Thursday, June 21, 2007

No. 27: King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 1

Band: Robert Johnson
Album: King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 1
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: In terms of blues singers, no one had more influence on the genre of rock and roll. Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, Lucinda Williams, Cream and The White Stripes are all artists on this list who've covered Johnson's songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Like "Kind of Blue," I'm not sure straight up blues is the way to go. Otherwise, it's incredibly important.
Best song: The most famous is "Crossroad Blues."
Worst song: They're all pretty great.
Is it awesome?: It's pretty lo-fi, but it's quite clear that this guy was hugely talented.

One of the myths surrounding Robert Johnson is that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his ability to play the guitar; It has sort of become the famous myth of all bluesmen.

Johnson's life isn't particularly well-known. He married a young girl (she died in childbirth at the ripe old age of 16), he recorded about a double album's worth of songs in 1936 and 1937. He died at age 27 in 1938. All of two photos of him exist.

Here's what we know: His guitar playing and vocals were basically unprecedented at the time. He played a style of music mostly unknown to White America until the 1950s. He set up a musical style that has endured (in rock and roll) for ages.

Two things are notable: The first is the low fidelity of the recordings. It gets tough to listen to, on that level, in that the pops and cracks are just a part of the records. The other, building off that, is that the recording might (might) have been sped up some, hence the pitch of the vocals.

Overall, though, it's amazing to think about this being recorded in the 1930s. In the same way Chuck Berry holds up, these Robert Johnson records hold up quite well.

1 comment:

bob_vinyl said...

I don't think there's much to say about Robert Johnson's music and importance that hasn't already been said. With such a short career and small catalog, he probably has more words written about him per minute of music than anyone in history.

The thing that I think is interesting about Robert Johnson is the "crossroads" myth. Since that time, the idea of selling one's soul for rock n roll has been a strange aspiration. To me, music should save our souls, not destroy them. That sounds pretty religious (which I happen to be), but I really don't intend it to be that way. I guess I mean that music should enrich us, not debase us. So the crossroads thing has long bothered me.