Willie Johnson was born around 1902. He grew up in Marlin, a railroad junction town located in central Texas cotton country. At the age of five he began playing a cigar-box guitar and had decided that he wanted to be a preacher. When his mother passed away, his father married a woman who cheated on him. To avenge a beating he gave her, she threw lye into the face of her seven-year-old stepson, blinding him.