Apr 242012

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!

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.

[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”]

  42 Responses to “Please Explain: Robert Johnson”

  1. tonyola

    First of all, I just read EPG’s “Crapton” article for the first time and I can dismiss it as a sad and lame attempt to ape Lester Bangs, who once wrote a similar legend-trashing article debunking the Doors legacy for a Rolling Stone book.

    Eric Clapton, who championed Johnson, legitimately created a powerful legacy from 1965 to 1972 or so. Even afterwards, no matter how badly Hershey-squirting he got, when he put aside the pop and down-home nonsense and set about to play the blues, he was more than credible. While he’s only made one indisputable classic in my book (the Layla album), I can’t really scoff at or dismiss his influence in his glory days. I’m not a monster fan of Clapton, but he was no pretender.

    As for Johnson himself, he was a romantic figure who influenced countless guitarists in the ’60s – seemingly mostly British. He was a simultaneously cursed and gifted man as far removed from English middle-class life as you could get and still be “Western”. I’m sure that image held considerable appeal to a would-be rock’n’roll teen rebel riding in Father’s Ford Popular to the onerous and cruel English institution known as public school. What Johnson planted in these impressionable little minds outweighed his own music.

  2. misterioso

    Mod, I know what you mean, I think, but I doubt I can help too much. I think that Robert Johnson is every bit as great as a lot of other great bluesmen of that era, but hardly more so than many. I mean, if you want that whole spooky vibe that so many seem to attribute to Johnson, I’d steer you to Charley Patton or Blind Willie Johnson, who have it big time. And unfortunately, the excessive lionization of RJ leads to the kind of backlash represented by your posting–which I take to have a lot more to do with, say, Eric Clapton than with Johnson’s music itself.

    I think the big reason for Johnson’s impact is timing: his recordings were reissued by Columbia in the early 60s and hit a whole generation of white guitar players who probably could not have had similar access to other, equally great if not greater bluesmen, and he became a touchstone for “authenticity” in music. Rightly or wrongly.

    I was just recently re-reading the part in Dylan’s Chronicles where John Hammond gives him an advanced pressing of Columbia’s RJ reissue. And he’s blown away. If you have the book its on pp. 280-287. It’s really great, even if you can’t quite hear what Dylan heard (and I can’t) it is clear that his whole outlook changed.

    “The songs were layered with a startling economy of lines. Johnson masked the presence of more than twenty men. I fixated on every song and wondered how Johnson did it. Songwriting for him was some highly sophisticated business…I thought about Johnson a lot, wondered who his audience could have been. It’s hard to imagine sharecroppers or plantation field hands at hop joints, relating to songs like these. You have to wonder if Johnson was playing for an audience that only he could see, one off in the future. ‘The stuff I got’ll bust your brains out,’ he sings. Johnson is serious, like the scorched earth. There’s nothing clownish about him or his lyrics. I wanted to be like that, too.”

  3. I may be the biggest blues fan of the RTH, and I have to say that I prefer the Eric Clapton and Rolling Stones versions of RJ’s songs to the 1920’s originals. I think it’s that I am a Blues-Rock fan more that I’d like to admit. (Much in the same way that I often prefer Country Rock and Americana to Country music). I think we have had this conversation about Reggae, etc. in the past.

    A few months back I had a 4 hour drive ahead of me and was going to immerse myself in Robert Johnson. I got about an hour into it and was bored. I switched to EC’s Robert Johnson tribute and liked it better, at least it rocks a little.

    The classic songs are pillars of the Great American song book, but I’ll take the next generation (Muddy, Wolf, Buddy, Slim Harpo, John Lee Hooker) over RJ any day.

  4. bostonhistorian

    “I think the big reason for Johnson’s impact is timing: his recordings were reissued by Columbia in the early 60s and hit a whole generation of white guitar players who probably could not have had similar access to other, equally great if not greater bluesmen, and he became a touchstone for “authenticity” in music. Rightly or wrongly.”

