Robert Johnson - Classic or Dud?

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...considered, for once, NOT from the point of view of an American folk and blues obsessive with 500,000 obscure LPs (the apparent target of all those books and liner notes) but for the average intelligent listener today with no particular grounding in the blues, is he actually any good?

Justyn Dillingham, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

This is a terrific question. I have read about him of course. I have especially read about him as written by Greil Marcus which makes each song sound like the Crack of Doom. This approach when applied to Dock Boggs worked, and enhanced the music a lot. Similarly I immediately could understand what made Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman" and [embarassingly forgotten name of Blind Somebody]'s "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" so legendary, this time without the aid of Groovy Greil.

But RJ - no. Not yet, anyway. Leaves me cold. My guess is that because his stuff pretty much became the founding template for how the blues element of classic rock worked, and because I don't much like the blues element of classic rock, RJ has been retro-infected with that dislike too. In the same way that my dislike of "Hey Jude" and my dislike of "Hey Jude" Beatleballad 90s rip-offs feed back into one another so that both increase.

Tom, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I'd have to assume you like blues, at least...

Robert Johnson is great & I think he's pretty accessible to the casual blues listener. The Complete Recordings box set contains all of his recordings, and it's cheap - but I find it a bit unlistenable because the alternate versions of the songs are paired next to each other - so you have to listen to each song twice. (Just like the VU box set Disc 1, where All Tomorrow's Parties and Venus in Furs go on forever.)

Dave225, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Uh... yes.

JM, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I refuse to listen to Robert Johnson. Well, no, I have but I can't seem to enjoy his music. I blame it on Greil Marcus. (Mr Marcus, if you're reading this: your highbrow writing style is beyond me. Squeeze the intellectual talk till it runs off the Rolling Stone.) So dud.

Helen Fordsdale, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

There is power in one mans howl and a guitar. it makes me shiver and scared.

anthony, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

That's a rather odd question, not in a bad way, but,I mean, RJ is the apotheosis of standard blues, isn't he? It's not as if he's obscure or some difficult to swallow eccentric uncle ala Peter Brotzmann to jazz.

Asking whether RJ is relevant or interesting as blues to the average listener seems a bit like asking whether or not Beethoven is relevant as a classical artist to the average listener. I guess I can't fathom anyone who claim to have no bias against either genre would say that they dislike either artist.

Mickey Black Eyes, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

i listen to classical music, and don't really like Beethoven, and i like Blues, and don't really like Robert Johnson...

m jemmeson, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Right, but you wouldn't necessarily say to an average intelligent listener, don't listen to Beethoven, he sucks, would you? I suppose I could be wrong, but I've never met anyone who thought those things about Beethoven and actually played classical music. Or was a big fan. The same goes for RJ. I mean, I don't know anyone who really likes the blues who doesn't count Robert Johnson within the tryptic of blues gods, simply as a matter of course.

I guess my point was, are we approaching this as, if you're a beginner, don't listen because you won't get the nuances that made him great, all you'll hear is stereotype or uninspired meandering--or are we saying, intrinsically, we believe RJ is no good, and if you're a beginner, don't bother listening to this because, unless you're a blues afficionado who cares about pointless details, RJ sucks and really is just built out of hype, a la Pet Sounds to many popsters.

As a side note, per classical, I don't mean contemporary art music, so I'm not including composers, great as they may be, who are living or lived into the 20th/21st century.

Mickey Black Eyes, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

But this "average intelligent listener" has "no particular grounding in the Blues", remember? So the question is still valid. If you're like m-jem and like the Blues but not RJ then the qn is "Is Robert Johnson good?". If you're like Mickey and feel that loving RJ is a precondition of loving the blues then the questiion is "Are The Blues good?".

Or rather "Is the mainstream of Blues music-making and tradition good?" I suppose.

Tom, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

to answer the question more specifically, i don't think i'd recommend Robert Johnson as an introduction to Blues - his tracks are all poorly recorded, solo works - it would be a bit like recommending a solo sax or piano album to someone wanting an introduction to Jazz. something like 50s Chicago Electric Blues would probably be better - good sound quality, played with bands (and hence interesting arrangements), and semi-familiar songs (many covered by British groups in 60s).

i won't deny there's a power in Robert Johnson's performances, but it could easily put someone off from the Blues

m jemmeson, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

While I wouldn't paraphrase my response quite in that way, :), that is an interesting perspective on the question. I hardly think a love of RJ is a prerequisite for a love of the blues, but I think an appreciation is a prerequisite.

