Saturday Boxing - Robert Johnson

”I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice.” - Eric Clapton

It’s fitting that I feature this Robert Johnson collection the week after I featured Clapton’s. There is perhaps no other musician who has drawn so much influence from one man than Clapton has from Robert Johnson. He has said he received Johnson almost as a religious experience: “Up until the time I was 25, if you didn’t know who Robert Johnson was, I wouldn’t talk to you.”

If you’re not aware of Robert Johnson, I want you to turn off your computer, go to the library and learn. If you know his music, you know how haunting and beautiful it is in its minimalism. There are no adornments, definitely no studio tricks; just one man and his guitar.

Robert Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Miss., sometime around May 8, 1911, the 11th child of Julia Major Dodds, who had previously borne 10 children to her husband Charles Dodds. Johnson did not take the Dodds name, but rather that of Noah Johnson, his biological father.

Maybe one of the best known tidbits about Johnson is the story that he traded his soul to the Devil in exchange for talent. This tale apparently originated from an interview Johnson’s mentor, blues great Son House, gave in 1965. The infamous story goes like this: Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Miss., in order to get “magical” guitar-playing skill. He was a rudimentary player when he disappeared for about six months, but blew everybody away upon his return. House speculated on the devil thing -- possibly in jest -- in the interview.

Regardless of the truth behind that story (and there are plenty who believe), Robert Johnson left behind a very small set of recordings that not only have influenced Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, but current musicians as diverse in styles as Cat Power and The White Stripes. Johnson recorded 29 songs between approximately November 1936 and June 1937 in five sessions: three in San Antonio, Texas, and two in Dallas. Alternate takes included, there are 41 known recordings of one of the greatest -- and most mysterious -- bluesmen who ever lived.

In 1990, CBS Records released a two-disk collection, Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings, which compiled all 29 songs and the known alternate takes. What I’ve been doing with my box set posts is trying to hit the rarities, things you maybe haven’t heard. Today what I’m going to do is post things you probably have heard, albeit by modern artists. There are no liner notes accompanying the music, so I’ll let it speak for itself.

Sweet Home Chicago.mp3
Come On In My Kitchen.mp3
Terraplane Blues.mp3
Cross Road Blues.mp3
Hellhound On My Trail.mp3
Stop Breakin’ Down Blues.mp3
Traveling Riverside Blues.mp3
Love In Vain Blues.mp3

There are literally dozens of Web sites and books about Robert Johnson’s life, legend, and impact. Here are a couple of interesting ones:

Delta Haze The Official Robert Johnson site.
A Revolutionary Critique of Robert Johnson, wherein it’s suggested the modern recordings are too fast.
Trail of the Hellhound
“Searching for Robert Johnson” by Peter Guralnick. Buy it at Amazon.



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