Robert Johnson – King Of The Delta Blues Guitar
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For many people, Robert Johnson was the blues, at least the Delta blues! You get the impression that Clapton wanted to be RJ, but I don’t really agree that he was the greatest blues man ever to have played guitar, and I definitely don’t think he sold his soul to the Devil to gain his formidable fingerpicking skill. Nevertheless, Robert Johnson songs have influenced countless blues musicians.
Like many legends, he had the good fortune to have died at a young age, meaning that his status was assured! That’s not to say that he was very good, but there were some blues men equally good and several that also motivated many modern guitar players. For one thing, he wasn’t really original. Some say that his recordings should be played slower, and when you slow them down, you can hear Son House in almost everything that he does.
By all accounts, the young Johnson would follow House around, but was ignored because he just wasn’t a very good player. After going away fro some months, he re-appeared and his guitar skill had improved dramatically, hence the ‘Devil’ legend was born – basically, he had traveled and absorbed many ideas from other blues guitarists, also ‘woodshedding’ for many hours a day IMO.
Curated article extracts – Delta Blues Men:
Mississippi Delta Blues: American Cornerstone
The blues recordings that came out of the Mississippi Delta from the late 1920s through the late ’30s have had an enormous impact on American music, influencing everyone from The Rolling Stones to Cassandra Wilson. It’s powerful music that is also, by turns, stark, poetic, eerie, humorous, topical and beautiful.
Most Delta blues recordings were solo performances by singer-guitarists, though several notable recordings also feature some sort of minimal accompaniment — generally a second guitarist.
It’s not too reductive to say that Mississippi Delta blues as we know it begins with Charley Patton. There were certainly other delta blues musicians before (and concurrent with) Patton, but he was one of the first to be recorded. He was also immensely gifted, amazingly prolific and served as a major influence for other musicians in the delta, including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. The breadth of topics in Patton’s songs is also notable. While most musicians might be quite content to sing about love or the lack thereof, Patton would sing about whatever caught his interest, from social issues to insects. In this 1929 recording, Patton gives us what might be the first piece of music ever devoted to the boll weevil, an insect with a voracious and devastating appetite for cotton.
Tommy Johnson was a contemporary of Charlie Patton’s; they were virtually neighbors. Like Patton, Johnson was a gifted writer, singer and guitarist. Unlike Patton, Tommy Johnson recorded very little. After recording 16 songs in three sessions between 1928 and 1929, he stopped recording forever, mistakenly believing that he had signed away his right to record. However, among those 16 songs there are three certified blues classics: “Canned Heat Blues,” “Big Road Blues” and the song included here, “Cool Drink Of Water Blues.” Unlike most delta blues recordings, this song features two guitarists: Johnson accompanied by Charlie McCoy. The rhythmic tension they create between their instruments, combined with Tommy’s inimitable falsetto vocal performance make this song a uniquely beautiful moment in American music history. (Click here for more information from Tommy Johnson’s label.)
Charlie Patton might have been the first important delta blues musician, but Robert Johnson (no relation to Tommy Johnson) is almost certainly the most famous. He’s also one of the most intriguing and enduring mysteries in blues music. Very little is known about Johnson’s life and there is much conjecture about his death. What we know for certain is that when he died, in his late twenties, he left behind a body of work which, though relatively small, has maintained an amazing presence in American music. From Cream’s famous 1968 electric arrangement of “Cross Roads Blues” to Cassandra Wilson’s hypnotic interpretation of “Come On In My Kitchen,” Robert Johnson’s music continues to inspire and nourish a broad spectrum of musicians. In this 1937 recording of “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day,” we get a great sample of his incredible singing and guitar playing. The song also features one of the earliest recordings of a guitar lick that would become one of the most famous in blues history, when it later became the signature phrase in Muddy Water’s classic recording of “Rollin’ And Tumblin.'”
One of the most amazing things about Son House is that he lived long enough to be re-discovered. Many of the original delta blues musicians either died at a relatively early age or drifted into obscurity. House beat the odds. He began recording in 1930, after serving time in prison for killing a man, allegedly in self-defense. In the early 1940s, he retired from music and went to work for a railroad company in upstate New York, until he was re-discovered by folk/blues enthusiasts in 1964. He then began the successful second phase of his musical career, recording and playing around the world. “Preachin’ Blues” is House’s 1965 version of a song that he’d originally recorded in 1930. It reminds us that the blues can be light-hearted and humorous and still be “the blues.”
Robert Johnson Songs
Johnson recorded some 26 sides during his career, which wasn’t too long as he was poisoned to death when he was 27 years old, and there is no Robert Johnson obituary, except for the writing on his tombstone. Not all the 26 songs were classics, but some have elevated the lesser quality ones such as Red Hot, simply because it was one of the songs recorded by him. Incidentally, Red Hot was typical of the hokem songs being played by itinerant musicians performing in medicine shows around the USA at that time.