I still maintain that it's an odd question, though, considering how canonical RJ's work is. I mean, if you didn't pick him, among a few others, who would you pick for a beginner? It's like not picking the Beatles if you wanted to initiate a novice into pop music. Sure, you may not like it, but it's undisputable that they are essential as a primer.

Because we're dealing with an "average intelligent listener" with no bias, one way or another, we can safely assume that he or she will either like or dislike RJ, but not necessarily that the opinion is automatically one way or another, since there are people on both sides of the fence. The question, then, is "Is RJ's work of enough substance, is there enough meat there, so that one can extract something to decide a valence on?"

And I think that question is moot considering how valued RJ is. While I find it odd that many people wouldn't like RJ and would like the blues, I don't think it's impossible. I would find it much more difficult to swallow if someone suggested that he was disposable/irrelevant, however. And I think that's what I would wnat to know as a tyro in search of blues clues.

Mickey Black Eyes, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

mickey calls RJ the "apotheosis" of the blues, which is an interesting word: "deification"/"glorification" says Chambers. I think this is exactly what he is — a fairly untypical almost "artistic" bluesman in intensity of focus (somewhat helped, admittedly, by ABC's refusal to record his more "mainstream" stuff = bing crosy covers etc, as being "not black enuff" or however they chose to put it), who was taken up BIG TIME by the BritBluesBoom as precursor of THEIR idea of purist blues (and in turn by Marcus as his vehicle for a blues of magnitude w.Faulkner/Melville etc). Was he an influence on the electric chicago blues? Not much. I think he scared his own: the "died barking like a dog" stories were cooler and more exciting to white thames-valley- delta kids far away and years later who didn't really get it (eg j.page) than they wd have been to young black men in the 40s say, where they wd have a warn-off,to say the least. You play guitar to get rich or get laid, not to die barking like a dog. He *is* part of the story of the blues-become-art, but most blues isn't art — so if you start *and* end with him, then you get a pretty wonky portrait.

mark s, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Actually, I was thinkin' of the second definition--that of "quintessence." But I suppose under the circumstances Johnson qualifies as both. And I agree that Johnson doesn't paint the whole picture, but the electric blues isn't the only blues either. And those men caught in between and who eventually pioneered the blues almost always pay homage to Johnson in interviews and sometimes in playing. You're also right that Albert Collins or Gatemouth Brown are kinda different than RJ; I still think that the point is that Johnson is essential regardless.

Mickey Black Eyes, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

'Dark Was The Night...' recorded by Blind Willie Johnson. Purists will tell you that BWJ is gospel rather than blues because he never recorded any secular material.

Robert Johnson almost certainly not the best way into 'the blues', or even acoustic country blues - the tortured satanic whatsits that Marcus blahs on abt in 'Mystery Train' are not always easy to hear NOW, 70 odd years after the fact. Also, Johnson cld, even on record, be surprisingly jaunty and straight-forward - 'Red Hot', for example, is little more than a (great) food-related novelty song. I'd say Johnson's songs are best listened to sparingly, not more than one track at a time, or even on a mixtape where his strange, ghostly voice/playing may be thrown into greater relief. A basic knowledge of Johnson's (near) contemporaries - Son House, Skip James, Charley Patton etc. - wld also help the 'novice' to put RJ's work into some kind of context.

Andrew L, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I like RJ and BWJ in the same way I like Skip Spence or Syd Barrett, or Merle Haggard to get away from the nutjobs. As in, haunted acoustivoice thang. I hate the blues though, ever since the Waters were Muddied with that electric shit.

dave q, Wednesday, 17 October 2001 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

one year passes...
Revive!

