared open-mouthed. It was also House who, amongst others, ignited the myth with the comment, "He sold his soul to the devil to play like that".
These were the days of black beliefs and culture in direct confrontation with Christian values, which created many a myth and rumour. One was that if anyone suddenly acquired a notable skill, they must have come by it supernaturally. If you stood at a crossroads at midnight you could meet the devil and strike a bargain! Your soul for his music and the devil's music, as many a Christian preacher told the black folks, has been, notoriously, always the Blues. Proof being all things associated with it - women of loose reputation, whiskey and gambling.
Making Helena, Arkansas his base, Johnson hoboed around the cotton towns on both the Mississippi and Arkansas sides of the Mississippi River for the next couple of years, playing small jukes, bars and barrel houses as well as on the streets. Sometimes his method was to set up opposite another blues player on the corner and try to steal his audience.
On occasions accomplices included Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin' Wolf and Johnny Shines. Shines gives riveting accounts of the character of Johnson around this time: "If you woke up in the middle of the night and told him a freight train was coming through he'd say 'Let's catch it!' He'd get himself ready, grab his guitar and off he'd go, no matter who the woman was he was with! He just left, went anywhere the money and whiskey was." The latter leading Shines to comment on Johnson's darker side. When asked if Johnson drank a lot, he said, "He didn't drink, he drank whiskey. He had a problem. When he was sober, which was rare, he was a really nice person. The other times he would get violent suddenly and you couldn't do anything with him."
Around this time Johnson once again was using different names - Robert Sax, Robert Saxton and Robert Lockwood. When asked about this he told Elizabeth Moore (wife of fellow musician Willie Moore) who ran a juke house that the reason was that in case he was in a town when someone killed somebody and used his name, the cops would not come looking for him.
In 1936 H C Speir, a Jackson, Mississippi music store owner, who had a recording machine upstairs, used to record almost all the local talent such as Charlie Patton, Son House etc. He contacted a fellow in New Orleans called Ernie Oertle, who was a salesman for Columbia records in Mississippi, about Robert Johnson who had come into his store to record Kind Hearted Woman. Oertle took Johnson to San Antonio where, over a seven month period between 1936/37, all of Johnson's songs (excluding Kind Hearted Woman recorded at H C Speirs) were recorded. It is estimated that he received $75 to $100 for two sessions.