    I second this. In this day and age when almost everything is available to us whenever we want it, it’s sometimes hard to imagine how scarce those early blues records had become by even the 1950s. John Hammond had wanted Johnson for the “From Spirituals to Swing” concerts, and having a powerful champion like that made sure that Johnson’s work wouldn’t fade away. In addition, Columbia acquired the rights in the late 1930s to the Brunswick catalog (for whom Johnson recorded) which meant that a large deep pockets company had acquired the rights to Johnson’s work. My thought is that if Johnson had recorded for a smaller regional label he might have been completely missed in the early 1960s by blues obsessed Englishman not because of the quality of his work, but simply for the fact that it wasn’t accessible.

  5. I thought that there was a reissue of Johnson’s recordings sometime in the late 50s or early 60s that influenced a bunch of the Brits and then that influence trickled down. I can’t imagine many individual blues guys from the 20s had big catalogs to draw from, maybe it’s just a case of there being more of his material available to influence the youngsters when they were coming up. Or am I making that up about the reissue?

    I have a number of country blues compilations with folks like Roosevelt Sykes, Barbeque Bob, Champion Jack Dupree on it, and those songs are decent enough but Robert Johnson’s stuff is much better for some reason. Maybe it sounds more urgent or something. I find his voice to be very odd but in a good way.

    As for Clapton, Blind Faith was cool, as was some of Cream. I like Five Live Yardbirds, and there are a few scattered other things of his that are decent. But as a bluesman? No thank you. His entire blues schtick is based on two songs as far as I can tell (Hideaway by Freddy King, and Born Under a Bad Sign by Albert King). Maybe he deserves some credit for being the first pasty faced white guy to play some credible sounding blues licks, but now that you can turn on youtube and probably see a 4 year old doing the same thing, it becomes much less interesting.

  6. Ha! I should have read through the comments before posting. I agree with the esteemed representatives from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts regarding Mr Johnson being the only game in town at that time.

  7. bostonhistorian

    Pince nez: Johnson released records on Vocalion, owned by Brunswick.

  8. bostonhistorian

    Thank you wikipedia for shedding some light on that 1961 Robert Johnson release:

    “An advance copy of the album was given by its instigator, John Hammond, to his newest signing to Columbia, Bob Dylan, who had never heard of Johnson and became mesmerized by the intensity of the recordings.

    Hammond, who had initially searched for Johnson in 1938 to include him on the bill for the first of his From Spirituals to Swing concerts, prodded Columbia to assemble this record during the height of the folk revival. It was the first of the retrospective albums for folk, country, and blues artists of the 1920s and 1930s”


  9. Great stuff – and I’m glad most if not all of you, so far, at least get what I mean. Does anyone really love the song “Crossroads” in any format? I like my share of Cream, Clapton, et al, but that song is boring in any version I’ve ever heard, including Johnson’s.

  10. Where to start? I mean that seriously. I don’t know where to start. I’ve pondered Mr. Mod’s question many times before and I can’t explain the appeal of Robert Johnson to me. I know this is anathema to all the founding tenets of RTH but “he’s just greaaattt, man!”

    I came to Robert Johnson in 1971, curious after hearing him cited by so many rock & rollers and after hearing the usual covers (Cream’s “Crossroads”, the Stones “Love In Vain”, Steve Miller’s “Come On In My Kitchen”). I was absolutely blown away by King Of The Delta Blues Singers the first time I listened to it. And over the summer of 1971 I’m sure I listened to that album at least 100 times.

    With the exception of Cream’s “Crossroads” I’ve never heard a Johnson cover that I think comes close to the originals. And Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues” is fantastic; I just think Cream (Clapton) took that and turned it into the perfect rock song (more in some other thread somewhere down the line). The Stones “Love In Vain” exposes everything that’s wrong with the Stones poseur take on American roots music.

    But I buy into the whole Johnson mythology. How much is true, of course, is difficult to know. But it’s kind of like the Bible; it’s such a good story you WANT to believe it’s true. And I know we’ve explored the backstory fallacy here but that Johnson backstory just adds to the songs for me.