Nordicskillz (Nordicskillz), Friday, 15 August 2003 18:00 (sixteen years ago) link

he had a lovely falsetto. his metaphors are unusually rich in that they go from complex to so blunt they are hardly metaphor at all.

why wd people expect to like r.j. if they don't like blues? it's not like he's apart from the genre.

amateurist (amateurist), Friday, 15 August 2003 18:06 (sixteen years ago) link

i guess all the greil marcus stuff does the music a disservice (if this thread is to be believed) simply by making the music shoulder an additional burden--if you try to hear only what marcus hears, and divorce his music from the main body of contemporaneous and earlier blues (the kind of ahistorical criticism that marcus's "mystery train" set a standard for), i think you'd be missing a lot. that said, no doubt marcus's book probably helped a lot of people find johnson, and he does have some interesting things to say about him.*

*actually i don't remember any but it's been a while so i'll give g.m. the benefit of the doubt.

amateurist (amateurist), Friday, 15 August 2003 18:12 (sixteen years ago) link

I respect him most because some of his songs ("terrraplane blues") were a real departure point for the whole "hill country" droning style that developed upstate shortly after his death but went largely unnoticed for 30 years as "the blues"™ migrated upriver and became diluted/more structured. he was an innovator and had a very unique playing style.

gygax! (gygax!), Friday, 15 August 2003 18:15 (sixteen years ago) link

andrew L OTM. I did borrow a comp off my record library, taped it but could only listen to it once and haven't gone back to it since. This despite me enjoying much of his guitar playing (as i recall) . do need to track down son house etc etc.

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Friday, 15 August 2003 19:07 (sixteen years ago) link

charley patton is an ever better bet than son house. and there are many collections available.

amateurist (amateurist), Friday, 15 August 2003 19:09 (sixteen years ago) link

yeah i said etc etc. the thing with patton is that I want to get the 7 CD box set...but I know there's a good 3 CD comp.

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Friday, 15 August 2003 19:14 (sixteen years ago) link

actually you can get the complete recordings on a 5 cd box set from JSP for about $25. forget the bloated revenant thing.

amateurist (amateurist), Friday, 15 August 2003 19:20 (sixteen years ago) link

The olde timey acoustic blues rec I've enjoyed most in recent years has been 'Avalon Blues', a wonderful single disc set of Mississippi John Hurt's 1920s records - esp. fascinating (to me) to hear the uncanny similarity between MJH's debauched slur and Dylan's recent croak. And as w/ the wonderful Bukka White, there's a Fahey connection ('Requiem for Mississippi John Hurt', etc), which helps to make sense of the gtr playing. A much better starting point than Johnson, anyway.

Andrew L (Andrew L), Friday, 15 August 2003 19:39 (sixteen years ago) link

I have the Charlie Patton 3cd set, which I listen to habitually. The 7cd set is a tempting fetish item indeed. I don't really know enough about Robert Johnson, but Gayle Dean Wardlow's writing about Charlie Patton, Son House, and Skip James (and 78 hunting in general)is a very fun read.

Nordicskillz (Nordicskillz), Friday, 15 August 2003 19:57 (sixteen years ago) link

http://images.amazon.com/images/P/B00006BIO0.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg

$25!!!

amateurist (amateurist), Friday, 15 August 2003 19:58 (sixteen years ago) link

and out of 5 CDs you'll only listen to "mississippi boll weevil blues" more than 3 times!!!

gygax! (gygax!), Friday, 15 August 2003 20:06 (sixteen years ago) link

Ugh. Horrible colors.

Nordicskillz (Nordicskillz), Friday, 15 August 2003 20:08 (sixteen years ago) link

actually one diff. b/t the jsp set and the revenant set is the former does not included unissued takes (which i can live w/o). the revenant set also includes recordings by the other folks who shared patton's sessions (the best of which can be found on various compilations).

yeah, the jsp boxes are k-ugly. but cheap!!

amateurist (amateurist), Friday, 15 August 2003 20:09 (sixteen years ago) link

why wd people expect to like r.j. if they don't like blues?

because everyone talks about him as if you WOULD like him even if you didn't like blues!!

i really like robert johnson now, though i didn't when i started this thread.

Justyn Dillingham (Justyn Dillingham), Saturday, 16 August 2003 12:05 (sixteen years ago) link

because everyone talks about him as if you WOULD like him even if you didn't like blues!!

that's silly talk.

amateurist (amateurist), Saturday, 16 August 2003 17:28 (sixteen years ago) link

I like him, though he's not someone I ever listen to for pleasure, as indeed is the case w/most blues. I like Mississippi John Hurt more--and he's who I'd recommend to Tom E and other popists on the board as well if you want to know anything about old blues, because he's lighter, more limber, more *fun* as well as having all the intensity et al people tend to prize about the blues.

