- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

JACKSON, Miss. Legend has it that Claud Johnson's father made a deal with the devil that turned his voice and guitar into instruments producing masterful blues.

Nearly seven decades later, the illegitimate son of Robert Johnson is putting his faith in the courts in what may turn out to be a vindication of his claim that the late blues man was his dad.

Claud Johnson, a 68-year-old retired gravel-truck driver, stands to become a millionaire if he survives his legal battles in Mississippi courts.

The state Supreme Court ruled last month that Mr. Johnson is the sole heir to the musician, who died in 1938 and whose brand of blues inspired many of today's top rock artists, including the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin.

"I said, 'One day I'll prove that I'm Robert Johnson's son.' That day came," Mr. Johnson says.

If the ruling stands that the R.L. Johnson listed on his birth certificate was the legendary blues man, Claud Johnson is entitled to music royalties.

He was back in court last week, fighting a lawsuit against distant relatives in yet another dispute over property rights. He faces another trial, likely next year.

Robert Johnson's late half-sister, Carrie Harris Thompson, had been the only known survivor until Claud Johnson found out about Robert Johnson's estate in the early 1990s and went to court.

Miss Thompson died in 1983, leaving the rights to the blues man's music to her half-sister, Annye C. Anderson of Amherst, Mass., and grandson Robert M. Harris of Annapolis, Md.

The pending lawsuit, which includes Sony Music Entertainment Inc. as a defendant, is mainly over photographs and writings.

Attorney James Craig of Jackson, who represents Miss Anderson and Mr. Harris, said they likely would appeal the Supreme Court ruling, which affirmed a lower court's finding from a 1998 trial. They question whether paternity was proved; DNA is unavailable because the burial place of Robert Johnson is unknown.

The second case involves memorabilia owned by Miss Anderson and Mr. Harris that has been used widely to promote Robert Johnson's music, Mr. Craig said.

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