    I’ve read all the books like Elijah Wald’s “Escaping The Delta” which contends Johnson was just a song & dance man who played all popular music of the day. I buy the covers albums (and, as far as the technical aspects, the DVD that accompanied the deluxe edition of Clapton’s Johnson tribute album was extremely interesting to me). I went to see Honeyboy Edwards about a dozen years ago since he was a living link to Johnson. I bought a couple of bottles of the Dogfish Head limited edition Robert Johnson “Hellhound On My Ale”. I’ve purchased the music over and over (including the way overpriced box last year that had all the songs on vinyl reproductions of the old 78s). And if I hit the Powerball lottery I’ll buy me some authentic old Vocalion 78s.

    What can I say, there’s a hellhound on my trail.

  11. misterioso

    Let me add one other thing that I sometimes suspect is a contributing factor: the Johnson recordings sound good. God, try listening to Charley Patton recordings–some of that stuff is in brutal condition. They did a great job getting best available recordings for the big Screamin and Hollerin the Blues box set a few years ago, but even still, some of it is pretty, um, atmospheric.

  12. Happiness Stan

    A very good friend of mine shares Al’s enthusiasm for RJ, and and I genuinely wish that I could join in with it, I have worked so hard to get into all the real hardcore blues stuff but somehow always find myself parting company at anything more hardcore than Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo, although the last of those I could happily listen to all night long. Leadbelly can be pretty hard going, I don’t even really get Muddy Waters, and BB King bores me to tears, so I haven’t really got very far with the blues thing.

    Jungleland2 has expressed perfectly how I feel about his music – I used to force myself to listen to him to try to get to the bottom of it, but after three or four songs would long to be listening to something else.

    I said pretty well all that I have to say about my view of the mythology of Robert Johnson and how he came to mean so much to the Brits here https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/index.php/it%e2%80%99s-a-given/#comment-66242 about a year ago.

  13. Suburban kid

    I felt the same the first time I heard RJ, after years of hearing how great he was. It sounded thin and weird to me. I was let down.

    Another clutch of years later, I tried again and this time it worked. It helped that I had become utterly sick of modern music, or anything made after about 1965. I was in search of authenticity and an origin story the same way those art school Londoners were.

    I understand he was one of many, and not the Originator the rock histories of the 70s and 80s made him out to be, but I do have a special place on my shelf for authentic pioneers.

    I’m still not the biggest fan, but Hellhound on My Trail stays with me for a long time whenever I hear it.

    I’m new; don’t beat me up.

  14. For me, the track is If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day. But almost any 2 or three will do at a stretch, and then I move on to something else.

    Welcome aboard. We usually let folks get settled in and let their guard down before we beat them up, by the way

  15. A fine debut, Suburban kid. No rock wedgie for you! I’m going to try TH again. That’s a cool thing about music. It’s still there when you come back to it.

  16. ladymisskirroyale


    Mr. Royale hère, and I gotta step in on this one.

    It’s difficult to articulate the “why” of Robert Johnson without paraphrasing Greil Marcus’ “Mystery Train” (which really ought to be required reading. The whole thing).

    Let’s just say that the blues are not for our entertainment, nor for background music for a few beers. Robert Johnson isn’t merely a stepping stone in the family tree leading to Clapton, Johnny Winter, or Jack White. “Crossroads” is not about picking up guitar licks. It’s about being out in the open, with dark falling, and the possibility of getting lynched.

    Blues arose from people like Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, and Skip James, people who would have been jumped the minute they walked out of church. Unlike the transcendence found in gospel, blues found God’s grace in sex, love, and money. The blues came out of the need to live in a brutal world, and it made those terrors easier to endure.

    Johnson’s America was a land of desolation made all the more acute by feeling out of place, being an outsider, being the disenfranchised. His imagery, his immediacy and his playing portray a world without salvation, redemption, or a place to sit down. He walked the dusty roads like a failed Puritan, looking for women and a roof over his head. He found these roads “essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming satisfactions are not happiness and pleasure, but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle”
    (F.Scott Fitzgerald, via Greil Marcus). He was determined to go further into these realms than anyone else, and all the more power to him as an artist that he got there.

    His is an eerie resignation. When he sings:

    “Early this morning
    When you knocked upon my door
    I said, Hello, Satan
    I believe it’s time to go”

    he seems to be saying that he’s on certain terms with his demons. It seems that his desires are so extreme that he can only satisfy them by being in league with them.