M Matos (M Matos), Saturday, 16 August 2003 18:04 (sixteen years ago) link

make that "gravitas" not "intensity"

M Matos (M Matos), Saturday, 16 August 2003 18:04 (sixteen years ago) link

Another vote for Mississippi John Hurt, who is a very distinctive singer - his voice is surprisingly soft for a blues singer. Also Blind Lemon Jefferson - who is a phenomenal guitarist. I like Robert Johnson. I listened to that 2CD box when it came out about 10 years ago, and liked it, and I keep meaning to pick up some of his recordings, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

o. nate (onate), Saturday, 16 August 2003 18:15 (sixteen years ago) link


I like him, though he's not someone I ever listen to for pleasure,

do you mean you'd never put him on your home stereo but you'd enjoy him on someone else's?

(otherwise...trying to figure out why someone would listen to music except for pleasure...)

amateurist (amateurist), Saturday, 16 August 2003 18:43 (sixteen years ago) link

for research? i do this quite a lot

(since i like pretty much everything ever it isn't usually a problem)

mark s (mark s), Saturday, 16 August 2003 18:48 (sixteen years ago) link

i like him a lot - and i think if you like this genre, then you HAVE to rate him, even if you don't necessarily listen to him a lot for plaeasure. also, there's the whole mythology that surrounds him, thus giving his music an added resonance, raising questions etc... funny this thread should get revived as he just came up on random play on my computer this morning (was writing abt dancehall so naturally couldn't even entertain listening to the stuff) and have been listening to blues most of the rest of the day and i very, very rarely do that...

Dave Stelfox (Dave Stelfox), Saturday, 16 August 2003 18:56 (sixteen years ago) link

"Pleasure" = "casual." Amateurist, get over your false dichotomizing.

M Matos (M Matos), Saturday, 16 August 2003 21:38 (sixteen years ago) link

"Crossroads" by Cream == Great guitar work, but insufficient fear in the vocals.
"Crossroad Blues" by Robert Johnson == Great guitar work, and unmitigated terror in the vocals. Nobody will come within light years of that fear until 1970, when Ozzy wails "Oh, God! Please...help...me...!"

Lord Custos Epsilon (Lord Custos Epsilon), Saturday, 16 August 2003 22:49 (sixteen years ago) link

Right, Matos, that's what I figured you meant...that's why I asked "do you mean you'd never put him on your home stereo but you'd enjoy him on someone else's?"

sigh.

amateurist (amateurist), Sunday, 17 August 2003 01:40 (sixteen years ago) link

I basically agree with Tom's second paragraph and don't have anything to add. Except that every time I listen to Robert Johnson I get a surprise that I don't think he's great. Because I'm really addicted to lots of the blues stuff that you're Supposed to love.

m.s (m .s), Sunday, 17 August 2003 02:08 (sixteen years ago) link

misread yr intent, Ams. sorry

M Matos (M Matos), Sunday, 17 August 2003 04:14 (sixteen years ago) link

six years pass...

FYI: A third photo of Robert Johnson has been discovered.

scroll to bottom of page: http://www.robertjohnsonbluesfoundation.org/

ImprovSpirit, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 19:16 (ten years ago) link

yeah, there was a story in vanity fair (I think) about that pic a little while ago? they've definitely proved it's him?

tylerw, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 19:37 (ten years ago) link

think this is another grail artifact for boomers/cream fans more than anything.
that site is very um...blueshammer. anybody heard steven 't bear' johnson?

kumar the bavarian, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 19:50 (ten years ago) link

I have not heard him, but just his appearance is enough to keep him on my must-miss list until further notice.

ImprovSpirit, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 21:22 (ten years ago) link

two months pass...

I would stay away from the Complete Recordings. Better fidelity can be found on The King of The Delta Blues Singers remastered from 1998 and Vol 2 from 2004. Also you gain the newly found take on Traveling Riverside Blues. It was found in the Smithsonian. Going this route also gets rid of the problem of having back to back takes to listen to, which I find quite annoying.

