Thursday, September 4, 2014

27 King of the Delta Blues singers (1961) Robert Johnson

1. Cross Road Blues
2. Terraplane Blues
3. Come on in My Kitchen
4. Walking Blues
5. Last Fair Deal Gone Down
6. 32-20 Blues
7. Kindhearted Woman Blues
8. If I Had Possession over Judgement Day
9. Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)
10. When You Got a Good Friend
11. Rambling on My Mind
12. Stones in My Passway
13. Traveling Riverside Blues
14. Milkcow's Calf Blues
15. Me and the Devil Blues
16. Hellhound on My Trail

King of the Delta Blues Singers is one of those albums that we can point to and credit with forming Rock and Roll as we know it. It's one of those few LP's that we can justifiably hold up and say "music changed because of this. It was different before and never the same again afterwards".

King of the Delta Blues Singers was released in 1961 and eventually found its way into the hands of the generation that helped to shape Rock and Roll. Dylan heard it and was amazed at Johnson's ability to make a melody so compelling. Eric Clapton listened and suddenly knew what he wanted to do with his life. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were both huge fans as were Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Peter Green and Jimi Hendrix. Pretty much all the greats on this list had their world turned upside down when they heard this album and realised how powerful music could be.

Before these songs were collected together into an LP, many of them had life as old 78's and it's these recordings which were owned by the likes of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon and informed their songwriting and attitude. You might not be able to say Lennon and McCartney were directly influenced by Johnson but those who influenced them were.

Good luck finding King of the Delta Blues Singers however. As an album it's been entirely and utterly superseded by The Complete Recordings which takes this release, its follow up and everything else Johnson has done and compiles them on two CD's. It is literally the complete recorded works of Johnson and includes every song he wrote, including alternate versions.

It's a pity that King of the Delta Blues Singers isn't around any more because it does serve as a great introduction to the great man's greatest work. The Complete Recordings, with its multiple duplications, is a bit much for many and K of the DBS serves as a good introduction to those who want to know what the fuss is about without having to hear two versions of the same song with slight variation.

Speaking of the fuss. There is a reason people make a fuss over Robert Johnson. He's definitely fussworthy. He sings as if he means every word. When he sings Hellhound on my Tail you really believe there's a demonic hound chasing the guy. He puts feeling into every note he sings and makes you feel the music in a way that at times can be downright unsettling.

The guitar that Johnson holds in one of the few photographs we have of him is battered and beaten up and when you hear him play you can see why. Johnson isn't just an idle chord strummer, he picks that thing and punishes it and makes it suffer in the way he's suffered himself. Johnson has the blues and he's sure as hell going to give them to his guitar as well.

The songs on King might not be familiar to you in their original form but if you're a fan of classic rock from the sixties and seventies you'll know a lot of them when you hear them. Crossroad Blues became Crossroads as played by Cream and shredded by Eric Clapton in his most famously ferocious guitar work out. Clapton would later give a much more sedate reading of Walkin Blues on his famous Unplugged album and would also cover Ramblin on my mind as his first ever lead vocal performance when he was a Bluesbreaker. Come on in my Kitchen was covered most notably by George Harrison in The Concert For Bangladesh, Travelling Riverside Blues was given a reading by Led Zeppelin and 32-30 Blues was covered by Bob Dylan.

Every song on this album has had countless run throughs in blues clubs all over the world and people will still be peeling off versions long after we've all forgotten who most of today's big name acts are. Johnson has become more than artist, he's part of our musical framework and something that we will always return to. You may never have heard the guy sing but if you're listening to music recorded after 1950 then his spirit is in there somewhere speaking to every note you're hearing. He was, and always will be, the King of the Delta Blues Singers.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I was looking for some good easy listening tunes. This collection my well have historical significance for music students, but doesn't give me any kind of pleasure. I tried each selection and found voice and style grading not entertaining."

-Well who the hell told you that Robert Johnson was what you were looking for? Nobody who has ever heard Johnson sing has described him as easy listening.

1 comment:

  1. Also -- even though it apparently didn't make the original cut on the King record -- there's "Love in Vain," which the Rolling Stones covered on Beggars' Banquet.