Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dirty Roots Radio Presents "Robert Johnson: The Centennial Celebration"

"The music of Robert Johnson has inspired a million riffs. The myth of Robert Johnson has inspired a million dreams...” - Jimmy Page

I can think of few listening experiences that are more profound on a regular basis than listening to the music of the great Robert Johnson.

Normally I have trouble just sitting a listening to music. I have to be busy with something else, to keep my hands and eyes occupied while my ears soak up the music. Johnny Cash is a rare exception. So is Robert Johnson.

Robert Leroy Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi on May 8, 1911. Growing up, he wanted to emulate the blues guitar stylings of the great Son House (an amazing artist with an incredible story in his own right). House lived in the same town as Robert Johnson for a time and remembers him as a decent harmonica player, but a painfully bad guitar player.

Robert Johnson left that town, Robinsonville, and headed to Martinsville, to search for his father. While in Robinsonville, he fell in with Ike and Herman Zimmermann who schooled him blues guitar. Ike was said to have acquired supernatural abilities by visiting graveyards at night.

By the time Johnson returned to Robinsonville, he had quickly acquired his unique superb guitar style. The time between Martinsville and his return to Robinsonville – like nearly everything in Johnson’s short life – is shrouded in mystery. Rumor quickly circulated that during this time period Johnson had sold his soul to the devil “at the crossroads” (Memphis, Tennessee and Clarksdale, Mississippi both claim to be home to “the” crossroads.

One can’t argue that SOMETHING profound happened in that time. Johnson returned with a guitar style that no one could touch. For almost 100 years, musicians have tried – unsuccessfully – to replicate Johnson’s style.

Johnson used to perform with his back to the audience, so they couldn’t see what he was doing with his hands to create the music.

Robert Johnson also suffered from what is now believed to be a small cataract, which made his eyes look different from one another. At the time, feeding into the “selling of the soul” story, his fans often claimed Johnson had “the evil eye” – further proof to them of his big deal with the devil.

It would take a very well researched book – something surprisingly few people have attempted – to truly do Robert Johnson’s story justice, so I’ll stop here. Those are the high points. I’d encourage you to look up Robert Johnson on Wikipedia (and anywhere else you can) for more detail.

One cannot overstate the impact of Robert Johnson and his music. Countless bands and musicians have been affected by Johnson’s story and the small amount of music he created – just 29 songs - in a short amount of time (he died at age 27, allegedly from being poisoned at a juke joint by a jealous husband).

Listening to Johnson’s music is truly a haunting experience. It’s almost as if a ghost is in the room as you listen. Is this because of the quality of the material and recordings? Is it the lyrics (stones in my passway, hellhounds on my trail, etc.)? Is it because of the supernatural legend surrounding Johnson?

It’s pretty awesome, whatever it is.


Dig into some Robert Johnson and enjoy some serious Essential Music 101.

Dirty Roots Radio this week is a great place to start. At 9 p.m. (central), we’ll share "Robert Johnson: The Centennial Celebration". This program features brand-new exclusive interviews and many of Johnson’s legendary songs. Comments are offered by guitarists Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule) and Corey Harris, Johnson’s grandson David Johnson, and blues historians Peter Guralinick and Scott Barretta.

Tune in this and every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central). Listen from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net. Be sure to tag Dirty Roots Radio in your Facebook status if you're listening - and post on our wall where you're listening from!!! Invite your friends to listen and to join our Facebook page, too!


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