    Do we believe in the Devil, and in the myth? Of course not! But this is allegory, this is narrative, and it is art. It is charged with meaning, however it is a meaning that endures because it is never quite complete. Johnson’s songs remind us that life is a complicated matter. It’s not there are bad things in the world, it’s that what is unbearable (and merits singing about) is the impossibility of reconciling the facts of evil with the beauty of the world.

    That’s why he stands alone.

  17. ladymisskirroyale

    Mr. Royale is really het up about this. He’s been stomping around making Toshiro Mifune noises. Mr. Royale is a man who named a painting after a RJ song!

  18. Great writing, Mr. Royale! I can’t argue with your passion, but I just listened to the tune again and I’m not hearing half as much as what you couch in the context of Johnson’s times. I’m not doubting what you say, mind you, but musically I am hoping to unlock something I’ve never heard before. I will keep trying, continue listening to RJ’s music over the coming days with what those of you who do get him are bringing to the discussion. This actually has been known to help. (Although no amount of passion and context has yet to explain Love’s Forever Changes.)

  19. I had two bands — The Beach Boys as a pre-teen. My mom hired a very religious woman to watch us after school and she would bring over her daughter’s Beach Boys records and play them. Then, to make up for her “sin”, she would play an equal dose of gospel records.

    The Clash as a teenager. I will never forget hearing “Train In Vain” and then running out to get London Calling. That great record got me out of the rut that was and is KQ92 in the Twin Cities.

  20. whoops wrong thread!

  21. 2000 Man

    Man, I had some guys with the passion of Al and Mr. Royale spend some time helping me “get” Robert Johnson. I think we listened to that album five times in a row.

    It didn’t work. I’ll take The Stones Love in Vain over Robert’s any day. Maybe I am missing vital backstory, but I think he’s a little out of reach for me.

  22. Mr. Royale is really onto something here: getting RJ is not about “believing” anything. It’s about the emotional power of his describing things we struggle to comprehend: a complex world that lies beyond our immediate perception.

    So, its about imagination. RJ is a great storyteller, focusing on the thing that most attracts/discomforts us: the supernatural. That’s what captured Dylan’s attention–that of very impressionistic British teens for whom America, and its history, seemed like a strange, faraway land.

  23. Edit last sentence: “That’s what captured Dylan’s attention–and that of very impressionistic British teens for whom America, and its history, seemed like a strange, faraway land.

  24. See what you think of Mr. Royale’s update, the slowed-down perspective. I actually think Johnson’s voice sounds a little better slowed down. Funny that as I spent time checking out these tracks that hrrundivbakshi posts Vanilla Fudge’s “Keep Me Hanging On” in our drummer thread. I once spun that song at 45 by mistake, and that record sounds a lot better sped up!

  25. misterioso

    No offense to Mr. Royale or anyone, but I find the argument totally unconvincing. We aren’t talking about a couple of songs here, we’re talking about 29 recordings, done at more than one session, and not all issued at the time. Is it possible that all were sped up more or less uniformly? Sure, it’s possible. Is it possible that (as far as I know) none of the people who had heard Johnson in his lifetime ever commented on how different the recordings sounded? Sure, it’s possible. But I suspect it is more likely this is just an attempt to make Johnson sound more like the way he’s portrayed in the over-cooked prose of (white) guys like Greil Marcus.

  26. BigSteve

    I think most recordings from this era are a stretch for us, because their world was so different from ours. Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf may have grown up on the plantation, but they moved to the industrial north and lived and worked in an environment we recognize. Bessie Smith’s world was much more urban, but it took me years before I get wrap my ears around her voice, which I now think is one of the greatest.

    I heard the RJ reissues in the 60s, but they didn’t take, partly because the pressings didn’t sound good, the ones I heard anyway. But when that music was rereleased in the boxset in 1990, I was blown away. The rhythmic interplay between the voice and the guitar (Charley Patton has this too) is mind-boggling. I don’t get wound up in the mythic backstory, but the lyrics of some of the songs make it hard to escape. The dude was deep. But it’s worth noting that he also recorded silly songs like (Hot Tamales and) They’re Red Hot.