Jim, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:16 (nine years ago) link

listening to robert johnson recordings sped up a bit was kind of heartbreaking

a dystopian society awaits if we continue on this path. (contenderizer), Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:41 (nine years ago) link

why?

tylerw, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:42 (nine years ago) link

too convincing, stole the magic

a dystopian society awaits if we continue on this path. (contenderizer), Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:44 (nine years ago) link

do you mean those slowed down versions, or ...?

tylerw, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:52 (nine years ago) link

yes er uh exactly, that's what i thought i said, or was trying to think, or some such. not functioning too well today, for various reasons. but yeah.

a dystopian society awaits if we continue on this path. (contenderizer), Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:55 (nine years ago) link

that

a dystopian society awaits if we continue on this path. (contenderizer), Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:55 (nine years ago) link

ha, ok, i was confused ... dunno, i listened to those and didn't really buy it.

tylerw, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:57 (nine years ago) link

but i can see how they might kinda make the released versions sound weird.

tylerw, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:58 (nine years ago) link

i guess i was/am convinced. the recordings sound so natural and "correct" at reduced speed. and a lot more ordinary, too. on first hearing them, my response was immediate: "this is how robert johnson actually sounded." tone & timbre, singing, playing & rhythms all suddenly made so much more sense to me. but rather than encourage me to re-explore his work, it just bummed me out.

a dystopian society awaits if we continue on this path. (contenderizer), Tuesday, 24 August 2010 21:20 (nine years ago) link

not sure why. loss of otherworldliness, a sense that i should have been able to figure it out on my own, something like that.

a dystopian society awaits if we continue on this path. (contenderizer), Tuesday, 24 August 2010 21:22 (nine years ago) link

i think maybe there's another thread where it's discussed, but I just don't get it: how could people who knew and had heard robert johnson play not have said that the records were ridiculously sped up. Someone like Johnny Shines, who traveled/played with Johnson was asked about him a bazillion times in the 60s. Wouldn't he have spoken up about the vast difference between what the records sounded like and what Johnson supposedly *really* sounded like?

tylerw, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 21:32 (nine years ago) link

sure, that's a reasonable speculative argument, but it's hard for me to effectively marshal the resources of my intellect against the evidence of my senses (especially since my intellect is of the sort to confuse sped up with slowed down). my "belief" in the authenticity/accuracy of those slowed down recordings was immediate and has proven hard to unmake.

a dystopian society awaits if we continue on this path. (contenderizer), Tuesday, 24 August 2010 21:50 (nine years ago) link

yeah, i agree -- the slowed down recordings do *sound* plausible when you hear them, i guess it's just the overall concept I find hard to believe.

tylerw, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 21:51 (nine years ago) link

eight months pass...

http://www.amazon.com/Centennial-Collection-2-CD/dp/B004OFWLO0 appears to sound a lot better than the Complete Recordings - can anyone confirm this is the final bees knees in Robert Johnson collectabilia?

StanM, Saturday, 7 May 2011 06:57 (nine years ago) link

Compared to this latest remaster, the 1990 edition sounds like it was recorded with two tin cans tied together with some really frayed string. I'm no audiophile, but the sound on this -- for late-30s recordings, especially -- is absolutely jaw-dropping.

I have to agree - this sounds great. And also, to answer the very original question, I think Johnson's great. It blew my mind when I first heard him. And in a general sense, blues is the single least-rewarding pre-postpunk musical genres to my ears. Select a random dozen albums from jazz or punk or reggae or soul or classical or "old-timey" non-blues stuff or avant-garde or odd ethnic folk musics and there's about a 100% chance that I'll enjoy those much more than a random selection of blues albums.

crustaceanrebel, Saturday, 7 May 2011 08:10 (nine years ago) link

i did eventually come around to RJ -- rebought 'king of the delta blues singers' last year and found it fairly mesmerizing. it's an incredibly well-sequenced album. hearing 'stones in my passway' and 'hellhound' back to back is crushing.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Saturday, 7 May 2011 09:15 (nine years ago) link

aw man, srsly? was fully prepared to ignore this reissue. but if the sound is really all that improved ...

tylerw, Saturday, 7 May 2011 13:37 (nine years ago) link

vinyl fake 78 thing is 300 bucks. 1000 copies. someone sent me a link to some sony store that is selling them? 10-inch records made to look like the 78s. that's what i meant by fake. they should have just made 78s.

scott seward, Saturday, 7 May 2011 13:46 (nine years ago) link

heard the vinyl comes with a piece of johnson's soul, provided by lucifer himself. so, you know, worth the $$.

tylerw, Saturday, 7 May 2011 13:48 (nine years ago) link

xpost: 443 dollars: http://www.myplaydirect.com/robert-johnson/details/5747793

StanM, Saturday, 7 May 2011 14:00 (nine years ago) link

oh, wait, that's because my location is Belgium. Changed to USA, it's only $349.

