Robert Johnson's Real Voice, Love in Vain

Posted in Robert Johnson on August 27th, 2012 by Willie

I’m convinced.  Slow down his voice, and you hear the real man.  Someone on the internet put it much more eloquently than I, that it’s like meeting Robert Johnson again for the first time, and what better thing could there be?  I suppose I should explain myself, so I’ll do it as succinctly as possible.  Robert Johnson, godfather of confessional guitar oriented blues, which is essentially the underpinning of all modern pop music, has been misrepresented.  His precious 30 or so recordings, which represents the majority of the scant evidence of his very existence, was recorded at a speed 15% faster than the reality of the performance.  The main consequence  being that his guitar playing was cartoonishly sped up, and his voice given the Alvin and the Chipmunk treatment.  Why was it done?  Probably to fit more songs on the record.  I doubt it was done for any artistic reason on part of Robert or the producer.  It wouldn’t so much of a crime if there existed more than what we have, but we don’t have anymore, so all we are left with are crazy people like me who hear slowed down versions and state baseless certitudes with reckless abandon on the ole fashioned internet.  Alright, enough of my craziness.  Time to listen for yourself.  I present below “Love in Vain,” his most beautiful and haunting broken love ballad, in both its original form (tampered form,) and in the ‘fixed’ form.  You be the judge.

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Skip James, Devil Got My Woman

Posted in Skip James, Youtube Favs on September 13th, 2011 by Willie

Skip James was one of the original Delta Bluesmen.  Like many of these original pioneers, he disappeared into obscurity after his rather obscure debut in the 1930s.  The blues rock renaissance in the 1960s rescued him from oblivion, and allowed him one last chance to shine.  One of the songs that emerged from his exile was “Devil Got My Woman,” a haunted country blues ballad about love and Satan.  It’s a perfect Robert Johnson like tune with a ghostly vibe that just might send shivers down your spine.  Here are the lyrics, steeped in blue.

I’d rather be the devil, to be that woman man
I’d rather be the devil, to be that woman man
Aw, nothin’ but the devil, changed my baby’s mind
Was nothin’ but the devil, changed my baby’s mind
I laid down last night, laid down last night
I laid down last night, tried to take my rest
My mind got to ramblin’, like a wild geese
From the west, from the west
The woman I love, woman that I loved
Woman I loved, took her from my best friend
But he got lucky, stoled her back again
But he got lucky, stoled her back again

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Bob Dylan & Eric Clapton, Crossroads

Posted in Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Youtube Favs on April 16th, 2011 by Willie

Part 36 of my youtube countdown rolls on with a performance of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads Blues’ by Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton.  I’ve been in a real bluesy mood this week, and a clip like this really hits the sweet spot.  The song, a gem in Robert Johnson’s absurdly mythological repertoire, is heavily electrified by Bob and Eric.  I’m guessing its the old Cream arrangement, though I could be wrong about that.  While Bob and Eric are having a great time playing this tune, it shouldn’t escape you that these are two of the most devoted Robert Johnson worshipers that ever lived.  Before Bob recorded ‘The Freewheelin,” his first album of original songs, CBS executives gave Bob a copy of Johnson’s recordings before they were ever widely distributed or known by anybody.  Johnson’s music had a profound effect on him, just as deep as Woody Guthrie’s.  In Johnson, Bob heard a ghost lost to time, the most authentic blues folk expressionist he could imagine.  Eric had similar epiphanies, but his most striking reaction upon hearing Johnson for the first time was fear.  Eric was downright spooked by Johnson’s creaky high pitched voice, and his complex and perfect, not to mention revolutionary, guitar technique.  Over time, Eric would describe Johnson as “the most important blues musician who ever lived,” and subsequently did his best to spread his myth and music to the masses.  While on the surface, Eric and Bob just seem to be enjoying themselves, with Eric giving a beautiful melodic blues solo, and rarity of rarities, Bob playing an electric solo too, (granted he’s just alternating two notes, but still!).  But there is something much deeper going on.  I don’t know, but I get over-awed thinking about these two gods of popular music playing the song of a god who somehow sits over them on a higher level.  It’s really something to sit back and think of the power surging from these guy’s lips and fingertips; where it all comes from, how it changed the world, and what it all means.  It’s a moment a lot of people might ignore, but hopefully realize one day, its utter preciousness in the pantheon of things that matter.  Enjoy.

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