    I admit that I was quite taken with the slowed down versions of the recordings. To respond to misterioso’s question, the problem is that the original versions are not uniformly too fast. In other words you can’t slow them all down the same amount — some will sound fine and some sound obviously wrong. To me the key is the guitar. Play along with the usual versions of the recordings, and you’ll find that the guitar is often tuned much higher than you would ever tune a real guitar.

    The great thing about the best of the slowed down versions is the change in the vocals. Johnson goes from sounding like a sprite to sounding like a full-grown, red-blooded MAN. The person singing in the new versions is much harder to fit into the mythical box.

    For the record, I love Cream’s Crossroads. I always considered it a model of precision, and I was crushed when I discovered it was edited down from a much longer wankfest.

  27. I can understand both camps but Mr Royale is dead-on when he says the (deep, Delta) blues aren’t there for your enjoyment. Just like the Holocaust Museum isn’t there for fun. After reading Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues and going through Memphis, I look at the Johnson fighting the worst existence imaginable and sending up a message that can still be heard.

    But to listen to Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson and anyone prior to the 40’s is more like work than like entertainment. I’ll jam on Chess Blues or the Allmans or something when I want to hear some blues music for enjoyment, which is about 90% of my listening.

  28. k. wrote:

    Mr Royale is dead-on when he says the (deep, Delta) blues aren’t there for your enjoyment. Just like the Holocaust Museum isn’t there for fun.

    Before I continue, let me say that I love you, Mr. Royale, and so many others here. Hell, I love you all. That said…

    OK, this is where my White Folks Drive Me Batty meter peaks. Come on, Johnson was playing MUSIC. If even half of the mythology about him is true, even if we assume he personally suffered the collective pain of 300 years of his people’s sufferings in the United States do we deny that he was getting some joy from playing those songs and hoping to spread some joy? I don’t mean joy strictly in the sense of happiness, but spirit, man. Just because he’s not singing spirituals doesn’t mean the man wasn’t trying to convey something meaningful. And am I, a lover of depressing works of art, supposed to believe that the artist spreading those vibes isn’t getting some of the same elation from being in touch with something he or she feels that I feel when getting in touch with their work? Bullshit! I’d be my life and the devil’s that Johnson wasn’t writing and singing his 29 recorded songs for the historic record. He was writing them to move someone, at least himself.

    I don’t know why the notion of “fun” ever came into this? In my set up I didn’t say I expected to have a “fun” time or be “entertained” by the music of Robert Johnson. My question is what am I missing in terms of the music of Johnson that I have been told should move me? I am moved by your writing – the writing of everyone who’s participated in this thread – but some of you keep coming back to his notion that I’m SCTV’s Irving Cohen, in search of a “bouncy C.” I’m in search of feeling something special, something really special. The way I feel about you and the things you write. This stuff is actually helping me, but please don’t equate my quest with a night on the town with Blues Hammer.

  29. ladymisskirroyale

    Right on!

  30. misterioso

    Cripes. Mod, you are correct. Enough with the white man’s overcompensation bit. I haven’t read much of Elijah Wald’s book, which struck me as going too far in the opposite direction, but it is worth remembering that Johnson, like, I presume, all the great bluesmen, was an entertainer. The blues is not the Holocaust museum. For those it doesn’t connect with–you know what? That’s okay and you’re not evil. And if you’re forcing yourself to experience it just for the sake of thinking you are inhabiting Marcus’ “old, weird America”–a great phrase, that, and a useful concept to some extent–but aren’t getting any enjoyment out of the music, then shoot, listen to something else.

  31. Happiness Stan

    Well put Mr M, and MrMisterioso as well.

    I was trying earlier to think of a way to express the white guilt thing which in the days when I wasn’t quite sure if I was quite anti-racist enough used to drive me to listen to Robert Johnson, Bob Marley, Sun Ra and God knows what else just to prove my credentials to my equally white and equally hung up friends. My black mate, Ashley, was really laid back and thought it was all just really funny, he just grooved to whatever was playing and didn’t sweat about it.

