Maybe, but it's probably just part of the perpetuation of the Robert Johnson Legend (O-o-o-o-o...). He didn't use any tuning or play in any style any differently than a lot of blues musicians before him. Not knocking the quality of his work at all, but he didn't use any "secrets" or anything. Playing into a corner was the 1930s cheap way of controlling bounce-back, etc. He gigged regularly and he didn't play with his back to the people at his gigs full of Blacks, including other blues musicians, where it would be much more likely somebody might try to learn his "secrets" than in some office building studio full of White recording-tech and A&R guys. Just another RJ-myth that sounds cool.
Oh.I had heard that he did it in gigs too.
Either way, I don't think they'd have THAT much trouble figuring it out even if there was
And yeah, makes him kind of creepy..
I don't think he did. I've met and talked with both Johnnie Shines and Honeyboy Edwards who hung out with Robert back then. (Honey is a pretty good friend of mine.) Now neither of them actually said something like "Robert didn't
play facing the wall." because the subject never came up, just like it wouldn't about any typical guitarist two people might be talking about. If he had
been facing the wall, then it would have been something unusual that probably would have been mentioned because it would be outside the norm. However, Honey has mentioned several times things like "Yeah, ol' Robert would be sittin' there playin'... skinnin' an' grinnin' with the ladies while they'd be a dancin' in front of him... The more he'd grin the higher they'd lift them skirts an' grin back at him..." or "Once we's in Helena. Bobby and Willie was playin' an a man come in an' Bobby saw him come through the door. He quit playin' an' handed me his guitar an' said I got to go or there's gonna be some trouble an' he went inta' the back room an' crawled out a' the window..." Johnnie said similar things, like "He was kinda famous in them parts after "Terraplane" come out. All the womens 'd be there dancin' at him an' he'd be smilin' an' winkin' at 'em. An' I'd say Robert, you gonna get us in trouble..." Things like that, that thinking about it, pretty strongly imply that he played like everybody else, facing the crowd.
And with no amplification back in those days it wouldn't make any practical sense in those loud juke-joints and barrel-houses to sit projecting your volume into a wall. People came to drink and dance, not sit and sip latte' discussing music and existentialism with a bit of soft background music!
And then again, he didn't play in any special way that would be some big secret. Standard-tuning, open-Sevestapol and open-Spanish, and probably dropped-D (which he copied from the older already-famous dropped-D master Lonnie Johnson, who Robert often said was his cousin, although they were not related in any way and had never even met.) And they were all tunings and styles that most decent blues guitarists in that area had been using since the early '20s. Of course Robert used them in his own personal way.
Probably the single-most biggest thing that made Robert the "legend" he is today is that at the height of the late-50s/early-60s "folk-boom" when labels were looking around for anything they could release as "authentic folk music" was when Columbia (who had much earlier acquired Vocalian's catalogue) found sixteen old folk-blues tunes by a single artist that could be compiled onto one modern LP, which they released in 1961 as "King of the Delta Blues Singers." That album is the one that influenced everyone from Dylan to Clapton to Richards and pulled traditional country-blues, and Robert, from almost complete obscurity and back into a new audience.