UPDATED…after the jump!
I was listening to American Routes on NPR last night while washing the dishes. Over the years, host Nick Spitzer has opened my ears to all kinds of American roots artists I’d previously found boring. Not everything he plays works for me (I still can’t stand most of that accordion-driven music from Louisiana), but as great DJs can do, there’s something about the way he sets up and frames the music he plays each week that often works wonders.
While I was scrubbing a roasting pan last night, Spitzer introduced Robert Johnson‘s original recording of “Crossroads.” Because there’s so little blues music I’ve liked over the years and because I’ve never previously found anything that interesting about Johnson, the most legendary bluesman ever and probably an inspiration for not only the movie Crossroads but my favorite blues-based movie, Black Snake Moan, I put down the scrubber and let the pan soak a few minutes longer, so I could pay full attention to what Spitzer announced was probably Johnson’s most influential recording.
There were a few good guitar licks, but it wasn’t much of a song. I didn’t find Johnson’s voice compelling. The lyrical theme of having “sold his soul to the devil” was, as I’ve always believed, as preposterous as any fahntasy nonsense in a Yes song. I don’t believe in Satan. Why should I give a shit?
Aren’t most of the rock legends who profess profound debt to Robert Johnson the kind of artists we tend to scoff at or feel do little to live up to the legacy? What am I missing in the music of Robert Johnson. I accept the fact that he’s historic and legendary because he’s been cited as such, but why? I know he only cut a couple dozen recordings. It’s not like anyone can attest to his “awesome live shows!” Please explain. Thank you.
Mr. Royale sent me the following note, link, and slowed-down Robert Johnson tracks. Check it out!
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/02-Crossroads-Blues.mp3|titles=Robert Johnson, “Crossroads Blues” (slowed down)] [audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/16-Me-And-The-Devil-Blues.mp3|titles=Robert Johnson, “Me and the Devil Blues”]
One thing that may light the way about Robert Johnson is to hear him in a different context, rather than via Clapton et.al.
see http://www.touched.co.uk/press/rjnote.html for a more detailed account, but there is a standing argument that we’re listening to the RJ recordings at the wrong
I’m attaching some mp3’s of RJ slowed down a tad, to what is arguably the original frequency and quality of his voice and vibrato.
I personally find the recordings much more listenable and intriguing.