    I think that what always strikes me about the RJ debate is the speed with which it bolts away from the music into being the musical equivalent of the Holocaust museum, and from there it is but a short step away from anticipating being accused of anti-semitism simply by expressing the view that one wouldn’t personally want to go there. This does not imply that other people shouldn’t go there, or that it shouldn’t exist, nor does it assume any relinquishing of an individual’s share of some sort of collective guilt through the expression of such a viewpoint.

    Johnson’s reputation is not helped in my opinion by the CD compilations containing every song he recorded simply because there is technically enough space to put them on, (although this is an argument which can be made equally forcefully for many other artists and indeed individual albums in the last twenty years as well).

    One side of an old-style vinyl album is enough for me, and probably for most people, just like it is for Trout Mask Replica, or Woody Guthrie, or Vanilla Fudge, or Grateful Dead, and so on. As I grow older I move further from obsessive completism, and back towards the idea that 7″ singles with one or two songs on each side were actually the closest we’ve come to the perfect medium for song-based music.

  32. I don’t think entertainment and 300 years of burden are mutually exclusive.

    Johnson expressed misery. He expressed it lyrically, he expressed it with his guitar, he expressed it with his voice and, most of all, he expressed it with the marvelous synergy (the rhythmic interplay that BigSteve referred to) of all three.

    I can imagine that the people he entertained while alive felt “here’s someone who can express how I too often feel but can’t express, I’m not alone, we’re not alone, but in this juke joint, on this street corner we have someone who can put it into words and music – and we can dance to it!”

    And this is not so dissimilar from what Robert Johnson does for me too. It’s not the same misery we share but at some level misery is misery. And the best blue music – whether it’s Johnson singing “Hellhound On My Trail” or Frank Sinatra singing “I’m A Fool To Want You” or Hank Williams singing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” or Dylan singing “Like A Rolling Stone” (“How does it feeeeellllll?!?!”) – does that for me.

    And when you “got these blues so bad” you can listen to any of these artists and it can bring you more down than you were when you dropped the needle and then the alchemy of music transmutes it into something better. Maybe it’s only better for feeling you have company, but better’s better.

  33. 2000 Man

    Those recordings probably come from 78’s, and most 78 turntables that people like have close to 10 % speed compensation. They might need to spin at 78, or 84, or 72 rpm. Sometimes pitch changes on the same record because recording was so rudimentary. Restoring recordings from 78’s looks like a huge pain in the ass to me.

  34. Keep in mind that the songs Johnson (or pretty much any prewar blues artists) recorded are not necessarily the songs that were popular with his audience. Blues artists were encouraged to record original material so the record labels could make money from the publishing. The artists were usually paid a flat fee per side.

    Johnson primarily played popular hits of the day. A lot of the songs to which so much meaning has been assigned could very well have been made up on the spot in the studio.

  35. So am I supposed to love him based on the songs none of us has ever heard? 🙂

  36. yes you are. Remember that song he did that we never heard, great song! Puts “Crossroad Blues” to shame!

  37. 2000 Man

    I think those are the ones I like the most!

  38. Interesting. I didn’t give it that much thought when I wrote it but I’ll stand with my Holocaust Museum comparison. Why do people (myself included) go to this thing? There is an extremity of experience that isn’t “fun” but it stays with you. Like, the shoe room in the Wash DC Holocaust museum. For the crushing existence of the black sharecropper at that time, the scratchy sounds of Johnson and Leadbelly bring it home to me more than an empty field or an old shack. I’m not finding a “white man’s burden” thing in my impressions; maybe more of a misery tourism, like hearing Ian Curtis or watching a Todd Haynes film.
    And I certainly think anyone who posts here knows how to get more from any kind of art than a good time, entertainment vibe. What finds its way into you is probably up to the individual.

  39. tonyola

    Hey, it worked for Brian Wilson and Smile, didn’t it? 🙂

  40. Hank Fan

    Here’s a different view on the speed issue: http://www.elijahwald.com/johnsonspeed.html

  41. Cool read. Thanks for passing it along.

  42. misterioso

    Yes, thanks indeed, and glad that Wald supports my view that there’s no way this is a legitimate issue.

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube