In this world of social media and media in general, that keeps a stream of consciousness for about a minute, I would like to take you all back to a different time and a different place that moved at a much slower pace, but had a lasting effect to this day thanks to some who keep it alive. In a way, it’s a lot like the shaman, or elders, of a tribe, who passed down the wisdom in the form of storytelling, lore that has a life all its own, and is so vital to the concept of the full human experience. Something that rocks your soul so much that it never dies - The Blues.
There are some of us who remember the blues long before the British invasion of the sixties waved it in our faces, but I have to say, the Rolling Stones bringing Howlin’ Wolf onto our television screens gets them some kudos from me. A good case can be made that the blues, and rhythm and blues were the start of rock and roll. I don’t even think that’ s disputed anymore, but I’m going to remind you once again about some of the pioneers of this music that gave rock and roll its life.
Let’s start with Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues. He was born May 8, 1911 in Hazlehurst Mississippi. At least that’s what everyone seems to think. Records from that time are pretty shaky. He played harmonica, recalled son House, who along with Willie Brown, played in the Robinson, Mississippi area, and noted that Johnson was pretty good on the harmonica, but terrible on the guitar. Robert left the area for Martinsville, a place close to his birthplace, where he played his guitar and constantly borrowed from son House’s style, but then he met Ike Zinnerman. Here we get into the lore aspect of the story. It was said that Ike learned to play by visiting graveyards at night to practice, and he taught Robert some of his style. So, when Robert returned to Robinsonville a master at the guitar, son House proclaimed that he played like 3 guitarists at once, and the only way that could happen is he sold his soul to the devil. The story goes that Robert was told to go down to the crossroads by Dokery Plantation at midnight where he met a large black man, the devil, who took Roberts guitar, tuned it and showed him a couple of tunes, so it was a deal with the devil, like the legend of Faust, that gave Robert his uncanny talent. After that her became very popular playing on street corners and in the juke joints of Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas. He was quite the ladies’ man.
There are two or three theories on how he died, but the ones most prevalent are that he was poisoned by the husband of a lady Robert had seduced, stabbed by a jealous lover, or that mean mistreater syphilis got him. Really makes no difference because he was only 28 at the time of his death. He did, however, leave us with some recordings of his work. First in San Antonio, Texas, in a room at the Gunter Hotel, November 23, 1936, and then in 1937 in Dallas at the Makeshift Studio at the Vitagraph Building. I suggest you take a listen to these and see why he’s considered to be the King of the Delta Blues. Both recording sessions are packaged and re-released on Columbia Records titled King of the Delta Blues Singers in 1961. The influence of Robert Johnson on rockl and roll is evidenced in the covers of his songs by so many. Songs like Love In Vain, Cross Roads Blues, Hellhound On My Trail, Travelling Riverside Blues, and I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom, just to name a few.
I will continue on this blues beat for a while as there are other artists I would like to mention, the ones who played a guitar and sang their souls out, and hopefully take you through the migration north to Chicago and the electric movement of the blues, but next I will get into Mississippi John Hurt. Any ideas or requests, we would love to hear from you!