Friday, March 19, 2010

424 King of the Delta Blues singers Vol 2- The lord of the rings of the blues

Album: King of the Delta Blues singers.

Artist: Robert Johnson

Year: 1961

Genre: Blues.


1. Kind Hearted woman blues
2. I believe I'll dust my broom
3. Sweet Home Chicago
4. Ramblin on my mind
5. Phonograph blues.
6. They're Red Hot.
7. Dead Shrimp Blues.
8. Preaching Blues.
9. I'm a Steady Rollin Man.
10. From four til Late.
11. Little Queen of Spades.
12. Malted Milk.
13. Drunken hearted blues.
14. Stop breaken down blues
15. Honeymoon blues.
16. Love in Vain.

Some bands have a lot of albums on this list and some artists have every album they released but only one guy has every single song he ever recorded on the top 500 albums of all time. That guy is Robert Johnson and he invented the blues as we know it while influencing almost everyone who ever recorded a song after him. He sat in a hotel room in the mid thirties and recorded tracks that haven’t been touched since. And as if that wasn’t enough he was sufficiently obliging to die soon after and perpetrate one of the great legends of the blues.

Johnson’s story is one that you’ve probably heard a million times in different ways. A young man with musical ambition but not much talent goes on a journey that ends with him selling his soul to the devil in exchange for mastery of his instrument. He uses his new gift to bedazzle all who hear him until Satan comes to claim his side of the bargain and he dies tragically young while his music lives on. Nowadays there aren’t too many people who believe that bit about the devil but back in the thirties in the rural south there were those who were pretty convinced it was the only explanation for the passion the young Johnson managed to extract from just a guitar and his own voice. His premature death by poison leant weight to those who believed his ability had a satanic origin and must have really frustrated the “He just went away and practiced a lot” faction who probably struggled to be heard. I’d love to tell you more about Robert J but I can’t because we don’t know much. He was a guy who played the blues a lot until his death meant he didn’t. That’s about all there is to say.

Thankfully he left us two sides of vinyl music to appreciate what all the fuss was about. The first was released in 1961 and the second came in 1970. This album, like King of the Delta Blues Singers Volume 1 that went before it, was re-released on CD as The Complete Robert Johnson recordings in the nineties. On those two Compact discs you will find every single note we have of the man often cited as the most influential blues player of all time.

So what’s all the fuss about then? Every song on the album is has exactly the same format- a guy singing over the top of his own guitar playing. No band, no overdubs and no fuss- just a young man, an old guitar and some timeless songs. Even if you’ve never heard Johnson play you probably know his music. The Rolling Stones recorded Love in Vain and still play it live, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers had a crack at They’re Red Hot, I believe I’ll dust my broom has been recorded by almost as many people as Sweet Home Chicago and Eric Clapton has done almost every song Robert Johnson ever wrote including Malted Milk on his million selling unplugged release.

While the Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds, Fleetwood Mac and countless other white boys played his songs and turned them into rocking standards the originals have a power that proves you don’t need to plug your guitar in to play what we call Rock and Roll. There are riffs, blues turnarounds and elements that we know and love from Rock and Roll all throughout this album. Lyrically it's full of mistreating women, downtrodden men and brooms that need dusting, most of which are common themes in rock today (although the maintenance of domestic cleaning tools has tended to fall away as a lyrical preoccupation in recent years).

I would recommend this album to anyone except I don't think you can buy it anymore. That's because the excellent Compete recordings is now available and has everything the great man ever did. If you've enjoyed any popular music of any description in the last 80 years then you owe Johnson a debt of thanks. And if you check out his music because of this review then you'll owe me one as well.

Highlight: Sweet Home Chicago.

Lowlight: Dead Shrimp Blues (which is still a great track)

Influenced by: The delta and a contract written in blood.

Influenced: Everyone.

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: I kept hearing about Robert Johnson, so I decided to listen to some of his music. What a dissapointment! First of all, Johnson plays way too slow and his music has no beat whatsoever. There aren't even any drums on the record. Furthermore, Johnson doesn't even play the electric guitar so there arent any cool guitar solos. His singing isn't any better, because his lyrics are unbelievably corny and you can't help but laugh at his whiny voice. For some real blues music you should listen to Led Zeppelin because at least he has good songs like Stairway to Heaven. I know Led Zeppelin is a good guitar player because I saw him play on the Song Remains the Same and he can play really fast and good. Robert Johnson's music is completely unlistenable and a can't understand how anyone could like it.

-I believe this is what we in internet-land call "a troll". Thinking Led Zeppelin was a guy and not a band is the giveaway.

So if Robert Johnson did sell his soul to the devil did Old Nick get a bargain or a dud? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. David,

    Excellent review yet again... I will have to get my Robert Johnson CD out and have a relisten. The rawness of the performances on his songs is what stays with me... Keep up the good work and I can't wait for some more Smiths - even if you can.


    Steve (Chaos Agent #2)