Sat July 28, 2012
Marc On The Blues

Nine O'clock Blues: An Obsession With Robert Johnson

The stories about Robert Johnson (1911-1938) are well known and available in many places. You don’t need me to tell them here. Although I will mention…

Most people know how he was supposed to have sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads at midnight for his unique talent to play the guitar. How about another tale? His trail of crying women and angry, threatening husbands may or may not be true, I like to think it was.

To this day no one has been able to establish how he really died, I’m rooting for poisoned by a jealous husband. And no one seems to be able to establish which of several claimed places really is his grave.

To me the truth is of no importance.

As I see it, throughout the history of the Blues it has been the legends that have had more to do with the emotional and spiritual impact of the music than any of the truths. I buy into the Johnson legends because it gives him a depth and passion that pale reality can’t match.

Whatever the facts of his life, it would be hard to deny that Robert Johnson is the most influential figure in the history of the Blues.

For example, Eric Clapton is absolutely obsessed with Johnson, to the point of repeatedly recording and performing his songs in a never ending variety of settings from traditional acoustic versions to the radical Psychedelic Rock renditions that he did with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in the seminal 1960s band Cream.

Among his recent Johnson projects, Clapton has recorded his “Sessions for Robert Johnson” both as audio and video plus he joined Keith Richards and director Chris Hunt for a documentary called “The Search for Robert Johnson”.

While less than 30 Robert Johnson songs are known to exist, the obsession with his music shown by Clapton and Richards is pretty much universal in the Blues world. Most all Blues-centric recording companies have issued Johnson tribute albums.

For this week’s Nine O’clock Blues I plan to play several tracks from the Telarc Blues contribution to the field, “Hellhound on My Trail”. The company calls the disc an “All-Star Tribute”.   With names like Pinetop Perkins, Taj Mahal, James Cotton and Gatemouth Brown, I have to agree with them.

Before the invention of recording a musician learned from the immediate musical world they lived in. I am certainly not the first to point out that the real importance of Robert Johnson is that he discovered the value mechanical recordings had in allowing a musician to absorb influences from a variety of eras and geographic areas. Johnson would take the music he heard and re-imagine it, creating something all his own. In the same way, the better artists looking back at Johnson take his work and create something that is very much their own.

The pieces I’ll be playing this week are each re-created by an artist from the Telarc “Hellhound On My Trail” collection. And just for equal time and all of our delight, we’ll hear a track from the man himself, Robert Johnson.

Also this week I’ll be feeding my passion for great guitar tone with a track from the new Dennis Jones CD, “My Kinda Blues” that sent me scrambling for the magnifying glass to check out what that amp is on the cover – his Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul guitars I already knew about. Plus we’ll hear a lot more excellent guitar with Mem Shannon, Chris Cain, Quintus McCormick and Big Bill Morganfield.


Be sure to grab your chance to see Big Bill Morganfield live at Tuna Fish and Peanut Butter 26 on Aug 26th at 2pm at Hammond Amphitheater in Loveland – bring a donation to support Weld Food Bank and Food Bank for Larimer County and enjoy some great live blues with Big Bill Morganfield. This year’s event is presented by Associates in Family Medicine.


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