The Crossroads, The Highway, The Trickster, The Railroad
Robert Johnson; there`s a lot of hoodoo surrounding the man, in particular that he sold his soul to the devil down at the crossroads in Clarksdale. Originally, Son House suggested, Johnson was not regarded as a good musician at all but after the Faustian trade with Satan he returned with the blazing skills and blues mastery of a demi-god.Called to the Crossroads at midnight Johnson traded his soul with the devil, the trickster, in exchange for the ability to play the guitar.
Much of the early blues protagonists framed their content within the context of african american hoodoo & religious belief, wrapped up in the historical context of migratory diaspora – most of the cliches of the blues narrative are more culturally rich in meaning than they might at first appear. Although Johnson seems to have been the progenitor of many of them he had very little recognition or success within his lifetime – he was itinerant; playing street corners and juke joints and the founding member of the “27 Club” – allegedly poisoned with strychnine.
The motifs of the blues have been endlessly extrapolated and interpolated over the last century with blues artists adding their own twist to the blues mythology. Though it’s original mysticism may now be superfluous, it still remains a genre through which the character and persona of the performer remains paramount – you need true grit to really carry it off.
Bob Dylan, despite his reputation as a “folk” artist is one of the most significant artists to reinvigorate and reappropriate the language and lexicon of the blues into more modern forms across his recorded work. Michael Gray’s book ‘Song and Dance Man III’ provides great insight into Dylan’s blues sources and influences.
In the following video Eric Clapton, another “guitar hero” whose songwriting capabilities and exploration of new genres seems lost in the mists of the 1970’s, talks about Robert Johnson and plays “Stones in the Passway” – Clapton himself has suggests that Johnson’s cross tempo work is unparalleled – a technique that many artists have plagiarised or emulated (Johnny Winter and Rory Gallagher). What is really unique in Johnson’s body of work, aside from his undeniable guitar playing ability, is his use of musical styles such as swing and ragtime, his anticipation of the Chicago sound, country flavours and elements of jazz – Johnson seems to be capable of almost anything.
It`s a great insight into exploring what Robert Johnson offers and why he is who he is. It also illuminates the sheer technique, the impact of the unusual, that is often confused with something arcane, mythical, metaphysical, divine and otherworldly or more specifically in the blues, with superstition, the Devil and the conceit of a conspiratorial universe.
As much as Johnson’s technique was formidable and undeniably unique, his recordings have always sounded odd: his voice always seemed pitched too high and anyone who owns a gramophone knows that speed is ultimately the choice of the listener. Anyway, it seems that we may been listening to Robert Johnson at too many revolutions, too fast.
Touched.co.uk are offering Steady Rollin’ Man – 24 tracks of Robert Johnson slowed down – click here.
This is the way Robert Johnson should sound.