Several Robert Johnson songs however, have achieved cult status, songs like Crossroads, Walkin’ Blues, 32-20 and Ramblin’ On My Mind. Love in vain Chords & Tab PDF.
Robert Johnson Crossroads Blues
Crossroads Robert Johnson style is basically a speeded up, more intense version of Walkin Blues Tab, which brings us to an interesting question – are his recordings played at the right speed? Here’s an extract from an article:
A few years ago, an article appeared on the Internet suggesting that the recordings by Robert Johnson that are known and loved the world over are not accurate, that what we hear is the result of speeding up the original tapes laid down at those brief long-ago sessions. This month, I stumbled on this article that revived my interest. The source of this idea is apparently that many of the lyrics and vocal asides sound rushed and unnaturally fast, as do many up-tempo guitar passages. The ability to take a digitized song and slow it down by increments until it sounds more natural became available to the general public several years ago, but it took some time for the technique to be applied to Johnson’s work. Now there are many examples on the Internet of the original and the slowed-down versions, and listened to side by side they make an impact. To ears that are not completely accustomed to the accepted and original versions of the recordings, they do indeed sound a bit more natural and comfortable. Scholars have admitted that it might have happened, that the 78 rpm recordings might have been made at a higher speed to sound brighter or have a more attractive presence on the radio or on primitive playback equipment. But there are many problems with this theory.
The fact is, if you slow down RJ’s recordings, he sounds uncannily like Son House, a one-time mentor in the Mississippi Delta before Johnson started to travel with Johnny Shines. This makes a lot of sense to me. Walkin Blues lyrics are also very similar to the Son House version, and also Muddy Waters, so there might be more than meets the eye here. Whatever is true, the recordings are of course outstanding.
If I compare Robert Johnson Walkin Blues with Muddy Waters Walkin Blues, I have to say that Muddy has it! He said on record that he was playing ‘Walkin’ before it was recorded by Johnson, so it’s pretty safe to assume that the format was traditional and probably played in a very similar form by most blues guitarists at that time.
Son House’s version was a bit different from the norm, because basically he had just one right hand technique which he used for just about everything! Muddy’s and Johnson’s versions were very similar, but the former gives a gravity that is not so evident in Johnson’s rendition – he leaves powerful spaces in his musical arrangements which give it enormous depth and a feeling of Truth. Checkout any Robert Johnson Walkin Blues tab, and basically you’ll be able to play it the same as Muddy as well.
Robert Johnson Love In Vain
A quick look at the Love In Vain chords Robert Johnson used and it will dawn on you that it’s almost identical to another of his songs played in the key of A, Me and The Devil Blues. This is a common thing among blues men of all persuasions, and it also reflects the fact that once our style is set, it’s really hard to disguise it and play differently, which is why the riffs in the two songs are very similar.
Johnson used a variety of tunings, and the list below was taken form an answer (by me) to a question asked on Quora:
There was some talk about RJ using a secret tuning for a couple of songs, but all of his output can be played using these tunings:
Drop D tuning
Drunken Hearted Man
Last Fair Deal,
If I had Possesion,
Stones in my Passway,
Stop Breakin’ Down,
Travelliing Riverside Blues,
Come on Into My Kitchen.
Rambling On My Mind
The rest were in standard tuning.
The Latest Photograph – Is It Real? The Controversy.
More than 4 dozen music historians, authors, manufacturers and artists are disputing the authenticity of a photograph of legendary blues guitar player Robert Johnson, pitting them against the artist’s estate over his legacy.
At issue for the dissenting scholars is a photo that the Johnson estate said it had actually validated in 2013 with the aid of a forensic artist. With only 2 extant, validated pictures of Johnson, the musician whose legend says he won preternatural skill in a deal with the devil, a 3rd would be extraordinarily important.
However in a prolonged post, the historians dissect the claim with assistance from forensic anthropologists, and state that there is no considerable proof to support the claim that the image is of Johnson.
” Within the blues neighborhood the image simply got to be sort of like a joke in a sense,” stated Bruce Conforth, a teacher of American culture at the University of Michigan. “But all these signatories, we finally all gatheringed and said, ‘Well, you know it’s time for this to not be a joke. It’s time to really put an end to this.”
The 49 signatories consist of Conforth, blues historians Elijah Wald, David Evans, Steve Tracey and Gayle Dean Wardlow, the Johnson biographer who found his death certificate in 1968. They write that Johnson’s “legacy has gone through abuse and exploitation”, and that “it has ended up being practically a sport to claim” a Johnson photo or guitar.
” It’s not about history and it’s not about music,” Wald stated. “It’s about money. I comprehend that everyone who discovers an old painting in their attic wishes to think that it’s a Da Vinci, but we don’t tend to state, ‘Yeah, you could be right!’
” If it’s a truth that is a photo of Robert Johnson then it’s worth a fortune. If it’s of any one of a hundred truly, great vocalists or guitar gamers of that generation, it’s unworthy anything, which’s type of unfortunate.”