StanM, Saturday, 7 May 2011 14:01 (nine years ago) link

yeah and the company store has a "deal" where its "only" 300 bucks.

scott seward, Saturday, 7 May 2011 14:04 (nine years ago) link

At that price, they'd better be autographed by the man himself.

StanM, Saturday, 7 May 2011 14:28 (nine years ago) link

ok i needed a couple hours, but i've gotten over the fact that i'll probably end up buying this thing. it better sound as good as Tarfumes says! jk. but yeah, i mean, johnson is amazing. anyone who gets really into the blues is, at some point going to get all challopsy and say no man, son house/tommy johnson/charly patton is where it's at man, but once you get over that, Robert Johnson is fucking incredible all over again.

tylerw, Saturday, 7 May 2011 20:08 (nine years ago) link

is the whole "these recordings have been playing at the wrong speed" thing addressed in the liner notes of this new thing? would love it if that was laid to rest.

tylerw, Saturday, 7 May 2011 20:11 (nine years ago) link

I just a/b'd the 1990 and the 2011 again, and the one thing that immediately struck me is how the new remaster captures the sound of the room. You can really hear the space around Johnson's voice, which just adds to the harrowingness of it all. Unlike many veil-lifting remaster jobs, this one actually adds a level of mystery.

(btw, I just have the 2CD dealie; that vinyl box is borderline offensive)

yeah 2cd version is nicely priced -- $15 at amazon.

tylerw, Saturday, 7 May 2011 20:14 (nine years ago) link

The "wrong speed" theory was sort of debunked here, but it's not addressed either way in the liner notes. xp

yeah that wald article seems pretty definitive, but i just read something else that claimed they've been playing at the wrong speed.

tylerw, Saturday, 7 May 2011 20:20 (nine years ago) link

Odd. I wonder how this is determined, seeing as how no one really knows how Johnson tuned, meaning, did he tune his guitar to a piano, a tuning fork, or neither?

Tried out some other contemporary (pre rock n roll) stuff and while I did like some tracks by people like Leadbelly or Blind Lemon Jefferson, there's only two artists I love everything by: RJ and Washington Phillips (who couldn't be more different from RJ. Not a great singer or musician (the longer songs are split up in two takes because he keeps speeding up and can't keep up after a while), and he sang these god fearing, honor your parents type lyrics, but he's so incredibly authentic that I'm moved every time.)

I've had the 1990 box since it was released, but getting the Centennial CDs as well now, thanks for the impressions!

StanM, Saturday, 7 May 2011 20:40 (nine years ago) link

re: the reason the speed question won't die -- it *is* interesting how much he sounds like son house when slowed down, so i think there's a little something there that convinces people (or at least makes them consider the possibility). but as wald lays out in that article, it really seems unlikely to me.

tylerw, Saturday, 7 May 2011 20:58 (nine years ago) link

Sold on that 2-CD thing

stars on 45 my destination (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 7 May 2011 21:03 (nine years ago) link

Wow

stars on 45 my destination (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 11 May 2011 15:17 (nine years ago) link

Sounds good to me.

Used to think it was cheesy that Dion DiMucci painted a big picture of Robert Johnson and then had a picture taken of himself sitting in front of it but now I've warmed up to this.

stars on 45 my destination (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 14 May 2011 23:09 (nine years ago) link

four years pass...

http://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/rip-mack-mccormick/

tylerw, Monday, 23 November 2015 22:43 (four years ago) link

five months pass...

WBGO celebrating his birthday right now, a few days early, with some "Elgin movements" on the Blues Break.

The WLS National Batdance (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 6 May 2016 18:05 (four years ago) link

four years pass...

third photo is a huge deal imo

budo jeru, Thursday, 21 May 2020 08:27 (two weeks ago) link

Aww, new photo

curmudgeon, Thursday, 21 May 2020 15:39 (two weeks ago) link

Wait, what, another one?

