Friday, March 21, 2014

***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night -Phil Philips' Sea Of Love
I have recently spent some little effort making comparisons between old time country blues singers. My winners have been Skip James and Son House. Apparently, if the story behind the Robert Johnson story presented here is right I am in a minority compared to the like of guitarists Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. So be it. After viewing this very informative bio, complete with the inevitable “talking heads" that populate these kinds of film efforts I still have that same opinion, except I would hold Johnson’s version of his “Sweet Home, Chicago” in higher regard after listening to it here. Previously many other covers of the song, including the trendy Blues Brothers version seemed better, a lot better.

The producers of this film have spend some time and thought on presentation. The choice of Danny Glover as expressive and thoughtful narrator was a welcome sign. Having Johnson road companion and fellow blues artist, Johnny Shines, give insights into Johnson’s work habits, traveling ways, womanizing, whiskey drinking and off-center personality make this a very strong film. Add in footage of Son House (an early Johnson influence) and various other Delta artists who met or were met by Johnson along the way and one gets the feeling that this is more a labor of love than anything else. For a man who lived fast, died young and left a relatively small body of work (some 20 odd songs)this is a very good take on Robert Johnson. I might add that if Johnson is your number one blues man this film gives you plenty of ammunition for your position.

Note: As is almost universally true with such film endeavors we only get snippets of the music. I would have liked to hear a full “Preacher’s Blues”, “Sweet Home, Chicago”, "Terraplane Blues” and “Hell Hounds On My Heels” but for that one will have to look elsewhere.

"Terraplane Blues" lyrics-Robert Johnson

And I feel so lonesome
you hear me when I moan
When I feel so lonesome
you hear me when I moan
Who been drivin my terraplane
for you since I've been gone
I'd said I flashed your lights mama
your horn won't even blow
I even flash my lights mama
this horn won't even blow
Got a short in this connection
hoo-well, babe, its way down below
I'm on hist your hood momma
I'm bound to check your oil
I'm on hist your hood momma mmmm
I'm bound to check your oil
I got a woman that I'm lovin
way down in Arkansas
Now you know the coils ain't even buzzin
little generator won't get the spark
Motors in a bad condition
you gotta have these batteries charged
But I'm cryin please
please don't do me wrong
Who been drivin my terraplane now for
you-hoo since I've been gone
Mr Highwayman
please don't block the road
Puh hee hee
ple-hease don't block the road
Casue she's restrin (?) a cold one hindred
and I'm booked I gotta go
Mmm mmm
mmmm mmmm mmm
You ooo oooo oooo
you hear me weep and moan
Who been drivin my terraplane
for you since I've been gone
I'm on get deep down in this connection
keep on tanglin with your wires
I'm on get deep down in this connection
hoo-well keep on tanglin with your wires
And when I mash down your little starter
then your spark plug will give me a fire.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
*The "Mac Daddy" Of Modern Blues- Robert Johnson


Martin Scorsese Presents; The Blues, Robert Johnson, Sony Records, 2003

I have heard the name Robert Johnson associated with country blues as long as I have been listening to the blues, and believe me that is a long time. I would venture to guess that if an average blues (or just music) fan was asked to name one blues artist the name that would, more probably than not, come up is Robert Johnson. Partially that is because his influence on later artists has been nothing short of fantastic, particularly the English blues aficionados like Eric Clapton. That said, Brother Johnson’s work leaves me cold. While I can appreciate some of his lyrics his guitar playing is ordinary, his singing can be tedious and his sense of momentum over the course of an album is very mundane.

His contemporaries, or near contemporaries like Charlie Patton, Howlin’ Wolf or Son House, to name just a few, are better in one or all these categories . Needless to say there is an element of subjectivity here but when the occasion arises I am more than willing to gush over a talent that makes me jump. Brother Johnson just does not do so. The source of his fame as an innovator is centered on his role of breaking the pattern of country blues established by Son House and other and giving the first hints of a city blues idiom, particularly as a forerunner to the Chicago blues. Okay, we will give the ‘devil’ his do on that score. Still, on any given day wouldn’t you give your right arm to see and hear Howlin’ Wolf croon "The Red Rooster" (and practically eat the microphone) or any of his other midnight creeps rather than Johnson on "Sweet Home, Chicago"? Here I will rest my case.

So what do you have to hear here? Obviously, “Sweet Home, Chicago". Beyond that “32-20 Blues” is a must listen as is his version of “Dust My Broom” (but isn’t Elmore James’ slide guitar souped-up version much better?) and “Hellhound On My Trail”. Keb’ Mo' (who I will review separately at a later time) does a nice cover here of “Last Fair Deal Gone Down”.

Lyrics to "Dust My Broom"

I'm gonna get up in the mornin',
I believe I'll dust my broom (2x)
Girlfriend, the black man you been lovin',
girlfriend, can get my room

I'm gon' write a letter,
Telephone every town I know (2x)
If I can't find her in West Helena,
She must be in East Monroe, I know

I don't want no woman,
Wants every downtown man she meet (2x)
She's a no good doney,
They shouldn't 'low her on the street

I believe, I believe I'll go back home (2x)
You can mistreat me here, babe,
But you can't when I go home

And I'm gettin' up in the morning,
I believe I'll dust my broom (2x)
Girlfriend, the black man that you been lovin',
Girlfriend, can get my room

I'm gon' call up Chiney,
She is my good girl over there (2x)
If I can't find her on Philippine's Island,
She must be in Ethiopia somewhere

Robert Johnson



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