Conforth, Wald and their co-signatories “call for an end to this, and comparable attempts to capitalize upon Johnson’s popularity and mythology”.
” Historical scholarship relies on evidence,” Conforth stated. “And if you look at the alleged authentication of that photo there actually wasn’t a piece of proof, there was opinion. Historical reality is never ever verified by opinion; it can just be validated by evidence.”
The argument against the claim that the image shows Johnson is long and assiduously detailed in the methods it casts doubt. They keep in mind that 2 guys who knew Johnson, Robert Lockwood and David Edwards, both cannot recognize Johnson in the picture.
They note the unidentified provenance of the image– it appeared on eBay noted by a seller who recommended it may show a young BB King– in contrast to the two tested images taken by Johnson’s stepsister. They keep in mind that the 2 men in the photo wear “elegant zoot matches” and hats whose fashions matched the mid-1940s– and that Johnson died in 1938.
They line up and superimpose the other images of Johnson and deliver the observations of forensic anthropologists from North Carolina and Italy, paying special focus on ears. “The genuine Johnson has an in a different way shaped ear, total with a visible earlobe that seems missing in the [alleged] Johnson. As stated somewhere else in this report, ear shape is a tremendously trustworthy approach of forensic recognition, maybe as precise, and even more so, than finger prints.”
Backward buttons, tie stripes and a left-hand wristwatch evince a reversed photo, which the researchers say brings into question the authentication by the estate. They make note of a prop guitar in the photo, and suggest that the “square bony eminence” that the estate’s professional saw may be “the result of computer system image improvement”.
They note that the estate’s forensic artist made no conclusive statement, stating “it appears the individual is Robert Johnson”, and that she is not a forensic anthropologist by training. (The artist’s supervisor did not return a demand for information.).
Reacting to the dissenters, John Kitchens, attorney for the Johnson estate, composed a reply to a few of their criticisms. “I will not pretend that the Estate did not want this image authenticated,” Kitchens admitted, but stood by Lois Gibson, the artist employed, saying she “was not worked with to study the significance of left-sided vs. right-sided buttons or stripes on a tie or a ring on a finger or strings on a guitar. She was worked with to examine unique facial functions.”.
” We thank those of you who acknowledge this as Robert Johnson and hope you understand the months-long procedure associated with confirming the picture,” he concluded. Kitchen areas did not immediately react to a demand for remark.
Asked about the image criticisms, Michael Johnson, grandson of Robert and a member of the Robert Johnson Foundation, said “Oh, I have a remark,” but declined to elaborate on the record and referred a main statement to Kitchens.
Johnson casts a titanic shadow of the history of blues and rock in the United States, since of both his musical innovations and the folklore that sprang up around him. Growing up in rural Mississippi, Johnson pestered older blues musicians to teach him for years and eventually triggered to roam the south as an itinerant musician.
At some time, his fast mastery of the guitar transformed into a story about how Johnson had struck a handle the devil, which then mutated into various folk stories and legends: the Faust of American music. Between 1936 and 1938 he recorded a total of 29 songs, consisting of Cross Road Blues and Love in Vain, which foreshadowed the prominence of riffs and formal structure in later blues– and the ultimate adoption of blues by the white and black artists who developed American rock.
Johnson died aged 27 in Mississippi, and like his life his death– some say murder, others say syphilis or pneumonia– stays largely a mystery.
” When Robert Johnson died he stopped being a person and he started being a myth,” Conforth said, keeping in mind that after his work was rediscovered the forces of marketing grabbed the story. By the 1990s he was a platinum-selling artist, his image on T-shirts and his impact clear in the music of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and the Muscle Shoals studio.
Steve Berkowitz, a producer at Sony, told NPR in 2011 that the mythology was the “heart and soul of the marketing strategy”. “We always knew the music was terrific. But a man offers his soul to the devil at midnight down at the crossroads, returns and plays the hell from the guitar, and after that he dies. I suggest, it’s an incredible story.”.
” There are needs to be really thrilled about Johnson, but the reasons individuals tend to be thrilled about him have the tendency to be entirely incorrect,” Wald said. “It ends up being so individuals don’t need to pay attention to the stuff anymore, due to the fact that to them he signifies the roots of rock and roll– even though he was the last of the early era, not folk blues however already pops blues.
” Honestly I believe listening to him in the context of his own world and times is far more interesting than paying attention to him as the roots of the Rolling Stones or Jack White, however we all have to make that journey in our own method.”.
In the 1990s and 2000s Johnson’s family was up to fighting over the earnings from the 2 undeniable images, and in 2014 the Mississippi supreme court ruled that Claud Johnson, the musician’s child, kept rights to the two undisputed pictures of his daddy.
” If Robert Johnson had actually not existed somebody would’ve had to invent him, Conforth said. “Johnson the icon is simply so prototypically American. It actually speaks as much about American mythology as it does about the blues.”