Spocks on the Run (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 21 May 2020 15:41 (two weeks ago) link

an exclusive first look, the photograph is presented here as it appears on the cover of Brother Robert: Growing Up With Robert Johnson, Mrs. Anderson’s forthcoming memoir written with Preston Lauterbach, to be published by Hachette on June 9. In an excerpt from the book, Mrs. Anderson, now 94, recounts the day the photograph was taken:

curmudgeon, Thursday, 21 May 2020 15:46 (two weeks ago) link

I'm just about to get around to listening to Robert Johnson and I'm afraid a challenging opinion may be brewing.

Wuhan!! Got You All in Check (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Thursday, 21 May 2020 15:56 (two weeks ago) link

Listening to the Centennial Collection mentioned upthread, which I somehow didn't know existed until yesterday, and holy fucking shit. Even on Spotify it sounds like a completely different set of recordings than the early 90s version, which I owned on cassette. I need to own this.

but also fuck you (unperson), Thursday, 21 May 2020 16:47 (two weeks ago) link

it's strange that, for a collection whose major distinction is that the songs have been remastered for unprecedented sonic clarity, they would design the cover with fake sepia and wear / tear (water damage?) + ye olde general store font, like it's a nitty gritty dirt band record or something

budo jeru, Thursday, 21 May 2020 17:17 (two weeks ago) link

lol

Spocks on the Run (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 21 May 2020 17:21 (two weeks ago) link

I'm just about to get around to listening to Robert Johnson and I'm afraid a challenging opinion may be brewing.

― Wuhan!! Got You All in Check (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Thursday, May 21, 2020 8:56 AM

please check back in with this. very curious.

Totally different head. Totally. (Austin), Thursday, 21 May 2020 17:31 (two weeks ago) link

Listening to the Centennial Collection mentioned upthread, which I somehow didn't know existed until yesterday, and holy fucking shit

Has the speed been reduced on that one? I know that the "too fast" theory has been questioned but idk the "Complete Recordings" box set I used to own in the 90s always sounded sped up to me.

the grateful dead can dance (anagram), Thursday, 21 May 2020 17:49 (two weeks ago) link

xp Just been listening to '26-'29 recordings of much less filtered blues / roots recordings and now I've got to the mid '30s, and the lomaxes have arrived and this astonishing variety of music has turned into capital-B Blues, as filtered through the prism of the taste of a couple of white guys with well-meaning but ultimately racist ideas about noble savages and the like. Lots of this music is good! but also it is much more uniform than before. I worry that RJ's music will be much the same as Kokomo Arnold or Big Bill Broonzy, just with a mythology added which I don't care about. But maybe I'll be wrong, who knows. Will know in a couple of months.

Wuhan!! Got You All in Check (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Thursday, 21 May 2020 18:00 (two weeks ago) link

Has the speed been reduced on that one?

It must have been; it seriously sounds like you're sitting across from a guy who's playing an acoustic guitar and singing.

but also fuck you (unperson), Thursday, 21 May 2020 18:03 (two weeks ago) link

Does sound a lot different but a spot check of "Kind-Hearted Woman Blues" gives the exact same runtime.

Spocks on the Run (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 21 May 2020 18:08 (two weeks ago) link

Unless of course Spotify just put the same recordings retrofitted into King of the Delta Blues Singers.

Spocks on the Run (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 21 May 2020 18:10 (two weeks ago) link

I worry that RJ's music will be much the same as Kokomo Arnold or Big Bill Broonzy, just with a mythology added which I don't care about. But maybe I'll be wrong, who knows. Will know in a couple of months.

This is pretty much my experience tbh. As a kid my intro to this world of early blues was skip james, and by the time i got around to robert johnson i couldnt figure out why he was elevated as the great figure of this era & genre (other than he happens to be the guy who many influential 70s rockers were first introduced to). I like the records plenty, but dont find a lot there that I cant also get from a good number of other players around then. Especially if you're already well steeped in the sounds and figures of that era, I'd say dont go in expecting any major revelations.

turn the jawhatthefuckever on (One Eye Open), Thursday, 21 May 2020 18:39 (two weeks ago) link


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